Essay

Collaboration in Satellite Collective’s Residencies: An Editorial Reprint

Ken Delaat

Satellite Collective residencies and performances represent a collaboration of artists on an international level from over twenty-five countries. We germinate ideas in Satellite Collective’s arts journal Transmission and our international arts exchange "Telephone." The strongest are transformed into live productions through our Residency program. They are then presented on major stages in New York City and at our summer residency on Lake Michigan, the Dogwood Center for Performing Arts. There, the local community has contributed strongly to the growth of Satellite Collective. In this piece, originally published in the Fremont Times-Indicator, the newspaper in our summer home, editor Ken DeLaat writes on the subject of the Satellite Collective, a successful model of collaboration.

In August 2013, the Satellite Collective performed at the Dogwood Center. I have long admired this eclectic group of artists and their stunning showings. This year I joined forces with videographers Larry Gouine and Sherrie Perkins on a documentary project surrounding the Collective’s week-long residency program and those members who participate in this innovative approach to the arts. Composers, choreographers, musicians, artists, designers, poets, and writers all gather in Fremont as they showcase the pieces they’ve worked on for months from all over the country.

Through a series of video interviews, I became familiar with several of the contributors to this imaginative and enigmatic organization. These interviews allowed for the artists to better perceive their own work, and the interactions helped form my understanding of the artistic communication on stage.

This is a group of youthful, energetic innovators who engage in what is truly a collaborative effort.

That word—collaboration —is used frequently in organizations both within themselves and when in conjunction with other entities. And more often than not it’s used incorrectly. This is not a dynamic easily attained by simply discussing it, and it remains frequently limited by resistance or even outright sabotage among partners.

Nathan Langston, one of the Collective artists, says, “Some people think [collaboration] is cooperation, and it’s not. Anyone can cooperate. Collaboration is difficult to attain. It means working through conflict and sometimes giving up what you desire to have happen—for the good of the group—to enhance the quality of the product. And working through what that means to you. It encourages introspection and communication.”

Yeah. That’s collaboration. It’s not the limiting stance of agreeing to disagree. It’s an effort for common ground even if that ground is unfamiliar and scary at times. And why? For the success of the endeavor. Because collaboration in its purest form means inclusiveness, openness, shared leadership, and acceptance. It demands welcoming diversity, insists on respect for others and their ideas, and persists in the quest for honesty.

And it is hard.

Boy, is it hard.

What passes for leadership in our capitols can’t seem to approach it (or even the infinitely simpler cooperation). Organizations, schools, communities each struggle with achieving effective collaboration despite its essential role in success.

So how does this group of artisans—professionals well grounded in their fields who tend to be rather sensitive to perceived rejection and territorial about their creations—attain it at such a level to produce the powerful production performed at the Dogwood?

Trust.

In each interview with members of the Collective, I asked the question in a variety of forms.

“Could you tell me how this works for you?”

“What do you do when your contribution is altered or even rejected?”

“How does the group work through the inevitable conflict?”

And each in their own way attributed it to trust.

“We’re all in with the process.”

“If we’re to grow we need to accept conflict and criticism”

“If I listen to what’s being said and don’t get defensive, I can absorb it and learn from it.”

“We trust each other.”

This group of thriving artists, so accustomed to being in total charge of their work and working alone for the most part, surrender part of their egos and forge a bond based on trust in one another in order to succeed in the endeavor and create a quality piece of artistry.

And succeed they do.

The Dogwood Center audience was so moved that it held a standing ovation, compounded by shouts of praise echoing throughout the theater. Patrons lingered in the lobby, each imparting glowing accounts of what they’d just seen. The show produced lively dialogue, which continued while folks finally departed toward the parking lot.

Yes, it was indeed a success. And the key to the success?

Collaboration—true meaningful, unconditional, uncensored, honest collaboration. The aforementioned entities whether in government, organizations, or communities could take a page from the tenets required to be a part of the Collective:

You are valued.

I will be honest with you in praise and criticism.

I will trust your response to be equally honest.

Our differences of opinion can be useful.

Sound simple?

It’s not.

But does there exist a true desire to grow as a group as well as personally, to produce a quality product whatever that might mean, and embrace the power to be gleaned from a true partnership?

It’s imperative.

“A fantastic model of collaboration: thinking partners who aren't echo chambers.” — Margaret Heffernan