Reflections about The Front Porch from Anya and Serena
Anya Opshinsky and Serena Adlerstein contacted the Front Porch out of the blue almost a year ago with the idea of helping us with our art and community development, social media, and communication strategies. They found us on line in their search for nonprofits and arts communities they might serve in their post-college trek across the country. They made the Front Porch so much better! They got our podcast channel on SoundCloud set up, revamped our website, managed our programs, interviewed and recorded friends of the Porch, advised and consulted on everything during December and January! Most of all, they became dear friends and special members of the Front Porch family. Here, they offer their perceptive reflections and unique perspectives on their time with us.
We are Anya Opshinsky and Serena Adlerstein, two artist-travelers working with The Front Porch as a part of a venture entitled Community Routes. Community Routes is a research-based road trip that seeks to celebrate community-centered art making throughout the country. From October 2015 to April 2016 we are visiting and learning from some of the artists, organizers, and thinkers that most inspire us in order to explore the connection between the arts and strong communities. Anya is a recent graduate of Kalamazoo College and a socially-engaged theater artist. Serena attended NYU and is interested in arts administration and community organizing. Together we are volunteering for 30 hours a week with the Front Porch.
We arrived in Austin in mid December, just in time for one of the few breaks in regular Front Porch programming. While we were not able to experience the usual quantity of Front Porch events, the pause allowed us to assist the Front Porch in a period of self-examination; we helped fine-tune a communication plan, assessed the Front Porch brand, brainstormed new outreach and growth strategies, and were daily enriched by the Front Porch’s ethos.
While all the organizations with which we’ve worked differ greatly from one another, The Front Porch has provided a particularly unique experience. Prior to our arrival, we weren’t completely sure what to expect. We inferred from the Front Porch’s website that Steve was either a current or former Episcopal priest who used the church’s model of communion in a secular realm to create meaningful events where people of all walks of life gathered to share in life’s journey. We imagined such events happening on literal front porches, even. We were surprised to learn that The Front Porch’s office is in fact run out of a church, many of its constituents came to The Front Porch due to its connection with the church, and that we felt incredibly welcomed despite and because of this. Steve is aware that the Front Porch’s religious foundation can feel alienating to some, but also knows that it is one of the Porch’s greatest assets. At the end of every Parable, Steve invites all present to share in God’s bounty regardless of their religious affiliation. He uses the communion ceremony as a way to solidify the humanizing experience that Parable events create. The Front Porch depends on people bringing their most authentic and open selves and therefore embraces the religious traditions and values that was the initial motivation for creating the organization.
It was at times difficult to ascertain if religion is in fact The Front Porch’s main driving force or merely its jumping off point, however. At events such as Unplugged, and even Film Church, it could be easy to forget that Steve is an Episcopal priest. We were just listening to beautiful music in a sanctuary with incredible acoustics and engaging in a compelling discussion after a good movie. What matters at the end of the day is that whoever attends a Front Porch event leaves feeling as if they had an engaging time.