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The “Third Space” in my creative practice

As a social work practitioner,( macro practice field instructor, non-profit manager and teaching artist), I have developed a fairly sophisticated toolkit over the years: intervention techniques, a practice philosophy, theoretical framework(s), professional relationships, world class training, evaluation strategies, international connections, and the autonomy that comes with the ability to work in my own organization (The Empowerment Project, Inc.). At the center of my work is an arts-based creative practice which enables me to maintain a vision of empowering change in the lives of women, girls and families. I spend a lot of time in the “Third Space.”
The term “Third Space” describes “the sets of relationships forged by the arts and the context these relationships create for teaching and learning”(Hannula, 2001). It’s the atmosphere in a learning environment (i.e. my practice environment) where people are deeply engaged and able to take risks in a creative process. Third space as an arts concept is also used to describe how meaning exists from multiple perspectives. For me, that means the perspective from the community, from the programs and artwork that is created as well as in the interaction between our community members and what we are creating. It takes a lot of imagination on everyone’s part to envision and enact social change. Another third space is created in the creation of artwork. I use the skills I have developed as a fiber artist to create textural artifacts that are deeply layered with symbolic metaphor about life, meditation and the unfinished nature of things. I want to leave something tangible behind, a trail illustrating how I tried out and explored new ideas and ways of being. When I work collaboratively as a musician, such as with other drummers and dancers- we enter this space together to create OUR work of art. We take on new ways of being, try on new roles and use our imaginations to create something greater than any of us could do alone.
It is also in the third space that I am inspired to leverage the relationships we are forging in our organization’s contemplative community garden, where we have planted an urban food forest; our social justice and arts based training institute to train grassroots community members how to heal the wounds of intimate partner violence, and it’s in the voices of the female veterans who are lending their voices to a narrative therapeutic quilting project.

Sunya Folayan in the sanctuary of  her studio,  bringing a textile mediation piece to life.

Sunya Folayan in her studio, working on a textile mediation piece.

I live, love and work in the third space. It’s integrated into my professional and personal life, and I have found that for me, a Black woman whose cultural role is to WORK at all costs- it’s a revolutionary act. I believe that staying in this pocket and remaining rooted in the belief and faith of a creative way of being could even change the world.
(Special thanks to Carrie Brummer at ArtistThink.com for her inspiration regarding this post.)
Hannula, M. (2001)Third space: A merry-go-round of opportunity. Kaisma Magazine, 12.


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