“Dear listeners, apologies for our late response. … We’ve been busy making stories about what it means to apologize,” said Mitchell Johnson ’18.5 and Alex Hanesworth ’20, managing editors of Brown and Rhode Island School of Design’s joint audio storytelling collective “Now Here This.” The audio performance “SORRY, A Live Listening Party” was presented within the RISD Museum’s new exhibition, “Repair and Design Futures.”
“This event is about repair and healing, but also absent apologies, the refusal to forgive and what happens when saying sorry isn’t enough,” Hanesworth said. The event featured four speakers, all of whom presented renditions of podcasts they released in the spring. Each speaker addressed the themes of conflict, reconciliation and healing.
Raina Wellman, a RISD student, began the conversation by addressing apologies. She was introduced by Hanesworth as the resident apology expert at “Now Here This” — who cited her collection of apology artifacts, recent writing about apology cakes and 77-song playlist titled “The Museum of Apology,” as evidence of her proficiency. Wellman took the audience on a tour of her museum, listing and explaining a few of her song selections and the scenarios they might fit.
“If you’re sorry for being foolish, I would suggest, “I’m Sorry” by Brenda Lee,” Wellman began. Lee sings, “You tell me mistakes / Are part of being young / But that don’t right / The wrong that’s been done.” The song expresses the universal emotions of unrequited love, Wellman explained in her podcast. Lee’s 1960 anthem inspired many future apology songs. Another pick, “Apology Song” by The Decemberists, apologizes to a friend for losing his bike. “I’m really sorry Steven, but your bicycle’s been stolen,” lead singer Colin Meloy sings in the 2001 release.
Next, Alina Kulman ’21 touched on the themes of conflict and reconciliation by recounting a debate centered around gun ranges in the small city of Jamestown, Rhode Island. Inspired by the discovery of a highlighted and heavily annotated binder of rules and regulations on a family friend’s kitchen table, Kulman decided to investigate the city’s battle over private gun ranges and tell a story “about how a debate on guns in a small Rhode Island town got out of hand.”
Her presentation featured an interview from Nick Robertson, a man who grew up shooting guns in Iowa and moved to Jamestown when he joined the Navy at age 17. Robertson raises horses on the island and built a range behind his stables — he is a firm supporter of private gun ranges, which became heavily contested as the city urbanized.
After years of debate, Kristine Trocki, the Town Council President, hosted a meeting on April 10, 2017 to decide the future of Jamestown gun ranges. The meeting was heavily attended and emotional — Robertson responded angrily to a motion to adopt a total ban. After hours of deliberation, the town council passed a ban by a vote of 3-2, with some amendments. Now, shooting enthusiasts like Robertson must travel to ranges nearby in Narragansett or Newport, “because maybe shooting behind your house doesn’t make sense anymore, if your new neighbor and their dog now only live a couple hundred feet away,” Kulman explained.
Babette Thomas ’20 followed with a look at memory and the process of healing with “At the Kitchen Table,” a conversation she shared with three other black students about their individual stories and the University’s ties to slavery. “We talked about the African American experience as it relates to slavery, and what it means to go to school in a place like Providence, at a school like Brown, which has such deep ties to the … slave trade,” Thomas said.
“I wanted to make something that would last. I wanted to make a memorial to our ancestors who are so often forgotten,” Thomas said, adding that she looked to create a space that would encourage people to consider the responsibility of places like Brown and RISD in their historical role in the institution of slavery.
The program closed with Donia Torabian’s ’20 “Healing Meditations” — a series of meditations aimed to help guide women of color through trauma. “We are all keepers of our own fire, we need to be tended and fed and loved, so that we may be warm, and warm others,” the meditation began. “And as a fire-keeper you should share your warmth,” Torabian continued.
The presentation asked listeners to consider the boundaries of apologizing, and then, of repair — fitting with the themes of the Museum’s exhibition. Slips of paper left on the stools and benches in the gallery asked guests to share an apology of their own — to be left anonymously, and to possibly begin internal mending.