Jody Frey: From Place-Based Arts to the Art of Justice

for CarynThere is nothing more beautiful to behold than a person who has just discovered courage.

After graduation and a full recovery from the IMA program’s happy exhaustion (studying place-based arts), I began looking for ways to sustain the academic fitness I had developed. On a dare, I sat for a Law School Admission Test. On the strength of those scores and my B.A. (Sterling College) transcript, I applied to and was accepted by three New England law schools; but on the strength of my Goddard IMA experience I have opted instead to take Vermont’s alternative route to a Bar license: law office study, or “reading law.” This lengthy part-time apprenticeship model requires a successful application to the Board of Bar Examiners, a sponsoring attorney, and a good deal of academic discipline, because the burden of scholarship and documentation of learning is largely on the students.

My sponsoring attorney’s practice is dominated by family law matters such as divorce, parentage, and relief-from-abuse proceedings. These are typically highly transformative life events that completely rearrange one’s worldview. The ride is rarely gentle. In my own divorce I experienced firsthand the way competent and compassionate legal representation will mercifully hasten the resolution of a matter, and thus clear the way for emotionally spent people to get on with what really matters: the journey forward into the rest of their lives.

There’s a kind of inherent duty that comes with having earned a degree:  I ask myself, Now that I have it, what shall I do with it?  In the arts classes I teach at Sterling College, I frequently draw on my degree work by incorporating themes I learned from my Goddard advisors: Ellie Epp’s embodiment studies, Ralph Lutts’ place studies, and Jim Sparrell’s attention to story.  I teach my students that as artists we develop our bodies’ knowledge and skills, we situate our work in the context of places we have been or wish to be, and we voice our stories through our work.  My law office studies suggest that empathetic legal practice involves similar and parallel concepts: embodiment studies teach me to understand how another body feels, which aids in mediation and negotiation. Place studies help me understand how traditions of culture influence perspectives and dictate behaviors. Attentive, non-judgmental listening helps me to dispel confusion and sort out people’s goals, two important steps on the road to resolution.

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