(In Process)

Then a Cunning Voice and A Night We Spend Gazing at Stars is a multi-year project dedicated to building an all-night, out- door performance gathering. 

The work includes in equal measure: making quilts, performance, storytelling, song, and a night outdoors under the sky. It relies upon people coming together to voice intentions, witness, work, experience time, rest, and imagine.



Then a Cunning rooted in community visioning sessions created in partnership with the Minneapolis -based Native American Community Development Institute. The visioning sessions start with the questions,

“What do you want for your well-­being? For your family and friends? Your neighborhood? Your city, town, or reserve?” 

The responses generate joy, reflection, responsibility:

I want my city to love itself more.
The Mayor of Richfield wants free mental health clinics.
Someone writes “A full happy life for our son”

The intentions are gathered on quilt squares which are sewn into a modular series of quilts during community sewing bees. Once created, the quilts are laid together to become one 4,000 square foot area, designed by textile artist Maggie Thompson, upon which we will host all night stargazing including moments of silence, performance, stories, and First-Nations star knowledge. We want to share time, to feel and also imagine the space below us on the ground and above us in the air. 

It is celebratory, to come together like this.

Spending the night in a city park, on a rooftop, or in the rural darkness is also an opportunity to spark conversation and action about safety. Safety comes to mind because many intentions voiced in the past two years have been about safety - most clearly safety from police violence. Many quilt squares say something similar to: “[I want] To not be afraid of police.” (NYC, June 2015). One says,  “[I want] The police to stop killing our kids.” (Vancouver BC, CA,  August 2015). This project cannot fix power dynamics that create racial violence but it can start to examine and shift dynamics by sharing responsibility and authorship with local residents, participants, host nations, and audiences. Our safety process will be co-organized with a local youth leadership team who develop a strategy for re-envisioning community health and for discussing community safety with police. What excites us about this is the possibility for long term effect-- building relationships between young people and police begins to change the nature of power. It changes relationship. 


Created by
Emily Johnson in deep collaboration with the performers

Directed by
Ain Gordon

Tania Isaac, Georgia Lucas, Emily Johnson

Visual Design by
Maggie Thompson

Quilt construction by
Volunteers in Minneapolis, North Adams, California, Tennessee, Tallahassee, Richfield MN, New York

Research, Company and Project Management:
Yumi Tamashiro

Meredith Boggia


Development support for activities at Williams College are supported by the Mellon Foundation.. Then a Cunning Voice…  is supported by a National Dance Project Touring Award from the New England Foundation for the Arts and MAP fund. Emily Johnson is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow. Development support for Then a  Cunning Voice and A Night We Spend Gazing At Stars was made possible through residencies at Push Festival (Vancouver, BC), MANCC (Tallahassee, FL), and  a Forecast Public Art/RARE Residency (Richfield, MN).


Then a Cunning Voice MANCC Residency

Then a Cunning Voice at Northern Spark Photos

Richfield Stargazing Project Blog

Culturebot: Sewing Together in January

Umyuangvigkaq: PS122 Long Table and Durational Sewing Bee Photos

Then a Cunning Voice Abrons Art Center Residency



Join us for upcoming Community Sewing Bees to help create the quilts
for Then A Cunning Voice !





Top Photo by Jonathan Godoy