Notes

Our Imaginary Archive

The Think Tank was recently invited to to participate in Imaginary Archive, an ongoing project organized by Gregory Scholette. The project is a collection of real and fictional printed materials documenting a future “whose past never arrived,” according to Scholette.

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This iteration will be presented as a part of an exhibition, “Traces in the Dark,” curated by Liz Park at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. The exhibition runs from February 4th to March 22nd. We hope you’ll take the trip to come see our contribution.

For our part, we’ve created a collection of materials about the fictional public art project, psychylustro II, undertaken by the Mural Arts Program. Some background on the collection:

In 2014, Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program installed a public art project called psychylustro along the northeast Amtrak and Septa rail system. With paint sprayed directly on the ground, vegetation, trees and structures along the rail line, the piece was “conceived as a temporary installation, but [one which] changes over time as the elements gradually reclaim the space.” Mural Arts asks the viewers to “think of it as a real-time landscape painting, where the ever-evolving city is the canvas and your window is the frame.”

Fast forward to 2018. The City of Philadelphia and particularly the local school district have (again) come under significant financial stress. As a strategy to create revenue, the city starts selling parcels of land in Fairmount Park. The Wissahickon Creek Trail soon comes under threat and the Mural Arts Program partners with several other city agencies to install psychylustro II in the park. The express goal of the project is to generate additional revenue for the park system through a series of exclusive tours and related touristic packages. The second iteration of the public art project involves spraying water-based paints on the banks of the creek and on some of the historic WPA-era structures that are in disrepair.

This collection is contained in the archives of the University of Pennsylvania and was donated by the Friends of the Wissahickon, an organization which for several decades has been the caretaker of the Wissahickon Creek and its trails. Objects included in the archive have been gathered from the sites of both the original psychylustro and subsequent psychylustro II. The documents include (real) history and correspondence surrounding the Mural Arts Program, from its early history as an anti-graffiti initiative up until the (fictional) 2018 installation of psychylustro II.

Here is some background on the Imaginary Archive project. Past contributions to the archive can be viewed here.

Structures of Support Survey V 2.0

For nearly two years, our ongoing project “Structures of Support” has explored the notion of support. The essential question we raise is about the structure of support at the scale of the individual, a network of resources — obvious and unseen — which contribute to a particular quality of life. What exactly are the complicated webs of familial, social, and institutional forces that provide robust, redundant support for some while leaving others at a loss? In an effort to better develop frameworks for individual and collective support, we continue this project through qualitative research, public visualizations, and participatory conversations and workshop. We created a survey, asked you what you thought support was, and then displayed the results of that survey at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota and at the Painted Bride in Philadelphia. We shared our own ideas and experiences of support in a series of blog posts, and we hosted workshops at The University of the Arts, Open Engagement, and Youngstown State University.

Through all of this, we have gained more clarity about the attributes and impact of structures of support. It is the power of relationships, the need for institutional safety nets, the value of public spaces, and the importance of self-awareness around our own personal supports that can create a richness of life. After reflecting on the data gathered to date, we have now revised the original Structures of Support survey, both condensing it and focusing it more on non-monetary factors. We’re using this moment of revision to share the project and survey with new audiences in the hope of continuing to collect new insights about support. We need you to help us by taking this survey. Even if you have already engaged with the project, this version focuses more on sharing stories and deep reflection, which we have found to be meaningful for those participating in our workshops and conversations. Responses will not be identified by individual, and all responses will be compiled together and analysed as a group. It should take approximately 10 minutes to complete. Follow this link to complete the survey.

SOS Workshop at Youngstown State University

Earlier this week, Meredith, Katie, and I travelled to Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio to spend some time with undergraduate art and design students. While there, we gave a talk about our work, specifically recent projects In a state far from equilibrium, Germantown City Hall, and Structures of Support. The connective thread we chose to explore throughout this work is captured in this question: What happens when people in a community see themselves and their own power?

We also facilitated a workshop with students as a part of our ongoing Structures of Support project. One of the goals of the Structures of Support work is to give people the opportunity to understand and visualize their own personal support structures — the people and resources they have or do not have. We’ve begun to prototype and test a set of building pieces that allows participants to model their support structures and see where these are strong, but also weak. Through this workshop, we learned a great deal about each student’s support structure, and they spoke to how the visualization exercise prompted them to reflect upon what is missing from their own lives. We heard some very powerful stories, and really appreciated how open the students were with us and each other.

We’re also getting useful feedback about the workshop, the visualization tools, and our facilitation, which is helping us iterate how we run them. If you are reading this and are interested in starting a visually-supported conversation about support within your group or community, please let us know.

 

Many thanks to our friend and colleague, Dana Sperry, who invited us to YSU as a part of his “Emergent Futures Now” lecture series in the Department of Art.

Visualizing the Structures of Support (Prototype)

One of the goals of the Structures of Support work is to give people the opportunity to understand and visualize their own personal support structures — the people and resources they have or do not have. We’ve developed a questionnaire, conducted interviews, created a large-scale community assets map, and had many conversations with this goal in mind. In our installation of the work at the University of Minnesota, we began to explore the utility of providing people with more physical, three-dimensional tools to help understand the nuances of the structures of support. And now, we’ve begun to prototype and test a set of building pieces that allows participants to model their support structures and see where these are strong, but also weak. Check out some documentation of one of the early tests of this tool here.

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Radical Orations for Nuit Blanche Ottawa+Gatineau

The Think Tank was invited by Canadian artist and curator Michael Davidge to contribute a project to “Nova Express,” an exhibition which happened this weekend during Nuit Blanche Ottawa + Gatineau 2013. Our project, Radical Orations on the Structures of Support from Steinbeck, Washington, and Graeber, revisited the format of an earlier work as a way to distribute publicly performed orations of diverse texts that explore aspects of support, community, education, and power. The texts we’ve pulled include excerpts from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Booker T. Washington’s autobiography Up from Slavery, and David Graeber’s recent essay on the possibility revolution.

Public oration draws on histories as diverse as street corner soapboxes, acts of public resistance, and the invocations of self-taught religious leaders. Great orators exert a magnetic force with little more than the resonance of their voices and the gestures of their bodies. With this project, we created mass-produced newspaper insert which would invite Ottawans attending the festival to perform an oration, thus adding to both the spectacle and contemplative moments of Nuit Blanche. The orations provided, gathered from sources not meant to be spoken aloud, continue our examination of the structures of support — and begin with this question: How is it that some get by so well, while others barely get by, or not at all?

To read more about this project, check out a brief interview we did with Apt613, an Ottawa arts and culture blog. To download a copy of the publication, click here.

Flag making at Germantown City Hall

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As a part of the Germantown City Hall project, Meredith and I worked with community members young and old to create flags for Germantown. Participants showed their true colors by including images of what was important to them, ranging from “Monster Trucks on Germantown Ave” to beautiful appliqué vegetables. The potency of a flag was clear to us when we were working with the after school daycare next door to City Hall. We caught the kids waving their flags silently and staring at them with pride.

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Learning vs. Education: A Conversation at Germantown City Hall

Last weekend at Germantown City Hall, YahNe Baker and The Think Tank convened a conversation to explore different models of and approaches to learning, with a particular emphasis on what might be possible in Germantown. The Philadelphia School District is in a moment of extreme crisis because of the so-called “doomsday” budget, which has resulted in thousands of teacher and staff lay-offs and has come on the heels of the closure of 24 schools (Germantown High School is one of these and is located across the street from the town hall building). Most Philadelphians have strong opinions about the disastrous state of public education and what steps should be taken to rectify the current situation.

We asked participants to share their own experiences and motivations around education. This is some of what we learned:

  • A young teacher-in-training is interested in organizing a professional association of public school teachers who are displeased with the current dominant model of schooling in order to envision new models from the inside out.
  • A mother of a young girl in a local public elementary school expressed her frustration at the toxic environment in which her daughter is enrolled, which includes abusive and burnt-out teachers and teacher’s aides and tired, disinvested parents.
  • A community activist, author, and mother from West Philadelphia shared about her research into the cultural dynamics of parenting and discipline within the African American community, and how this impacts perceptions and practices within the space of education.
  • YahNe told us about the struggle to seek out the best education for her teenage daughter, which has included a range of experiences in private schools, public schools, and, soon, homeschooling and cyber school.
  • Meredith and I shared some basic information and resources on unschooling and other alternative educational models (including Think Tank Reader Vol. III). I spoke about the dilemma we face in wanting to unschool our own children while at the same time building broader support for others in our community who might be interested in this approach for their kids but unaware or unable to envision how that might happen.

In the end, the conversation circled around two related long-term objectives focused on Germantown: 1) providing resources and support for others in the community who might want to pursue alternatives to schooling (public or private) for their children; and 2) building community support for neighborhood public schools. The participants on this day made a tentative plan to organize a larger community meeting on education in Germantown later in the summer to explore concrete actions in advance of these goals.

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Structures of Support: Germantown Assets Mapping Workshop

The Think Tank will be facilitating a series of workshops and conversations as a part of Germantown City Hall, and the first of these will be held on Sunday, May 26, 1-3pm in the workshop room at the Town Hall. We are presenting aspects of Structures of Support in GCH and the goal of Sunday’s workshop will be to begin a large-scale physical map of the many wonderful assets and resources that are available in Germantown. Such resources might be community gardens, homegrown schools, artisans, informal co-ops, and on and on. The map will also help us to visualize where we might be lacking resources so that we can collectively fill these needs. We’ve invite a number of community members with deep experience in the neighborhood who we believe will have important knowledge to contribute as we launch the mapping project. The community asset map will be on display for the duration of Germantown City Hall, and we will be inviting all visitors to add to the map throughout.

Update: We had a great turnout for the workshop, and we generated a lot of data for the map. Stay tuned for more…

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Germantown City Hall Opens!

Thursday saw the opening of Germantown City Hall, our collaboration with Jacob Wick and Information Department which is part of the 2013 Hidden City Festival.

In this project, we are transforming a long-shuttered building known as Germantown Town Hall into a multipurpose public space offering a performance and meeting area, a reading room/lending library, an office/copy center, and workshop room. Residents of Germantown will have free access to City Hall and are invited to schedule meetings, performances, and events in the building. It is our hope that the City Hall become, first and foremost, a civic space in which dialogues amongst and between the citizens of Germantown may occur.

As residents of Germantown, we are thrilled to be working on this project and making this space available to our neighbors. The people we have met over the last few months and the relationships we’ve created have been inspiring and humbling. And we look forward to meeting so many more folks during the next six weeks that the project is open.

To get involved, find out more, or share leads, please contact info@gtowncityhall.net or call us at 575-446-3676. Stop by Germantown City Hall and say hello. Visit the website and online calendar to learn more about the various events happening in the space or to schedule your own events.

From Space to Place

lack-support-posters-v3-PRINTMuch of what we have learned so far in our Structures of Support research — including wall drawings, visualizations, and posters — will be displayed in an installation as a part of an exhibition at the Katherine A. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis from May 28th – June 15th, with an opening reception on May 30th from 7-10pm.

Defined by human activities, places are ever-changing, ever-decaying, and always being reborn, often through collective action and collaboration. “From Space to Place” is an exhibition that explores placemaking—the transformation of a space into that which has a distinct identity. Curated by Artemis Ettsen, a graduate student in the School of Architecture, and Teréz Iacovino, a graduate student in the Department of Art, the exhibition is a platform for reexamining place and one’s relationship to it.

On June 1st at 12pm, Meredith and Katie will lead a workshop that further explores mapping our own personal support structures. If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll join us.

Exhibition Location and Hours
Katherine E. Nash Gallery
Regis Center for Art, University of Minnesota
405 21st Avenue South, Minneapolis, (612) 624-7530
Parking available nearby at the 21st Avenue ramp, hourly or event rates apply
Gallery hours are 11 am to 5 pm, Tuesday through Saturday