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 blogposts, 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.
Structures of Support is an ongoing, multi-phase project begun in late 2012 by Jeremy Beaudry, Katie Hargrave, and Meredith Warner. In this project we want to develop a clearer understanding of how our support structures are created and maintained, and how we might then work to build more resilient and robust support structures in the future.
In the summer of 2013, The Think Tank that has yet to be named collaborated with artist Jacob Wick to transform a long-closed building known as Germantown Town Hall into a multipurpose public space we called Germantown City Hall. As a part of our ongoing project Structures of Support, we asked neighborhood residents to reflect on the meaning of civic space for the community. Below are the video recordings of a select number of those interviews.
Jeremy Beaudry, Katie Hargrave, and Meredith Warner collaborated with Jacob Wick to create Germantown City Hall for the 2013 Hidden City Festival in Philadelphia. The project temporarily opened the neglected Germantown Town Hall building as a space for civic engagement and debate, with a meeting/performance space, reading room/lending library, and office/copy center.
In June of 2013, The Think Tank had the opportunity to work with artist Jacob Wick on a project called Germantown City Hall. Together we transformed 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. For six weeks, residents of Germantown had free access to City Hall and were invited to schedule meetings, performances, and events in the building. City Hall became, first and foremost, a civic space in which dialogues amongst and between the citizens of Germantown could occur.
The opening of the town hall building to the community produced a number of outcomes which are still being felt and addressed beyond the timespan of the project. We were able to catalyze new relationships between people and organizations working across Germantown which has led to ongoing initiatives to keep the building open to the public, to manage the archive of Germantown residents’ history we collected, and to create a living database of neighborhood resources. Germantown City Hall worked as a prototype of a different kind of civic space in the neighborhood that wasn’t currently provided for, a space that was secular, non-governmental, open, and networked.
The success of the space depended largely on the implementation of a clear, effective infrastructure which allowed for emergent uses, activities, and different levels of engagement. The use and life of the space grew slowly over time. The participatory structure was inclusive and accessible, and it was ad hoc, meaning that the space satisfied unmet, immediate needs within the community.
During the 24 days the project was open to the public, Germantown City Hall hosted over 50 different events which were attended by over 1800 visitors. Some of the Germantown organizations that used the space included:
Germantown Artists Roundtable
Kelly Green Project (Hansberry Community Garden)
Germantown United CDC
Decarcerate PA and Matthew Pillischer (Director, Broken On All Sides)
Ladies of the Knit
Center in the Park
Cliveden Historic Site
Wissahickon Dance Academy
Germantown High School Alumni Group
Time4Time Community Exchange
Nesting our Structures of Support project in Germantown City Hall
Aside from co-designing the infrastructure of the space and community participation, one of our contributions to Germantown City Hall was to import our Structures of Support work into the space and customize it specifically for Germantown. Throughout the course of the project we collected data from the community, mapping past and current support networks and assets that might otherwise be invisible—things like informal civic groups, clubs, leisure groups, cooperatives, playgroups, town watches, community gardens, and so on.
We made our Structures of Support Survey available to all visitors, which allowed us to understand individual conceptions of support within Germantown. We also installed a large scale map of of the neighborhood and invited visitors to identify assets within Germantown. At the start of the GCH project we hosted a workshop to begin populating the map. Over the course of the 6 weeks the map itself acted as a generative and convivial tool for conversation among neighborhood folks. It often became a focal point where strangers gathered to chat about what they know and query each other for knowledge about Germantown. Everyone engaged in impromptu storytelling about what is, what has been, and what could be.
Through this process, we heard from the neighborhood how valuable the asset map could be as a living database of neighborhood resources, whether in a physical or digital format. We are in the process of digitizing the map and its data, and we hope to partner with other organizations to create a more sustained, growing, and widely available version of the asset map that began at Germantown City Hall.
We interviewed several Germantown residents and asked them to tell us about why civic spaces like Germantown City Hall matter for the life of the community. One of these interviews was with Dennis Barnebey, a long-time Germantown resident involved in the Hansberry Garden and the Kelly Green Project. (Other interviews from the series are catalogued here.)
Additionally, we led flag making workshop with community members (kids included!) to create flags and symbols for Germantown, allowing folks to show their true colors, presenting issues and desires for Germantown through symbols rather than words.
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.
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…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Much 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
Preparations are well underway at the Germantown Town Hall for the opening of Germantown City Hall, our collaboration with Jacob Wick and Information Department which is part of the 2013 Hidden City Festival. Last week, we had help from some amazing volunteers and Hidden City staff to begin cleaning the space and moving in donated furniture. As we begin to inhabit the space, the power and possibility suggested by the building becomes more and more clear.
From May 23 – June 30, the Germantown Town Hall building will reopen as Germantown City Hall, 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. To get involved, find out more, or share leads, please contact email@example.com or call us at 575-446-3676.
We extend our warmest thanks to the small group of Germantown residents who willingly joined us in an experimental conversation using our project In a state far from equilibrium as a conversational tool. We learned so much from each distinct voice and have yet to really think about how we’d like to reflect the conversation back to the world.
The highlight for me personally was experiencing an intergenerational conversation like this—open, honest, and challenging. I am thinking more about how we might bring generations together so we can all learn from the vast knowledge of those who have lived here for a lifetime.
Support can be indirect. It doesn’t necessarily come from giving, but from opening up. It’s the difference between giving advice and listening. When we advise, we colonize. When we listen, we are simply with others. We allow them the space to process on their own or as a group, in a way that makes sense to them. It creates a space—an opening for agency, for engagement, for authenticity.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago while interviewing a good friend as part of our Structures of Support project (SoS). He is willing to engage very fully in conversation as long as the environment supports and welcomes it—as long as the space is open. In many ways, I think most people are eager for space to participate—if only we might learn how to make room for them.
This weekend, Jeremy and I are hosting a conversation at Flying Kite where we hope to create space for a frank conversation about our neighborhood of Germantown. We’ll be using our project In a state far from equilibrium as a grounding object for the dialogue—asking participants to use the model of urban succession as a lens for thinking about our neighborhood. We’d like to explore how Germantown has changed over time and identify forces and assets in our community so we might better understand what is really at stake as this place shifts and transforms.
We may speculate about what might come of the relationships that form through this work, or the projects it might spin off. But we really can’t know what, if anything, will come of it. We can only open the space and invite others in to share what they know.