Structures of Support is an ongoing, multi-phase project. Our goal is 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. We were invited to participate in an exhibition “Take Care” at Weinberg/Newton Gallery in Chicago to explore how health and healthcare are reflected in our experiences of having and/or lacking support. Healthcare, we have found, can hold within it both empowering and diminishing experiences.
The Think Tank that has yet to be named always begins our work with research. For this project, we used multiple methods of data collection to seek out experiences of the healthcare system, feelings about health, and questions about support networks. The individual responses and narratives become the backbone of our visualizations. The work is a sensemaking exploration through which we invite you to explore the experiences of others. We hope you can see yourself within and in contrast to responses. In understanding where we stand, and where others stand, we hope we can work together to create more robust structures of support.
Weinberg/Newton Gallery has a unique model. This exhibition is organized in partnership with the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force and aims to shed light on systemic barriers to quality healthcare through the lens of breast cancer. This group exhibition explores themes of care and community, vulnerability and support by way of painting, photography, immersive sound, and text. An array of interactive programming, including screenings, panel discussions, and more, will take place over the course of the exhibition. Artists include Indira Allegra, Laura Berger, Joan Giroux, and The Think Tank that has yet to be named
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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