Working with (Not for, or to) Community – Hatch Artists’ Blogs Part 2

Part of the ongoing Hatch blog series, today’s blogs are reflections by our Hatch artists on their experience from the previous weeks’ classes by Emily Hopkins from Side Street Projects in Pasadena, CA and McKenzie Wren from Clarkston Community Center in Clarkston, GA. Staff recaps of both sessions are available on our blog in the links above.

For these two classes, we ask the artists to reflect on the following thoughts:

Session #2 – Themes to consider:

  • depositing information vs. sharing information through dialogue
  • artists coming from a place of privilege
  • managing expectations through all aspects of working with community and with all of the stakeholders involved.

Session #3 – Themes and questions to consider:

  • What are the assets offer by the arts community of Atlanta?
  • What assets are available to you?
  • What are your personal assets?
  • What are the reflections that you had after the discussion about doing with the community (vs. for, or to) based on your own personal experiences?

We hope you enjoy their thoughtful responses!

The jumbled and conflicted thoughts I had filling my brain after Session #2—artist-as-outsider; expectations; semantics—were duly unraveled and reconstructed in Session #3—artist-as-conduit; asset-based development; appreciation.

I left Session #2 with my brain buzzing—recalling my graduate courses in educational leadership, my non-profit management days, my memories working as a grassroots organizer for school improvement, language arts advocacy, art programming, writing grant proposals. I left, however, feeling vulnerable and somewhat frustrated—that my ability to be a community-based artist in the South is hindered or disingenuous because of growing up white in a suburb of Boston. I know that I’m a privileged white girl, but does that automatically make me less credible? Perhaps it was my own insecurities—the on-again, off-again feeling of displacement I’ve faced in Atlanta, but I had this unsettling feeling that my authenticity was in question.

Lauren Pallotta, left, with Michael Jones (center) and Charmaine Minniefield (left), in discussion with her Hatch peers about wage equality for artists working with community
Lauren Pallotta, left, with Michael Jones (center) and Charmaine Minniefield (left), in discussion with her Hatch peers about wage equality for artists working with community.

At Session #3, the energy was completely different. We deconstructed the process of community building in a way that brought people together, cultivated confidence in oneself and each other, emphasized ethnography and encouragement. Artist-as-outsider became irrelevant as collaboration dismantled judgment.

Artists tend to be their own worst critics. To emphasize our assets over deficiencies shifted our thinking towards the positive. I for one am guilty of putting energy into what I’m NOT doing (or doing enough) more than all the things I AM doing. In feeling frustrated by what I have yet to accomplish, I overlook my own library of assets: cultural competence, painting, illustration, graphic design, education, non-profit management. Recognizing and having contentment in our assets is critical to making progress.

Things really came full circle for me in the appreciation circle, when Jessyca acknowledged my vulnerability and recognized my underlying spirit. The words she spoke rang deep; she knew exactly what I needed to hear at that moment and was so genuine, it made me feel much closer to the Hatch community. It gave me a sense of belonging.

This feeling of acceptance seems to underpin socially engaged art. As artists we are meant to amplify the voice of a community in such a way that each member of the community feels accepted, validated and heard. It requires a participatory process that culminates in an artwork—however tangible or abstract—that tells a unique story. Just as a community is built on the assets of its individuals, a community art project is built on the experiences and voices of its stakeholders. These abundant resources become the artist’s primary art-making materials.

by Lauren Pallotta

I’m a pretty reckless artist. In my own practice, over thinking things is not my strong suit. Sometimes this method works for me and sometimes it doesn’t. I can think of works that I’d love to go back into and correct or fine tune. Other works that I’ve created seem to have just materialized in a frenzy of movement and magic.

"I Hope There Are Ghosts" by Nick Madden, an interactive sculpture recently displayed at exhibitions by The Creatives Project and Phoenix Festival
“I Hope There Are Ghosts” by Nick Madden, an interactive sculpture recently displayed at exhibitions by The Creatives Project and Phoenix Festival

When it comes to public art, slow and steady wins the race.I’m in awe of how much discipline and care it takes to make successful public art. Craftsmanship, safety, beauty, all of these are relevant and necessary when creating a piece for the public. But the amount of sensitivity and vulnerability it takes to reach out to a community, to put ego aside, and to deeply discover what is needed or wanted by the people of a certain area is something that fascinates and inspires me.
We drive by public works of art in this city everyday. We may be stuck in traffic and wander and wonder about a sculpture on a sidewalk. We may be flying down the highway, worrying about the merge lanes, and glance out of the corner of our eyes a mural competing for our attention. But rarely, until now, have I thought deeply about what an image does for a community. What it represents about the artist and the area, and where those two things meet. Is it a success? Does it complement or detract? Is it necessary? How do the folks who’ve been living across from that building for 40 years feel about it? Is it changing their lives for the better or for the worse? Or is it just a cool thing an artist wanted to put up for themselves? A resume check mark? An ego boost?

by Nick Madden

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