Working with (Not for, or to) Community – Hatch Artists’ Blogs – Part 3

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!

Photo Nov 22, 10 16 05 AM
Danielle Deadwyler (left) with William Massey III (bottom right) participating in an activity called “What can I teach? What can I learn?”

I have always run to where the people are to connect/present/manifest my work. If not for or with the people, then what conversation or connection or relevance of the art. However, the Hatch: Expanding Definition of Community/Managing Expectations workshop query turns things on their head for my sometimes guerilla efforts in the community. My peers’ work (Angela Davis Johnson and Jessica Caldas) also forced me to reconsider my impact on the community. These peers in the programs, in a previous outside artist talk, once spoke about their wish to connect to the community in conversation. They were eager to have the casual/informal talks about their work, their intent, the feelings the work solicited for the viewer, et.al. I’m always down for dialogue. I’m down for silence too. I’m down for fleeting moments of connection, surprise engagements, raw reaction…but the origin of my inquiry, I now recognize, as wholly privileged. I’ve known long before I can remember that as a person of color and as a woman in my nation/global society I am in a place/space of being without privilege. However, my privilege as an artist lies in my ability to ponder, to make abstract, to create…I tussle with the value of that privilege alongside my lack of privilege as a black woman. What does it mean to work within the community, to create socially engaged work because you are who you are in the community, but not with the community? Isn’t the work I do always of the community? Especially when my work is a reflection of me, of where I live and reside and exist day in and day out. How can your work be reflective of colonial practices when you live there? Is it not of the community and with the community if you are an insider/observer and insider/participant all at the same time?

I know this much…my community deserves dialogue. My community deserves dialogue, if they choose.

My big question concerns the content I’m interested in ‘vibing’ with the needs of the community. My themes of sexuality and motherhood can be challenging to viewers. I’m forced to consider how to satisfy what intuitively comes up for me and how the community chooses to deal with controversial work (especially work that leans towards censorship in commercial/public spheres/media). Pedagogy of the oppressed was integral in my collegiate studies. No one is a trash receptor just taking in what a ‘master’ gives them. Rebellion happens, macro and micro. Emulating that in anyway is the antithesis of where I seek to grow. Calculating, individually and with the community, how to assuage the conversation of controversial themes in my community at large is one I haven’t discovered quite yet. My conversation spheres have been small. Expanding the dialogue is my aim. I do think with my work the outcome can come in more than one way, though. It can manifest in two or more ways that may/may not agree. It can be just my view, me and the community, just the community, and others. Inclusion is the ultimate factor moving forward though. LISTENING!

By Danielle Deadwyler

My outlook concerning the impact of my work has changed somewhat recently.South Broad Street, my current place of work and residence, is seen by most Atlanta residents as a wretched hive of crime and villainy, a forgotten wasteland that is best used for post apocalyptic movie sets, or a hurried pass through for lost tourists. This is rightfully so. At any given moment one may witness a frenzied blur of criminal activity, blatant and unafraid drug transactions, drug use,and violence. I hardly even bat an eye at a crack pipe any longer. Here, on our block, they are as ubiquitous as vaporizors on the Eastside of town. My friends and I are intruders here. We are conducting a grand experiment in creative placemaking that has been referred to by some as simply the first wave of the now typical gentrification process. As creatives and optimists, we wholeheartedly disagree. We are here to build a community we say, one that can’t be touched by the greedy hands of overzealous developers. What we can’t ignore, however, is the community that already exists and has established its own customs, friendships, routines, and hierarchies. A population of human beings, living within their own mutually defined parameters, whose hopes and Dreams are as connected and universal as our own, regardless of the legality of their actions or their stature in society. These human beings, in fact, are a valuable asset in our quest to create a new type of community.

“ It takes people. That’s what community is, people who look out for each other throughout their ups and downs. It takes a whole collective, cause you gotta realize that no one is better than anyone else.” says Patrick, a fixture in the neighborhood, he’s 46. Patrick is known to keep an eye out for things. He also has his ear to the street and enjoys sharing information. He’s friendly and outgoing. He’s willing to lend a hand, whether it’s taking the trash out, or sweeping the sidewalk. He’s the definition of a good neighbor. He also doesn’t have a home.

According to TC, another neighborhood denizen, “Everybody is out here working on something. It might not be the same things, but everyone has a little good in their hearts. What you gotta do is listen when people talk, it gives them hope, and we’re all out here looking out for each other.” There’s Victor, a regular on the street, who has become extremely involved in our burgeoning renaissance. When a recent Creative Loafing article concerning our actions in the neighborhood came to print, Victor spent hours on the street spreading the gospel to passersby. He carefully taped the article to the wall the way a proud parent posts a stellar report card on the fridge. He is now part time employed with two spaces on the block. Victor says he likes to earn his keep. The rapid progress on our space would not have been possible without him. That makes him an extremely powerful asset. Not only has his physical labor helped to propel the community forward faster, he has unknowingly acted as a sort of bridge between our group of hopeful artists and some of the more skeptical and “criminal” people on the block. Such as Rashad. Rashad deals drugs. I’m not quite sure what kind, and I’m not interested in knowing. He is a giant of a man, easily 6’5” and 300 pounds. He’s soft spoken at times, thunderous at others. When a building a few blocks down was left open and unsecured for a time, his crew sent a delegation to let me know that we should have it closed up for our own safety. He also helped me clear the building of unknown residents, while providing his own ski mask and gloves. He makes it a point to say hello, letting it be known that we are with him.

Kris Pilcher (center) with Charmaine Minniefield (left) and Shannon Willow (right) participating in an activity called "Yes, and..."
Kris Pilcher (center) with Charmaine Minniefield (left) and Shannon Willow (right) participating in an activity called “Yes, and…” Kris gets the Hatch award for best sweater ever.

While the lonesome tourist or hurried government worker’s heart may skip a beat when taking a wrong turn down our misunderstood street, my heart warms a bit knowing that I am finally back home, a part of a community, whether our morals and values are the same or not. This unexpected sort of community interaction has made me realize that the impact of my work can be much more than some sort of physical artifact of creativity. I am privileged to be in a position where I can use the idea of creating as a sort of catalyst for real quantifiable change in not only a community, but in an individual’s life. This sort of interaction has a reciprocal impact on the direction and thoughtfulness of my work. By simply inhabiting a space together, we are creating something much bigger than ourselves.

Our latest Hatch session, led by community organizer Mckenzie Wren, helped me to be able to understand in more direct terms what exactly it is that we are building in our community. We are individuals coming from a place of privilege and inserting ourselves into the fabric of a pre-established communal entity.It is our responsibility not only as artists, but as human beings to make sure that our actions embrace the assets that this community already has available, while offering our skills and ideas in return.

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