Change from the Inside-Out

On May 4th, I got to participate in a great conversation with artists Jules Rochielle and Onyedike Chuke, facilitated by ArtPlace America's Sarah Calderon at the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit in Madison, New Jersey. 

ArtPlace wrote about our conversation on their blog:

What roles can artists play in city government? How can artists in residence support arts and culture strategies in the public arena? What do artists need for their municipal engagements to succeed?

Artists Elizabeth HambyJules Rochielle Sievert, and Onyedika Chuke joined ArtPlace’s Sarah Calderon for a discussion about what works and what doesn’t—and to what ends—for artists in residence in city agencies, with a focus on New York City.

Hamby works with NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, specifically in the areas of public housing and health, and with the agency’s Center for Health Equity. “I’m interested in cities,” she said, “because they show us the core complexities of life.” In her work, she looks at the intersections of public art, public space, and public health to address the question: What creates health?

She described an NYC-based Dungeons & Dragons-style adventure game she co-created that helps to explain the concepts of structural racism and violence to government staffers. Players are organized into families and undergo all the ups and downs of life: they have children, mourn deaths—and face different opportunities and barriers depending on their race, ethnicity, and nationality. Hamby said one participant became angry while playing, complaining that, “depending on which family you’re born into, there’s no way you can win this game!” (Yes, participant: that’s the point.) See our blog post from earlier this year for more of Elizabeth’s work.

 

Legal education and access to justice
Sievert works largely in legal education and access to justice, and is interested in the role play can have in workplaces. She described a residency she did in Santa Ana with John Spiak, who implemented the GCAC Artist-in-Residence Initiative at California State University Fullerton’s Grand Central Art Center (GCAC). “He invited me to come play and see what it would look like,” she said. “One year turned into three years.” Sievert said the neighbors she was working with didn’t want to go to the local cultural center because of the history of gentrification that surrounded it, so she asked them, “Where will you meet me?” “I went to every community event I was invited to and didn’t try to lead anything; I just participated,” she said. Eventually, working with the local art commission and area teachers, she was able to provide an arts curriculum to the 350 students enrolled in the local elementary school, who had gone without art program for three years.

That experience led to Sievert another residency with NYC’s Department of Veterans Services and Department of Cultural Affairs that was embedded within the Harlem Vet Center. There, she developed a storytelling project with female veteran of color Christine Tinsley which “worked to give visibility to female vets and bring them into contact with one another to let them talk about the issues they were dealing with.” Sievert said she doesn’t feel that residency was a success because it only lasted one year, and the process of partnering with other organizations had only just begun. “I’m more than happy to talk about failure, or points in a residency where I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll think about this differently,’” she said. “A better way to look at this one was as prototyping. It was two and a half or three years ago, and now it looks like we might be getting some new funding to support female vets. Maybe it wasn’t the right time for it to happen then, but it is now.”

 

An artist in residence in the dept of correction
Chuke is an artist in residence with NYC’s Department of Correction. “This is the first year they’ve imagined an artist in that role to work as an advocate and look at policy,” said Chuke, who described the agency’s culture in part by mentioning he was assigned a cubicle in their offices. “First we had to figure out the dress code,” he says. “Slacks; button down shirt? I have those things, but I don’t like to wear them! But then I thought, ‘That language is what they understand, so maybe I will wear them.’” Chuke explained that the culture learning curve extended to the security training he had to undergo in order to visit Rikers Island and facilitate art projects with residents there. “It’s the most intense residency I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. He commented on the few miles but infinite distances that separate the residents of Manhattan’s Upper East and Upper West Sides from those living on Rikers: “Those people are right there, but they’re invisible—until they get released, and then they’re right back in the neighborhood,” he said. “We can use art as a way to recognize and see each other.”

Chuke is originally from Nigeria and has lived in New York since the 1990s. “In some cases, bringing art is a way of fitting in,” he said. In addition to his studio practice and participation in residencies, Chuke serves on the executive board of Foster Pride, which helps youth in foster care reach their potential through mentorship and the arts.

An audience member asked Sievert, who works with NuLawLab (the innovation laboratory at Northeastern University School of Law), about employing the arts in the notoriously inhospitable setting of housing courts.

Sievert sympathized that housing courts can be a miserable maze for visitors, especially when rooms aren’t properly labeled, or people having conflicts are made to wait in close proximity to one another. She said that in some Boston housing courts, she had started to see children’s artwork displayed on the walls. “That was a good entry point,” she said. “That showed us there was flexibility.” She spoke of the NuLawLab project Stable Ground, which is working to better understand housing insecurity-based trauma by embedding artists, legal designers, and trauma experts into local communities to hold facilitated conversations and generate art exhibitions and art-making events. She shouted out some of the participating local artists: Ngoc-Tran Vu, L’Merchie Frazier, and Anna Meyer.

Calderon asked the panelists why they do the socially connected work they do.

Hamby replied, “When I got over the false idea that being an artist meant working by yourself, I felt a lot better and my work got a lot better.” She said work done for the purpose of social change “feels deeply embedded in the world and feels very contingent and connected. It’s about wanting to be in the world and to intentionally be in different situations. I thrive on that.”

The panelists discussed the role time plays in their work. Sievert said, “I like to take a long time with my work, personally. Embedding myself in a community takes a year: finding the people who want to make something together and finding the resources to do it. I find myself being happy at the five-year mark: now we’re doing interesting things. The longer I’m able to stay in a particular system, the better the work is.”

Chuke agreed that a year is seldom long enough to make the most of a residency. “That first year is like an introduction; we have to turn off our own expectations,” he said. “These government institutions are there to last; artists can be in and out. So it takes a while.”

When Calderon asked about the support artists need in government residencies and how such roles might become normalized, Hamby said trust can play a role. “Some of what’s facilitated this work for me is working with people who are okay with ambiguity and willing to turn a blind eye when things they don’t quite understand are happening,” she said.

Chuke identified finding apt partners within an organization and meeting people where they are as other keys to success. “I’ve worked with Residency Unlimited,” he said. “We look at artists’ resumes and try to find the right partners for them on the city level: who’s a good mentor for this person? They do weekly check-ins about goals, and what didn’t work... It creates a manual that other artists can pick up next time and that creates a record and a history.”

Hamby pointed out that there are a lot of artists working in city government who don’t always identify as artists, or feel permitted to wear their ‘artist hats’ at work. “I call them ‘naturally occurring artists in residence,’” she said. “When someone hears you’re an artist, they’ll come whisper to you, ‘I’m actually a photographer,’ or ‘I dance on the weekends.’ Art gives us an opportunity to reveal ourselves to one another, and the more of us who reveal ourselves to one another, the more of us reveal ourselves to one another...”

She also said that she worked for another city agency before the Department of Health. “Those folks had sought me out because of my art practice,” she said. “But when I asked if my title could be ‘Artist,’ they said no. In the end, that taught me that it doesn’t matter what they call me or what they call the work; what matters is the work.”

Equity & Urban Planning

Equity & Urban Planning

Last month, I got to talk with the good folks at ArtPlace America about Dungeons and Dragons, smoke free public housing, and the art of community.

The health impacts of structural racism

My work with the Department of Health has expanded recently to include food access, partnerships to support comprehensive neighborhood planning, and collaboration with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to address health inequities faced by public housing residents. One of the things that's been really exciting for me about that kind of expansion is the opportunity to do some new and different projects. One of those is a Dungeons and Dragons style adventure game that I put together with colleagues from the Health Department. It was the first time I got to do an art project with scientists. I’m very lucky to work with talented, brilliant and wonderful epidemiologists like Dr. Zinzi Bailey who in particular has done some incredible work on the health impacts of structural racism. Along with Dr. Stephanie Farquhar, Hannah Seoh, Corinna Wainwright, and Marlon Williams, we took this heavy body of complex research and thought “how can we make this accessible for everyday people?” Our game is called, “What Creates Health: Race, Place, and Public Space.”

Players move through a series of stories with all kinds of choices to make. The story we travel through takes place in 3 different time periods. The first is in the 1930s where players deal with the challenges of redlining, with the public health problem of TB where poor ventilation and badly maintained properties affected communities of color disproportionately. Then the game moves into the 70s and the Issues are public sector disinvestment- and an explosion of chronic diseases like diabetes. The game explores how communities of color were again disproportionately impacted by both.  It ends in 2010 in the stop and frisk era. People of color have been more impacted by this policy, and there has been a direct impact on communities by these methods of policing. Mental health issues, substance abuse, and general wellness are all affected.

So far, we've used it to facilitate conversations with urban planning professionals, but we’ve got big dreams for where the work can go. The Center for Health Equity is committed to addressing social and racial justice as part of public health practice so this has been a great facilitator for some of those dialogues.

Smoke free public housing community engagement

My portfolio of work includes our partnership with NYCHA. There's a huge project underway to help NYCHA to go smoke free and we’ve been working on a robust community engagement process to pull residents into a conversation about what it will look like, what their hopes and concerns for the policy are and to encourage them to think about the ways they want to get involved. The community engagement activities we designed are also a really exciting way of how art based practice has made its way directly into this kind of city agency work. One activity this summer brought a blank banner with silhouettes of people with speech bubbles to NYCHA family days, summer block parties that happen all over the city. We asked people to draw characters on the banner and write in comments with hopes, concerns or wishes about smoke free public housing. Now we're now digitizing all those little characters and feeding them into the broader communications strategy and materials we're developing to support smoke free. Our engagement materials will literally be made by NYCHA residents.

I'm an artist in a city job- how do I get started?

The most important thing is not to wait for anyone to give you permission. There are lots of opportunities in the projects we lead, depending on specifics of your work. Those of us who work with engaging communities often have opportunities to use the arts to better facilitate those conversations. Frankly, that's not just good art practice, that's good community engagement practice. Even for folks who aren't working in community engaged spaces finding different ways to authentically communicate complex ideas and facilitate authentic relationships is incredibly important. Those are skills that we often gain through our training as artists in the public realm.  If we can just shrug off the crappy communications styles handed down to us by corporations, we'd have a much better chance of succeeding, whatever the forum.

Successfully working with communities

Practice radical honesty with yourself first. Be up front about what you can do, what you can’t do, and what you want to get out of a collaboration. That piece of self-reflection often gets lost in many kinds of collaboration. We forget what we have to offer and the intricacies of what can happen in the magic of that exchange. Next - make sure to acknowledge and celebrate the humanity of your collaborators in all of their strengths and weaknesses and messiness. When we approach someone as a potential collaborator, making sure we allow ourselves to be seen and that we are seeing them, is important in building the trust to work together authentically, making sure that everyone is clear about what they can expect from the work you'll be doing together.

 

Are you a naturally occurring artists in residence?

A lot of time we think about artists who come in from the outside and collaborate with non-arts partners like governments, corporations, social movements, or non-profits but artists are already here and we’re just like you! There are important ways that there are artists at work in all of these spaces all the time. What are the opportunities are to illuminate that and liberate the people who are artists but spend their days in cubicles rather than studios. And also, liberate the people who have that artistic training, like me, who don't actually want to spend their days by themselves, but want to be in the world and of the world, and working in that way.

At a time when so much is at stake for so many people, we are in a particularly dangerous moment, we are all morally required to use the gifts and the tools that we have at our disposal to protect those that are vulnerable.  It can give you access to incredible moments of hope, these beautiful glimpses of how things could be. 

 

 

I am an Artist and...

I did an interview with Hoong Yee Lee Krackauer for the Huffington Post as part of a series on artists and how they make their living. 

We talked about being a "Naturally Occurring Artist in Residence," working in government, and the curious ways that artists find each other. You can read more here.

Our City at Industry City

Last spring, I participated in the exhibition, Our City at the Brooklyn Children's Museum. Joining an amazing lineup of artists including Aisha Cousins, Brooklyn Hi Art! Machine, James Rojas, Priscilla Stadler, and Rusty Zimmerman, I got to install Alphabet City and led workshops for children and families using stamps of the alphabet. Untapped Cities and the BK Reader both wrote a really nice blogs about the show.

Now, the show is back at The Gallery at Industry City. The exhibit is free and open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays 10am-1pm, and Saturdays and Sundays 11:30am-5:00pm, from December 8 through February 26th. Brooklyn Children's Museum Educators are staffing the exhibit during open hours. 

Artists In/Of The City A National Convening Around the Peace Table

To accompany the current exhibition Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art, the Queens Museum presents Artists In/Of The City, a special convening that explores the current wave of new artist residency programs in city agencies taking place throughout the nation.

Beyond Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ almost four decade long artist residency within the NYC Department of Sanitation, NYC’s Department of Cultural Affairs has recently initiated artist residencies inside three other city agencies and is working on more. Cities around the country, including Boston, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Kansas City, and Los Angeles, are experimenting with their own versions of residencies within municipal agencies and departments.

Artists In/Of The City convening provides an open space to share and discuss the aspirations and experiences of artists and their city agency partners involved in these kinds of residencies in NYC and across the country. We’ve also invited those in charge of organizing these residencies to share how they initiated and structured their residencies given their local contexts. We hope that these examples will illuminate the best ways moving forward to harness artists’ unique creative and critical contributions to how urban systems work.

The Artists In/Of The City convening starts with a brief examination by Ukeles of the artworks that inspired the event from the Touch Sanitation Show, 1984. Three works originally conceived for Touch Sanitation Show have been reimagined for the Queens Museum, and we will meet in front of One Year’s Worktime II, 1984/2016, a full year of work shifts in the form of clock faces has been silkscreened over a gradient of colors representing the seasons which is installed on the Museum’s Large Wall in the Main Atrium. We will then assemble around the Peace Table, originally commissioned in 1997 by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art for Ukeles’s installation Unburning Freedom Hall. Made of layers of cobalt blue stained glass and plate glass in the shape of a halo, it will be suspended from 50 feet above the central atrium of the Queens Museum.

This setting for the convening, a literal round table, has inspired a format for the convening consisting of three concentric rings of guests. The first ring will be Presenters, artists and city officials with direct experience with residences at municipal agencies whose presentations will act as conversation starters for the convening. The second ring will be Respondents, other artists who have been asked to prepare questions to bring to the table that can deepen the conversation. The third ring will be Participants, other invited artists and the general public interested in the theme that can keep the conversation going with their own questions and comments during the convening.

Moderated by Queens Museum Director Laura Raicovich.

Confirmed guests for the convening include:

  • Laura Raicovich, President and Executive Director of Queens Museum
  • Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Artist-in-Residence at NYC Department of Sanitation
  • Norman Steisel, former Commissioner of NYC Department of Sanitation
  • Brendan Sexton, former Commissioner of NYC Department of Sanitation
  • Vito Turso, Deputy Commissioner of Public Information at NYC Department of Sanitation
  • Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of NYC Department of Cultural Affairs
  • Shirley Levy, Chief of Staff, Office of the Commissioner, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs
  • Diya Vij, Digital Communications Manager, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs
  • Marcus Young, former City Artist, City of St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Ellen Greeley, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, NYC Department of Veteran’s Services
  • Jules Rochielle (Social Design Collective), Artist-in-Residence at NYC Department of Veteran’s Services
  • Christine Tinsley (Social Design Collective), Artist-in-Residence at NYC Department of Veteran’s Services
  • Feniosky Pena-Mora, Commissioner of NYC Department of Design and Construction
  • Gulgun Kayim, Chief of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, City of Minneapolis
  • Wendy Morris, Director of Creative Leadership at Intermedia Arts
  • D.A. Bullock, Artist collaborating with Minneapolis’ Neighborhood and Community Relations Department
  • Alan Nakagawa, Creative Catalyst Artist in Residence at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation
  • Gladys Carrión, Commissioner of the NYC Administration for Children’s Services
  • Keelay Gipson (The Lost Collective), Artists-in-Residence at NYC Administration for Children’s Services
  • Josh Ramos (The Lost Collective), Artists-in-Residence at NYC Administration for Children’s Services
  • Rebeca Rad (The Lost Collective), Artists-in-Residence at NYC Administration for Children’s Services
  • Britton Smith (The Lost Collective), Artists-in-Residence at NYC Administration for Children’s Services
  • Nisha Agarwal, NYC Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
  • Tania Bruguera, Artist-in-Residence at Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
  • Marty Pottenger, Artist, Activist, Director, Art at Work (Portland, Maine)
  • Julie Burros, Chief of Arts and Culture, Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture of the City of Boston
  • Shaw Pong Liu,  Artist partnering with the Boston Police Department
  • L’Merchie Fraizer, Artist partnering with the Office of Women’s Advancement and Office of Recovery Services
  • Pepon Osorio, Artist
  • Elizabeth Hamby, Artist, Community Urban Planner at The Center for Health Equity at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
  • Marisa Jahn, Artist, Executive Director of REV-
  • Jae Shin, Architect

Fair Care: A Conversation Organized by the Center For Urban Pedagogy (CUP)

The first of a series of programs presented with current Rubin Foundation grantees, Fair Care is a conversation about activism and health advocacy, as they relate to art and public policy led by Center for Urban Pedagogy’s Executive Director Christine Gaspar with health advocate Claudia Calhoun and artists Alica Grullón and Elizabeth Hamby. This conversation will focus on recent CUP projects that address the needs of underrepresented communities asserting their right to health care including such topics as understanding the Affordable Care Act, health care options for new immigrants, and the links between climate change, economic inequality, and access to community health. Fair Care has been organized in dialogue with The 8th Floor’s current exhibition In the Power of Your Care which raises questions about health care as a human right and the interdependencies of care in our culture.

Claudia Calhoon joined the New York Immigration Coalition in 2014 as Health Advocacy Senior Specialist and became the Director of Health Advocacy in 2015. She leads development and execution of city and state campaigns to improve health access, coverage, and delivery for immigrant communities. Calhoon has provided leadership to a diverse array of public health and non-profit settings including the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture and the Open Society Foundations and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cuenca, Ecuador. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the HHC Delivery System Reform Incentive Program (DSRIP) Performing Provider System and the Community Advisory Board of the NYU Center for the Elimination of Cancer Disparities. Calhoon is currently enrolled in the Doctorate of Public Health Program at CUNY Graduate Center. She received a MPH from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and a BA in American History from Earlham College.

Christine Gaspar is Executive Director at CUP and has over fifteen years of experience in community design. Prior to joining CUP, she was Assistant Director of the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio in Biloxi, Mississippi, where she provided architectural design and city planning services to low-income communities recovering from Hurricane Katrina. In 2012, she was identified as one of the “Public Interest Design 100.” She holds Masters in Architecture and in City Planning from MIT and a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University.

Alicia Grullón moves between performance, video, and photography, channeling her interdisciplinary approach towards critiques on the politics of presence, an argument for the inclusion of disenfranchised communities in political and social spheres. She received a BFA from New York University and an MFA from the State University of New York at New Paltz. Grullón’s works have been shown in numerous group exhibitions including Franklin Furnace, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, BRIC House for Arts and Media, School of Visual Arts, El Museo del Barrio, Jamaica Flux 10, Performa 11, Smack Mellon and Art in Odd Places all NY. She has received grants from the Puffin Foundation, Bronx Council on the Arts, the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of New York, and Franklin Furnace Archives, among others. Alicia has participated in residencies in the United States and abroad some among them include: Artist in the Marketplace, Korea Arts Council in Anyang South Korea, Five Colleges Women’s Studies Research Center and the Art and Law Residency at Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. She has presented workshops and talks for CreativeTime Summit in 2015, Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts, and the Association of Art Historians. (aliciagrullon,com)

Elizabeth Hamby is an artist and educator who works as a Community Urban Planner at The Center for Health Equity at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Since 2006, she has worked with museums, nonprofits, and government agencies to design and implement projects engaging diverse New Yorkers in participatory planning processes to understand and transform their city. She has been profiled as a Citizen Placemaker by Project for Public Spaces, and in 2014, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Transportation Alternatives for her work to create safe streets for biking and walking in New York City. She has been featured in publications including DNA InfoThe New York Times, and Untapped Cities and has been included in exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York, the Bronx River Art Center, The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, among others. Ms. Hamby holds degrees from Parsons: The New School for Design, and Eugene Lang: The New School for Liberal Arts.

The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) uses the power of design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement. CUP projects demystify urban policy and planning issues that impact New York City communities, so that the public can better participate in shaping them. Through collaboration with art and design professionals, community-based advocates, and policymakers, CUP addresses complex issues—from the juvenile justice system to zoning law to food access— breaking them down into simple, accessible visual explanations.