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.