|an exploration of the intersection of art and community|
Points of Interest responds to a perceived need for reinvestment in underutilized and neglected public spaces in Braddock and North Braddock.
The intention of Points of Interest is to acknowledge value in these undervalued environments, to facilitate a re-evaluation of resources available in the neighborhood, and to promote a re-engagement with the public landscape.
The project also aims to examine the ways in which a neighborhood is defined and experienced by “outsiders”, those who do not live in or have personal ties with the neighborhood, and “insiders”, those who call the neighborhood home. We approach the project with the tools in hand that are currently available to us—visual art and our relationships with the “art world”. In the context of this project, the “outsiders” are artists from other areas of Pittsburgh, other states, and other countries. The “insiders” are residents of the immediate area who offer us guidance and insight.
Integral to the project are several community forums, at which we will ask residents to give us their perspective on the areas of their neighborhood that are ripe for redefinition. The joint work of our asking for insight, and the community members’ considered response will begin the process of creating new structures for valuation.
The project was first conceived as an opportunity to immediately and dramatically transform an environment using limited means. The addition of artwork to spaces that have been identified by “insiders”, (in this instance, young adults from the Braddock Youth Project), as dirty, boring, frightening, depressing, shameful etc. will brighten these locations and give new focus to both “insiders” and “outsiders” as they move through the neighborhood. More importantly, the addition of artwork is an explicit assignation of value to the area in which it is placed. The thought, energy, care and memory of the community “insiders” with whom we collaborate, in combination with the time and talent of the visiting artists, is intended to lead to an active re-assessment of the neighborhood as a living thing, capable of being affected by individual and community effort.
Our contention is that art in itself cannot change the circumstances of life except in a very transitory way; that art is more useful as a model of empowered action, which can be applied to many situations that call for imaginative problem solving. The invited artists will be working for a week in Braddock and North Braddock with teen facilitators from the area. Their visible presence is part of our intention to make the installation of artwork transparent and accessible.
We acknowledge that art often has a relationship with priviledge. We ask: is it possible to subvert that relationship so that the addition of artwork in an area considered blighted can empower an individual or community to feel privileged to imagine change and to enact it? There may be no immediate answer, but Points of Interest will be a successful project if it can bring up the question in open conversation. As “outsiders” in the process of becoming “insiders”, we are hopeful that the result will be a positive contribution to the place that we have only just begun to call home.
(from ruthie's perspective)
Points of Interest seemed like a do-able project. Dana was in Braddock, the rest of us weren’t yet. I wanted something that could be limited and defined. I envisioned an inexpensive and informal project utilizing a resource that we had at hand—artists that we trusted to paint murals and make installations. Luckily, Points of Interest became much more complicated. I think this was because Dana had begun to learn more about Braddock and had identified some needs and resources here.
So Dana laid out a way that POI would happen that relied on youth participation and community engagement. I was nervous about working with BYP. I think that is because I often see youth/artist collaborations produce mediocre work. Also, teenagers remind me of being a teenager, which was a mixed bag. Anyway, it turns out that the youth were really fun and had a lot to say about their neighborhood. The community outreach had some great success, but it never feels like enough.
Erin was in charge of getting permission to paint sites. That got me very conflicted because I felt that it denied an aspect of public work that is interesting to me, which is transgression onto private space and the expansion of public space. Also, Braddock is a place in which it is difficult to know what is “owned”, either formally or informally. Someone owns Callie’s site on Talbot by occupying it, for example.
Thinking about property and owning in Braddock feels like a physics problem, or some other thing that I can touch with the edge of my brain, but never wholly grasp. It is a big problem. POI brought up issues around property that I didn’t expect. The ones I did expect (conversation about formal and informal ownership) didn’t happen. It turns out that getting permission to paint sites didn’t bother me at all. Braddock has a different set of private/public problems than New York, or any other place with a competitive real estate market. Feel like I should write more about this, but I want to move on.
I bandied about a lot of language like “collaborative re-valuation of public space” but I probably didn’t believe all of it. I wanted to do something and I knew it wouldn’t be perfect and I decided to be okay with that. I do not know if art can be a tool for transforming environments and empowering individuals. That seems a little effed up for someone trying to start an arts organization. I’d like to find out if it is possible.
I am disturbed by the arbitrary valuation of artwork by a very tiny minority of very rich people. It seems like a game and when I take it seriously I often feel like I am playing into someone’s hands. Arbitrary valuation is a problem in Braddock in terms of property. A beautiful building that is the result of thousands of human hours of work and a huge amount of resource can be left to decay to the point of uselessness, and then it can become impossible to acquire without a big big lump of money because of back taxes and liens. How can value be assigned less arbitrarily? If value is always to some extent arbitrary, how can structures for valuation be made available to a broader population?
Valuation depends upon culturally formed criteria. Learning how an individual or a group defines value is a way to form relationships.
Making things is an important human activity. Lately it seems to me that the act of making something with care (an art or a craft or something in that vein) is a series of choices. I need practice making choices and I think other people do to. When I say something about the art process being empowering, that is what I mean.
I think we made some necessary compromises during POI, but I think we mostly did what we said we were going to do.