Friday, April 8, 2011

Community Involvement

This project would be extremely easy if all we had to do was gather a group of brilliant artists, give them facts (or perceived facts), and let them percolate ideas. The challenging part is the community. The future of the Ute Ulay Mine is entwined with their own. For every supporter there will be a detractor (maybe not quite that ratio). I've alway appreciated the Chinese dragon symbol which stands for both danger and opportunity. To me, that is what the community is. I want them to be well served, help arrive at workable options, listen to them, have them involved, an reassure them. In that poorly constructed sentence lies the dragon. My work between now and July 15 will mostly be about engaging the community so that we are not a bunch of outsiders telling them what to do. Ok. now you know my fears.

The last week of April I will be going to Lake City to meet with: Editor of the paper, Chamber of Commerce, County Commissioners, educators, and others. Of course, that is just a beginning and these folks enjoy their own challenges of trust within the community. How best to have involvement trickle down to a community that we don't live in?

I welcome ideas you may have on how to engage the community before, during and after Hardrock Revision.


  1. Comments from Lydia
    Hi Grant. Your blog post got me thinking -

    What I saw when I worked in Kentucky, and was on a few occasions on the opposite side of this equation (meaning I was a relatively permanent resident while artists would show up for a few days, do their work, and leave), is that there is a difficulty in establishing trust and the community often does not feel listened to. And from what I could tell, the best way to establish trust is just to show your face over and over again – make the community feel like you are invested – and to listen more than you talk. I think it’s really important that you got us housing in Lake City – I didn’t want to say anything when the plan was Gunnison because it seemed like you were having a hard time finding anything else – but I think it will help considerably to be living there, going out there, walking along the street there. It’s a good thing there are a bunch of extroverts involved in this project because any time we leave our housing, we will be representing the project, even if we’re just buying a coke at a convenience store (is there one in Lake City?).

    What I think could help is to from the outset define our mission for ourselves. Are we trying to come up with the most interesting and boundary pushing artistic ideas we can or is our first priority to serve the community? Because the reality of the matter is that those two things may be in conflict – art that involves the community is all about compromise and some of us, especially those who have been trained in studio practice, have been trained to see compromise as anathema to good art. You don’t have to compromise when you’re alone in your studio. So I think a discussion of this right off, a plan of how to deal with it, a defining of our goals in this project in relation to this, would be hugely helpful.

    I also think that identifying one or two community members who are willing to serve as bridges between our work and the folks who live in Lake City – I think maybe you are planning to do this already? But anyway, there is nothing as valuable, it seems to me, in community work as someone who is native to the community but also really engaged with the possibilities that new perspectives can bring. We need folks like that, I don't think this project can work without them. Or even organizations - an organization that is seen as vital to the community can slide us in under their wing. This is basically how it worked for me in Kentucky (I worked here ). I could have never come to understand the mountains in KY the way I did if it hadn't been for the place I worked and the connections they already had.

  2. Grant,

    This is a very appropriate comment given the nature of the work that will be completed, or envisioned, or enacted. etc. I am currently finishing up a project in the South Bronx in a community. However, it is a bit more complicated given the nature of academia and responsibilities. It was the goal from the start for the entire studio of 20 students to engage with one partner organization to facilitate a generative discussion and link to the community. However, this partnership was disbanded by the faculty member and left the studio in the ether. The lesson here is to understand the responsibility that the organizer has in communicating how the participants will engage with the community.

    The second thing we learned was that the community we were engaging with is, and has been studied by just about everyone in the city 5x over. In doing so, many good natured students are routinely dismayed by the lack of engagement by community organizations that field interview calls daily. I think Lake City is a bit different from the 8 million that reside in New York City, so we may have the upper hand in this situation. However, it is best to understand what has happened in terms of research or previous effort to at the very least build on the ideas of others.

    Good to know you are apprehensive of the parachute tactic. It is a daunting task to drop in on a community and then poof with a magic whisp after 4 weeks. Like Linda mentioned above, the mission of what we hope to accomplish will be essential.