Lily Xie and Jenny Henderson on Washing (洗作) — memorializing vibrant art and community despite displacement caused by freeways through Boston’s Chinatown

A crowd of people at Chinatown Gate plaza moves around a small, red house made of fabric. There are videos projected onto the walls of the house. (2021 Sean Foulkes)

In Boston, a freeway runs through Chinatown. Actually two do: I-90, the barreling East – West interstate that stretches from Boston in Massachusetts to Seattle in Washington State, and I-93, an interstate that runs North from Massachusetts through New Hampshire, and Vermont. Freeways running through Chinatown – and other nonwhite neighborhoods – is not rare, but entirely common in the United States. In Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, D.C., New York, among other cities – highways slice Asian-American, Black, and other non-white neighborhoods. They do, so as George Lipstiz tells us about spatial racism in How Racism Takes Place, by design. When I lived in St. Louis, people recounted how Busch Memorial Stadium where the Cardinals baseball team played was built on top of — and destroyed — the existing Chinatown.

Areas where freeways run through often have increased toxic dust; nearby residents suffer increased asthma, and in turn often labor in embodied practices to mitigate the grit of the freeway.

Despite architectural violence, minoritized communities near these freeways often retain and grew their vibrancy. One of those is communities animated by Washing (洗作).

From their website, “Washing (洗作) is a multimedia art project created in collaboration with Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC) to tell the stories of how community power and systemic injustice have shaped Boston’s Chinatown, and grow our collective capacity to imagine and demand a better future. This project showcases resident stories about the legacies of the I-93 and I-90 highways and their emotional, spiritual, and embodied impacts into the present day. Washing opens with an outdoor video projection installation in May 2021, where we will screen our audio and video piece in Chinatown.”

Late last year in 2021, I connected with Jenny Henderson, a researcher (and currently a PhD Candidate at Tufts University) who engages transportation and performance, and whose previous research includes “United States highway as both a route to freedom and a site of violence for Black Americans.” Jenny connected me with Lily Xie, Lead artist facilitator of Washing. 

As a performance geographer, I am fascinated with embodiments that tack place in spaces, especially spaces re-routed due to racist development practices. In our conversation below we talk about this and more, including the collaborative team of residents, listening to geography (including to highways which can’t listen well), architectural memory, turning buildings into screens, and how bodies are impacted by highways.


A crowd of people gather to listen to Washing’s artist team speak. The audience sits in blue chairs in a parking lot, while video projections are shown in the background. (2021, Nohemi Rodriguez)

Jasmine Mahmoud: I’m excited for this conversation.

Jenny Henderson: Thank you both! Lily, I’d love to hear about your journey with Washing and what inspired the project and what your process was with developing and sharing it.

Lily Xie: Absolutely. I’m an artist, and I started working with the Chinatown community in an arts capacity back in 2019. I had worked on a creative placekeeping project with the Asian Community Development Corporation and Pao Arts Center, called Residence Lab. It was through that line of work that I had been hearing from residents about their hopes and dreams for the future. One concern that was getting raised was around air quality. It just got me very interested, as I started to talk to more residents about what does air mean to people in this neighborhood? I heard a lot about the highways. Chinatown is in the elbow of two different highways, the I-90 and I-93.

The name of the project came from a conversation I had with one resident who was saying, “I don’t need research to know that the air quality is bad, because I can look out my window and see that my window is dirty.” These are the types of really domestic things that I would hear from people, like, “The air is bad, so I need to close my windows or I need to clean my countertops all the time, there’s always dust.” So this thinking about cleaning, dust, maintenance and repair is where the idea of “Washing” comes from.

Jenny: I remember reading an interview where you had shared that story and I was so struck by that comment: “we don’t need this paper. We can just look to our window and see that the air is dirty.” I would love to hear a little bit more about working with Chinatown residents to create the project. How did you first begin collaborating with them and how did those connections inform the piece?

Two people share an umbrella while they watch Washing, a set of videos projected onto the outline of a house on a building wall. Bright lights from apartment buildings and streetlamp illuminate the area. (2021 Nohemi Rodriguez)

Lily: I’m working with a really amazing group of people. Their names are Chu Huang, Charlene Huang, Dianyvet Serrano, and Maggie Chen. They’re all folks that I’ve met in the past couple years doing other projects. They’ve all been involved in the community to some capacity, either as youth workers, organizers and volunteers, and all of them are residents. I really specifically wanted to work with a group of people who had done some community or political work in the past, with their neighborhood, because I really wanted their perspectives. For me, I don’t live in Chinatown. I live in a nearby neighborhood, Jamaica Plain and making any project about this neighborhood, it was really important to center the voices of the residents, especially the residents who live close to the highways.

We went through a process where we started by asking, “what are the big questions we want to think through and chew over with this project? What would be a desirable outcome, in terms of presenting the work?” Those were really important for us to all decide together, for the project to be led by their vision around what would be meaningful. Then, we had a couple of guest facilitators come in and help us with how to conduct oral histories, like how to record on Zoom. Then, we had a wonderful facilitator Daphne Xu come in to help us with filmmaking.

We were shooting on our phones. Everything was done over Zoom, because it was the early part of the pandemic this year [in 2021]. We had to work with a lot of those constraints. All of these residents, they feel comfortable as artists in different capacities. So we wanted to choose mediums and ways of working that would feel comfortable for different levels. We met every week for about five months, from January to May. I was really lucky to have a group of people who could commit this kind of time and this kind of energy to this project.

Jenny: What was it like building that community over Zoom? I know you had worked with some of them prior, but over that five months…  Was it mostly one-on-one interviews or a lot of group work?

Lily: We met as a group every week. It’s a bilingual group too. So in addition to the four residents plus me, we also had a ton of help from May Lui from AsianCDC, who helped with interpretation and community engagement. Sung-Min Kim also supported us as a project assistant and co-researcher. I think it’s really hard actually to build something over Zoom. It’s a really vulnerable thing to be doing this work together, be doing artwork and I think it’s hard to be vulnerable with each other in person and even harder over Zoom.

Also our team was made up of working women and moms, and so the only time that most folks can meet was really early on Sunday morning. I think folks had so much going on. I think that’s harder to balance, but I think Zoom also made that possible. I don’t know if we could have done this actually, in different circumstances, but the timing ended up working out.

Jenny: When I read about the process behind creating the projections, I noticed listening was such a key theme and your artist team held open listening sessions for the Chinatown community, right? I would love to hear your thoughts on what it might mean to think about listening alongside and with geography and just how this idea of listening impacted both the process of creating and watching the final art installation?

Lily: Such an interesting question. The community listening session for us was really important as an opportunity, as a way to prototype our work. Part of what I think about as someone who is not from the community, but is working with residents and trying to make a piece that says something about Chinatown, it was really important to know what we are saying, how it’s landing for other people, especially residents. And are those things the same? So it was really important to open up and invite the community, for folks to come in and get a sense of, what are they sensing and taking away? Does this feel good for you to hear? Does it have like the impact that we’re hoping to have? I think as a prototyping question and checkpoint, that felt really important.

And since we’re talking about listening to geography, that’s also really interesting. I’m not sure I’ve thought about that. One thing that we talked about a lot as a group was the importance of naming, and especially for people of different generations to name the impacts of the highway. One of the people in our co-creation group, she grew up in Jamaica Plain, and she was saying that it wasn’t until she heard the stories that the other folks in the group had collected in their interviews that she connected her community’s experience with asthma with her environment. 

She was saying, “Oh, it was important for me to realize that, that wasn’t just a random thing, it’s something that’s connected to my environment where I grew up.” I think there’s something very special about sharing personal experiences and finding resonance with other people that live in the same space, and especially folks who have lived there for a long time and can definitely share about the history of a place through their memories. What do you think Jenny? Or what does listening geography have to do with each other?

A crowd of people gather to watch Washing, a set of videos projected onto the outline of a house on a building wall. There are around 50 people watching, sitting, and talking to one another. (2021 Derek Schwartz)

Jenny: I’m really moved by what you just were saying, and I’m thinking about how knowledges of places can be passed down and these sort of informal networks of how we get to know where we’re from or where we live. I don’t know, as you both are, I’m very interested in thinking about counter geographies and thinking about these networks of listening and past shared knowledge as another kind of geography.  What do you think, Jasmine?

Jasmine: I think a lot about the root or root-ish of the word geography as “earth writing” and what is written into the earth and how we listen to that. So, this has been an amazing conversation and I was thinking obviously we can listen to people’s voices, but I think Lilly with the work that you’re doing, we’re also listening to their bodies, the health of their bodies to cultural traditions.

 I think a lot about – I’ve lived in a bunch of different cities – body language in cities. When you go to New York, obviously things are different after COVID but the quick, quick, quick in Seattle where I live, people are super passive aggressive, no one looks you in the eye and how that’s also part of what’s written into the space. So ues, I’m totally with you, Jenny and Lilly thinking about who academia centers in geography and what sort of knowledges exist within spaces that are not centered by that, but are still passed down through bodies through other things like that.

Lily: Actually that reminds me too – I think a lot of the work with Washing has uncovered, I don’t know what the word is…I guess architectural memory, because so much development happens quickly in Chinatown. For example, there’s a road called Hudson Street in Chinatown that was demolished to build one of the highways and you can still see on some of the buildings that got built up after, the outlines of the houses that used to be there, the rowhouses on the brick. That was where we situated the first set of projections. We were projecting windows onto the row house outline that used to be there. So these ghosts and memories, brought back into the space. You can still see the basketball court on that lot. 

It’s so interesting about geography and listening and also just tuning in. Realizing that, once you start seeing these things or hearing about these stories, it’s easy to notice that the same repetition in other space. And to your point too, Jenny, about knowledge sharing, I feel like it’s not always clear what the buildings or the built environment around us is saying to us… I think you need some interpretation to learn about the histories that you’re living in. It’s not obvious.

Jenny:  I love that phrase, architectural memory and just tuning in to these histories and residues that are in places I think, is really interesting. Jasmine, I hadn’t heard that root word of geography either, and that’s also getting me thinking about, I don’t know, climate crisis has been on my mind obviously, but also listening to, like you were saying, the dust on the windows and on the countertops and things like that is another form of understanding place. 

My next question:  I would love to hear a little bit more about the role of memory and geography for you and how it shows up in your work, specifically thinking about washing.

Lily: I guess where my mind goes first, Chinatown is a neighborhood where, like many other neighborhoods of color, there’s been a lot of displacement. So collective memory can be very fractured, because, people have left and been forced to move elsewhere. What I found very moving about our process was one resident in our group, Charlene, has lived in Chinatown for 20+ years and was able to interview a couple folks who lived through the building of the highways and saw that entire process. Hearing their memories of what the space was like before, during, after, was really powerful. It felt really special to be able to experience that.

I think the other thing, I mean, I think we talked about this already, but I think part of the aesthetic sense that we were bringing into Washing is about revealing, I feel like that’s the magic of projections is that you can really cast images onto existing things without having to build anything. We were projecting these window onto these massive walls in this parking lot space. I think it’s a great way of using art and light to bring out the histories and start to generate questions about what is this space that we’re standing in, and what did it used to be? I think that felt really exciting, as a memory possibility.

Jenny: Coming from Performance Studies, hearing that is so exciting to me. These choices in medium can reveal and do this kind of memory work on these haunted spaces that are already there and yeah, it’s really exciting to think about that alongside performance and how these different mediums are performing.

Jasmine: I think it’s interesting thinking materially about it as well. What does it mean for light projection, a different technology and conceived of as temporary, to land on a building, something conceived of as permanent? Those different materials are really interesting to think about.

Lily: Definitely. Turning buildings or objects into screens, giving them a chance to talk. I’m still thinking through the question of how much do we talk about the way that this neighborhood has been harmed or taken advantage of, and how much do we talk about the ways that folks in the neighborhood have really organized, fought back, resisted, created their our own community and agency. I think there is a tension because I think for our group, a lot of us were like, “Oh, well, we really want developers and planners and architects and to know the history of the neighborhoods, and we want them to know the history of harm so they can start to think about repair.” But I think there’s also other folks that I’ve met through this work that have been like… We talk enough about this. We should talk more about community power and organizing and activism.

For example, Hudson Street, the street where all the houses were torn down, can really hold this memory of displacement and violence. On that same street now, there’s also this newer building at 66 and 88 Hudson Street, that was developed by one of the local community development corporations, that was land taken by eminent domain through the highway construction process. And they won a bid to redevelop it into affordable housing, including a community room, an art center, and a small park space. I feel like that’s another opportunity for memory of a different type.

Jasmine: That really reminds me when Lily you were talking about how residents say that academics go in there and they’re like, “I don’t need an academic to tell me about what’s happening.” Here, it reminds me of Eve Tuck who’s indigenous scholar has this article called “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities.” where she talks about how so much research on minoritized communities has a damaged-centered focus and she wants to switch it towards a desire-centered focus. I think about that a lot. Also,  I had a really amazing Black grad student read that who also critiqued that to also have us not forget the damage that’s been caused by these systems and also what does it mean to think about desire and joy and other practices that are not just about the damage that these horrible racist, colonialist systems have caused. So that just when you talked about it just was reminding me of that.

Jenny: Lily, one of the things that I really loved about the project was that highlighting of the history of community, power and coalition, particularly in the accompanying zine. I found that to be so exciting, because I think that tension is something that is at the center of so much geographic work and I thought the project dealt with that balance really beautifully.

Lily: Thank you for saying that. I love what you said, about the desire-centered. Because I feel like when we’re portaling in to these stories about harm, it’s so dark. I think that was sometimes the response I’ve gotten for other work that I’ve done, it’s been like, “It’s so depressing. What do you want us to do about it?” With air, it’s also the thing that’s so intangible. The solutions can also feel so intangible, and literally living next to these major highways can feel so massive and insurmountable. So I think having a way out of that, a way to express our desires and to believe that they can come true and to know historically that people have desired things in the past and have they have come true, I think is really necessary.

A red fabric house sits in Chinatown Gate plaza. There are videos projected onto the walls of the house, which look like windows. Behind the house, you can see tall buildings from the Financial District. (2021 Mel Taing)

Jenny: My next question was pretty much exactly to this point. I’ve said highways’ archives are fraught with stories of displacement and state violence, but also coalition and protests. How do arts and performance specifically help us navigate and reckon with those highway histories?

Lily:  I’m still thinking about that. I mean, I think one thing that was important for our group in our discussions as we were creating and designing this project was to have a focus on people’s individual, embodied experiences. There’s a great group called CAFEH (Community Assessment on Freeway Exposure and Health) in Chinatown that works on like the science and research, or at a population level, “Here’s how air pollution affects populations, broadly.” I think that work is so important and so necessary, and they’re doing really great work. I think for art, we have a privilege in being able to get really personal and intimate and we don’t have to speak on the level of populations. Bringing that was definitely something I felt like we could do.

I think especially if we’re thinking about infrastructure, something that’s so big, and drilling that down to the level of the very personal, that was something that we were trying to do. I’m still thinking through how to articulate this, but there’s something really interesting about activating these spaces in Chinatown, with being really specific about where we bring these stories, where we’re doing these productions and the lot that we did our first one in May, with those real house outlines. It was a really important site. It’s called Parcel R-1. It’s one of the last remaining pieces of publicly owned land in Chinatown and it’s going up for redevelopment this year.

I think having Washing there meant making R-1  part of the conversation – what can happen with this parking lot? What could we have here? And bringing that conversation about harm and repair into that, felt really important. Actually, next week there will be another showing at Chin Park, right by the Chinatown Gate. The placement was important, because in that same park, there’s a vent stack from the highway, which was moved underground during the Big Dig. 

The vent stack is a chimney that lets the exhaust out from the highway, right into one of the most popular parks in Chinatown. Having Washing there, looking out onto that monument of the vent stack, and then also in the context of Big Dig. There’s people in Washing who say, “they moved the highway underground, why can’t they do that again? Why can’t they do that for more of these highways?” 

Jenny: Absolutely.

Jasmine: One of the things that Jenny and I, when we first met, were talking about, and one thing that’s been really interesting to me and really that’s one of the reason I love your work is, it’s just interesting to me the practice of freeways through minoritized communities. I’m from Southern California, I live in Seattle, I’ve lived in Chicago and St. Louis and New York city and Boston. I went to college in Boston and what’s interesting to me is almost every city I’ve lived in, there’s a freeway through Chinatown and that’s like… I go visit my family in LA, when you go to Japan town or… There’s a freeway through Asian-American communities. When you go to Japantown, it’s right off the freeway. In Seattle, there was a freeway through what’s called Chinatown/International District. New York, obviously, right that downtown battery place is right there.

That to me signals a systemic anti Asian-ness and that’s built into our infrastructure. In St. Louis, where I lived, the Chinatown that existed in the 60s, they completely got rid of it and put the baseball stadium there. Also in St. Louis, they built one of the freeways I-40 through not only Chinatown, but also Mill Creek, that was a thriving middle class Black community in I think in the ’50s and ’60s, and there was a woman named Vivian Gibson, who’s a black, she’s become…. She grew up in St. Louis lived there all her life, and then she’s recently become a writer and she just wrote a book called The Last Children of Mill Creek to remember those that were displaced, black residents that were displaced by the freeway.

I think a lot about both how these things are really systemic. It’s interesting to step back and realize the extent to which there was a freeway through Chinatown and so many major cities in the United States and also things like the work that you’re doing Lilly and the work that Vivian is doing with, how do we write back? How do we remember? 

A red fabric house sits in front of the Chinatown Gate. There are videos projected onto the walls of the house, which look like windows. Above the house, there hang colorful paper lanterns. (2021 Mel Taing)

Lily: You’re right, it is so systemic and I feel like timing is so important. So many of these public major highway projects were happening during a time where Asian-Americans were just recently allowed to start immigrating into the country, were just starting to like gain rights as citizens. What I hear from the folks that we interviewed who grew up during this time was, “We weren’t going to push back.” Their rights felt like they could be taken away so fast, and it didn’t feel like they were safe to be able to protest or resist.

I talked with Michael Liu, who’s this wonderful historian and activist. He had just had a book come out called Forever Struggle. He was a kid living in Chinatown when they were building the highways and he was saying that a lot of the folks who grew up at his age and generation were just so impacted, not only by the violence of the construction, but also their elders who they felt like didn’t do enough, or couldn’t do enough, to stop it.

I think that fire fuels a lot of the activism that happens in the ’70s and beyond for this generation, who watched this happen. Speaking of memory – the way that the legacies of our spaces, they don’t just live in the buildings and structures around us, but also in us as people, in the way that we conduct ourselves and build our communities. I would love to hear from other folks from other Chinatowns about highways. 

Jenny: Lily what you had said about the timing of highway construction reminded me of some research I had done on the I-10 freeway through Tremé, a historic Black community in New Orleans and that construction was happening right around the time that a lot of the trolley street car protests were happening within Black activists groups in New Orleans. So it’s just looking at these patterns of state oppression, particularly around mobility, happening around these times of greater freedom and protest is compelling and upsetting. 

The next question that I have:  what are some practices that you would recommend to people hoping to engage more rigorously with local histories? What are some things that you do in your own practice if you feel comfortable sharing?

Lily: That’s a great question. I felt very blessed and lucky because of how I started working with folks in Chinatown. I was invited to be part of a program that was organized by Asian Community Development Corporation, who have built a lot of really strong community relationships. I think that just let me build trust with individuals and groups more quickly than I could have if I had just walked in and been like, “Hello, I’m here.” I was very lucky, to be able to lean on those relationships, but I think in general, when I am working on things like this, I think I just try to cast a wide net because I know in most communities, there’s people that have been working on whatever you’re trying to learn about, for much longer and much deeper than you know.

When I started this project, I reached out to folks who have been actively engaged in community organizing and environmental justice work, such as folks from the Chinese Progressive Association and the Chinatown Community Land Trust, and CAFEH. So just trying to tap into all the different sources of community knowledge and movement that was happening and going to community meetings. We went to a lot of community meetings this year, just hearing what folks have to say, and hearing what’s exciting and interesting and contentious at this present time is really important. Walking is a really important practice for me, just walking and looking and hearing. I don’t want to sound too preachy, but I feel like I’ve been trying to work on humility, and knowing that there are spaces that’s not for me to enter as an outsider and that’s okay.

Jenny: The first thing you said about realizing that these have been conversations and things that people have been talking about for longer than you can even imagine is something I really resonate with, and I also love what you said about walking. It reminds me of our earlier conversation about listening and different ways that you can listen to the community, especially if we’re thinking about walking alongside driving, particularly driving on highways, which are designed to go over neighborhoods and not really be these sort of listening ways of traveling. It’s designed to be from point A to point B.

Jasmine: It’s making me think about when I lived in St. Louis, I was there for two years on a postdoc and I taught this class twice, Urban Ethnography in St. Louis. And one of the exercises we did… St. Louis, it’s shaped like a seed and the north half is 98% black and all the things that… Because of this obsession associated with it, property values, and then literally cross the street of Del Mar, properties go from 50,000 to 500,000. My joke was always to white friends, I’m like, “Move to North St. Louis and use your whiteness to leverage your wealth and blah, blah, blah, and really fuck up ways.”

Anyways, we did a walk, I did the ethnography class where every week we engage different senses. So I have my students took the light rail and listened to and attend to what they heard, just what they heard. Then we did a walk from North St. Louis, through black neighborhoods to the more white neighborhoods and they attended to what they saw and of course other senses. But I think it was interesting walking, because I think there’s so much stigma about North St. Louis for a lot of folks that don’t live there like, so dangerous.

Every time we walk there and I’ve been there other times, people say hello. It’s residents saying “Hi, how are you? How are you doing?” I think that walking can be a way to, I don’t know, experience or be with people. I also want to acknowledge that it’s super fraught. My students and I asked “Is it ethical to do this?” But I also was wondering, would they/we ask about  those ethics if we were walking in a white neighborhood? It’s interesting how different racialized bodies, because of how they’ve been treated by the state, prompt different ethics come up when engaging neighborhoods? Also, to your point about being an outsider, what does that mean? So anyway, there’s some questions I’m thinking about, but also just a vote of approval for walking or moving.

Jenny, I really love your point about when you drive how you miss spaces and what does it mean to… How does walking differently attune you to space, is something I think about.

Lily:  That’s great. I think definitely taking things at the speed of a pedestrian versus the speed of a car, can teach you a lot.

I think in Chinatown, when I first started visiting the neighborhood when I first lived within Boston, I think in my head I was like, “Oh, this is a place where there are restaurants and it’s like a business area.” When you start paying attention, I think you start to notice that this is also people’s homes. I think thinking about an area, through a residential capacity versus just a business capacity, really shifts our mindsets about a neighborhood.

Jasmine: I love that. I teach a public policy arts class where we engage, among other topics, the creative economy, the concept that Richard Florida popularized. So much of that concept and practice is about business, but actually ignores people. I think it’s interesting to shift to think about, as you say, the residents. 

Jenny: I have one more question, thinking about embodied knowledge and bodies: what kind of questions and ideas do you think bodies specifically can open up about highways and city space? I mean this as generally or specifically as you want, thinking about either performance and arts, but also protest, or even proximity and what we were just talking about — walking through neighborhoods and attuning to, saying hi, and being with other people. 

A crowd gathers to watch a small illuminated house, whose walls are made of moving images. In the background, you can see the Chinatown Gate and playground. (2021 Mel Taing)

Lily: I don’t know if I have a super well articulated answer, but I think what this is making me think of is – looking at the highways, the history of this infrastructure from an air and body perspective, it’s different than the way that I’ve been taught to think about it. We learn a very structural or even economic perspective through school, but we don’t hear as much about how the body responds to highways. There’s obviously people that have asthma, respiratory issues or cardiovascular that are impacted by the highway, but there’s also more subtle things, like the noise of the highway and the vibrations that you’ll feel. One person that we interviewed was talking about how her daughter would always get nosebleeds because they would close the windows to keep out the pollution, with the air conditioning going all day long.

These things that make your body feel so vulnerable and really not in control of your environment, they have a really strong impact on your psyche. And also this feeling of, how much power do you have over your environment and over your home. What can you really do to impact the air that you breathe, this thing that surrounds you and it feels so all encompassing. One thing that I am still thinking about a lot is a conversation I had with someone, where they were reflecting back to me, “Oh, your work is about healing.” I think I really struggle with the word “healing”, because, what does it really mean to heal? To have a work be healing when the environment circumstances are still unchanged? Washing is very heavy and during our first installations, I was thinking about, how should we open the work?

I feel like if had it been presented somewhere else, I would have been like, “ok everyone, let’s take a deep breath together.” But I was like, “I can’t have people take a deep breath, the highway is right there!” It’s so ironic, it’s so sad. I think centering the body, Jenny, maybe it makes me think about what’s possible in terms of repair and restoration. When we talk about spatial inequities, spatial injustices, I think the work is inviting us to think about attending to the personal, intimate, and domestic harms, in addition to the material repair, in order to attend to the harms of the past.

Jasmine: I think one thing I think about and this conversation is making me think about, is George Lipsitz who writes How Racism Takes Place talks about… His argument is that racism is spatial and space in the United States racist and racialized. Lily so much of what you’re talking about makes me think about how these infrastructures are literally put on bodies. They’re put on bodies, health-wise also, it’s interesting thinking racially about this infrastructure and maybe expectations to see Asian-American folks near highways in American cities or the expectation to not see a black person in a rural area, even though we think about enslavement and that black folks were in often rural areas. So what are the meaning put on bodies? How do highways frame how meetings are put in bodies? That also is for folks living in suburban, mostly white areas. How do those highways put meetings on those bodies as well?

Lily: Definitely. There’s such a huge racial component. The institutional racism behind the way that so many highways were built in the US really ties together a lot of marginalized communities, in Boston. There’s the famous I-95 and the way that that was constructed and actually was the site of cross-racial solidarity for people to organize together to move the path of that highway. Within Chinatown, I think it is that solidarity of, we all experienced the same type of thing, is definitely an area for folks to build coalition and just seeing the ways that their oppressions are linked, which is so important, I think.

Jenny, I’m so interested to hear your perspective too, as someone that studies performance.

Jenny: I love this conversation and I guess, one thing is, just coming off of doing my thesis on highways in the spring, it’s so nice to have a really thoughtful conversation that helps me see highways and things I’ve been thinking about, but also new perspectives, taking that break from my thesis. So thank you for that. But I guess thinking about performance, I am also really interested in how highways can be used as — and Lily, you looked at this, as well — as sites of protest. I looked at specifically Black Lives Matter protests on highways and also some protests from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement.

I think it’s really compelling to think about how the choice of site and location is so important and can be so revealing in these ways of both histories of harm, but also histories of solidarity and community power and other stories of these highway locations. I’m a big fan of Rebecca Solnit’s Atlas Project, I don’t know if either of you are familiar, but basically she has these different maps that will put two different or related ideas alongside each other. So she has one in San Francisco that’s queer nightlife spaces and butterflies that she maps alongside each other. I would love to see what a map like that of the highway will look like and what those two themes could be that would maybe tell another story of highways or highlight a story that’s already being told. That’s what I’m thinking about after this conversation.


Lily Xie is a Chinese-American artist and educator whose socially engaged work explores radical imagination, reimagined histories, and other routes to collective resilience. Lily shares strategies adapted from her drawing and bookmaking practices as tools for community empowerment and justice. Most recently, she was a member of the inaugural cohort of Radical Imagination for Racial Justice, a joint program from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the City of Boston. Lily is part of New England Foundation for the Arts’ Creative City 2020 cohort for artists creating socially-engaged public art, and has been awarded grants from The Boston Foundation’s Live Arts Boston program, the Mayor’s Office of Arts & Culture Transformative Public Art, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Transmedia Storytelling Initiative. Lily is currently receiving her masters at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Jenny Henderson (she/her/hers) is currently a third-year Ph.D student at Tufts University whose research investigates the intersections of performance, place, and memory. Last year she completed her M.A. thesis which interrogated anti-Black violence within the American interstate system and examined artistic and activist modes of refusal communities have deployed on highways. She also taught the department’s new “Performance and Social Justice” course and worked as a research assistant for Dr. Lilian Mengesha and Dr. Daanika Gordon’s “Building Transformative Justice at Tufts” project. Jenny graduated Cum Laude from Miami University in 2017 and spent the following few years working as a copyeditor in Chicago, IL. In addition to her scholarship, Jenny has gained recognition for her work in dramaturgy, cultural criticism, and creative nonfiction.

Introducing Jonathan Banfill and Danielle McClune — two new writers for the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies blog!

I am excited to introduce two new writers for the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies Blog: Jonathan Banfill and Danielle McClune!

Jonathan Banfill is Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. He holds a PhD in Comparative and International Education from UCLA and his research focuses on interdisciplinary and experiential pedagogies for engaging with global cities. From 2016-2019 he was a teacher and researcher at the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative, helping to lead study programs that compared contemporary urban life in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Mexico City, and Shanghai.

Caption: Outside Roberto Bolaño’s teenage home in Mexico City. 

Danielle McClune is a Master’s degree candidate in Arts Leadership at Seattle University and Senior Communications Manager at Microsoft. A Wisconsin native, she earned a B.A. in Creative Writing and spent six years as an arts critic in Milwaukee before moving to Seattle in 2015. Her graduate research has focused on economic equity in the arts focused on community wealth building through reparative, cooperative financial models. She has spoken at the EMERGE Conference in Minsk, Belarus for Eastern European startups on the importance of humane design in tech, as well as the Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) Conference on the realities of arts economy and the wealth gap in Seattle. She misses a good Midwestern thunderstorm.

Danielle McClune in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle

Over the next few months, the three of us will write about urban cultural studies topics including pedagogy, land use, and the arts.

CFP for “Performing Black Futures”

Photo credit: Franchesca Lamarre


Performance Studies Focus Group (PSFG) Post-Conference

Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE)

Proposals due: May 1, 2020

Detroit, MI & Online

Post-Conference Dates: Sunday, August 2 – Monday, August 3, 2020

Keynote Artists: Taylor Renee Aldridge & Jennifer Harge

Curators: Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud & Krista Miranda



“In the present project, the imagination […] plays a central role: it animates the mode of knowledge production for which this project invested in Black futures calls, and it anchors a spatiotemporal organization in which ‘queer remains’ are generative, deterritorializing forces. Thinking with and through a vibrant concept of the imagination opens onto this project’s perceptions of queer times and Black futures, and of the spatial politics that might be associated with them.” (16)

-Kara Keeling, Queer Times, Black Futures

“Black futures perpetually reroute us to the here and now.” (189)

-Malik Gaines, Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible

During their high school years in the 1980s, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson fused “notions of futurism and mechanics”[1] to develop Detroit Techno sound. On the heels of the Great Recession, Maya Stovall danced in front of Detroit’s ubiquitous liquor stories to spark conversations with residents and consciousness of the city (and its majority black residents) beyond ruin porn, emptiness, and bankruptcy discourses. In the late 2010s, Detroit-based movement artist Jennifer Harge choreographed and performed fly/drown, “a dance-folktale” that considered “the Black domestic space in the US post-Great Migration … home spaces that have been crafted by Black folks in the north after escaping white terrorism … thinking of the ways in which Black women in particular have had to organize space, or demand that the home be a site for pleasure practicing, or self-sovereignty.” [2] Over the past decade, Detroit born and raised playwright Dominique Morisseau authored and staged Detroit ‘67, Paradise Blue, and Skeleton Crew, three plays collabortively known as the Detroit Cycle that sketch the history, rebellions, foreclosures, conversations, and people of Motor City.

These artists have heard, imagined, and performed Detroit’s futures. Their work asks us: How might performance frame, challenge, and expand notions of the city, black feminist and queer futures, and black futurity? The 2020 Performance Studies Focus Group at ATHE Post-Conference, “Performing Black Futures,” takes up this central question.

Our keynote artists are Taylor Renee Aldridge and Jennifer Harge. Taylor Renee Aldridge is a writer and independent curator based in Detroit, Michigan. She has organized exhibitions with the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Artist Market, Cranbrook Art Museum, and The Luminary (St. Louis). In 2015, along with art critic Jessica Lynne, she co-founded ARTS.BLACK, a journal of art criticism for Black perspectives. Her writing has appeared in Artforum, The Art Newspaper, Art21, ARTNews, Canadian Art, ContemporaryAnd, Detroit MetroTimes, Hyperallergic and SFMoMA’s Open Space. Jennifer Harge is the artistic director of Harge Dance Stories and has worked as a movement artist for over 15 years. Her approach to form combines the multiplicity of her black and queer identities with her training in postmodern dance. Her work has been recognized by various organizations and institutions across the country in the form of fellowship, performance and residency invitations, including: Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Washington National Cathedral, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, University of Michigan, Duke University, and Wayne State University. She is the inaugural recipient of the 2019 Eva Yaa Asantewaa Grant for Queer Women(+) Dance Artists, as well as the 2019 Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists.

The post-conference will take place on Sunday, August 2 to Monday, August 3, 2020, in Detroit, MI at Wayne State University. The Post-Conference will include activating the space of Midtown Detroit with site-specific dance artist Biba Bell, an engagement by keynotes artists Taylor Renee Aldridge and Jennifer Harge on the evening of Sunday, August 2, and additional panels on Monday, August 3. A closing bookend to ATHE’s 2020 Conference, “Drive” this PSFG Post-Conference is in partnership with the Black Theatre Association and LGBTQ Focus Groups. This post-conference is being scheduled amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic and the curators take seriously the health and wellness of participants. As global updates continue, we will modify the Post-Conference as needed to take place virtually (through video engagement, working group feedback, and webspace), if we are unable to meet in person.

We seek proposals for academic papers, live and/or virtual performance, performance pedagogy engagements, and experimental formats. Submissions might want to consider, but are not limited to:

  • Detroit’s black history, presence, and futures (Herb Boyd, Maya Stovall)

  • black urbanism, black geographies, and plantation futures (Katherine McKittrick)

  • black aesthetic styles include theatre, techno, and ballroom culture (Marlon Bailey)

  • black experimentation and avant-gardes (Uri McMillan, Fred Moten)

  • theories of balck movement and performance (Thomas DeFrantz & Anita Gonzalez)

  • black feminist futures (Brittney C. Cooper)

  • queer presence and futures (E. Patrick Johnson, Kara Keeling, Amber Musser, Tavia Nyong’o)

  • pasts, presences, and futures of Afrofuturism (Ytasha Womack)

  • the Black Radical Imagination (Robin D. G. Kelley, Erin Christovle & Amir George)

  • blackness quotidian “choreographies of citizenship” (Aimee Meredith Cox)

  • black-led tactics and  “emergent strategy” such as “pleasure activism” (adrienne maree brown)


For paper and pedagogy proposals, please submit as one word or pdf document:

1) name and contact information (with email address),

2) an abstract (~300 words), and

3) a brief biography (~250 words);

4) thoughts on what your preferred virtual engagement might look like

For performance and experimental format proposals, please submit as one word or pdf document:

1) name and contact information (with email address),

2) description of performance or experimental format (~300 words),

3) a brief biography (~250 words),

4) technical requirements, duration, and thoughts on what your preferred virtual engagement might look like

and, if applicable, 5) up to six jpeg images, link to an online portfolio, or other relevant media.

Please submit proposals and any questions to post-conference curators Jasmine Mahmoud and Krista Miranda at and Use the subject line “Performing Black Futures.”

We will notify all participants by May 15, 2020.


[1] Adriel Thorton, “Juan Atkins, Derrick May + Kevin Saunderson in Conversation,” MOCAD, Youtube, 1 September, 2016:

[2] Will Furtado, “Show Me Your Shelves! Jennifer Harge: The Home as a Site of Pleasure,” Contemporary And, 19 November 2019:

Spaces now available: ‘City Maps’ PhD workshop with Benjamin Fraser

Benjamin Fraser, Executive Editor of the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies, is leading the next City Maps doctoral training workshop, funded by CHASE, which will take place on Friday 28 June 2019 at Birkbeck, University of London.

While places in this workshop series are in the first instance reserved for students funded by CHASE, or studying at a CHASE institution, the organization is pleased to make available a limited number of places for doctoral students studying at other institutions for the next workshop, co-led by Benjamin Fraser (University of Arizona) and Mari Paz Balibrea (Birkbeck).

The description of the workshop is below. If you would like to participate, please send the following information to Mara Arts ( by no later than 14 June 2019:

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Institution
  • Working thesis title
  • Summary of your doctoral research (400-500 words)
  • Dietary requirements
  • Other requirements

City Maps Workshop Series: Navigating the Urban Object Across Disciplines

Workshop 5

Urban Cultural Studies: Getting Oriented, Getting Published

Prof. Benjamin Fraser, U. of Arizona

Friday 28 June, 2019

10.00 Arrive/coffee

10.30-12.00 Urban Cultural Studies Method

A talk by Benjamin Fraser on the methodological questions involved in conducting urban cultural studies research. This includes a brief look back at the development of cultural studies, discussion of previous confrontations and intersections between the humanities and the social sciences, and exploration of the current (inter)disciplinary landscape of journal publishing. A range of cultural texts are mentioned including literature, poetry, theatre, film, comics, popular music, performance, painting, video games, and architecture. Emphasis is on the blending of textual analysis, cultural context, and theoretical ground. Examples given from the speaker’s own research and from the pages of the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies.

12.00-13.00 Lunch (provided)

13.00-14.45 Task 1 – The Interdisciplinary Publishing Landscape

This session will be led by both Benjamin Fraser and Mari Paz Balibrea and will help participants reflect on their own work on cities and how it fits in the landscape of urban studies scholarship. Fraser and Balibrea will provide opening remarks about the state of the interdisciplinary publishing landscape in order to capture the breadth of research venues interested in urban-related submissions. Participants will be divided into groups in order to discuss where their intervention best fits in the field, with the goal of identifying the most relevant journals and publishing houses. This session will involve both small-group and large-group Q&A, with the possibility of 1×1 conversations as time permits.

14.45-15.00 Break

15.00-16.45 Task 2 – Transforming Your Thesis into a Book

This session will be led by both Benjamin Fraser and Mari Paz Balibrea. The 15 participants will divide into groups of 3, and each group will compile and discuss a list of questions they have about the process of turning your thesis into a book. All questions are welcome. Among other topics, participants might consider: publishing and the academic job market; dos and don’ts when turning a thesis into a book, how to identify a suitable publisher, organization of a proposal, submitting a proposal, suggesting possible readers of your proposal and manuscript to a press, communication with acquisitions editors, how many proposals to send out at one time, whether to publish articles/chapters separately that might be included in the book, the peer-review process, the revision process, proofing your book, indexing your book, identifying prospects for promotional blurbs and endorsements on the book cover, promoting your book pre- and post- publication.

Groups will have 15-30 minutes for internal discussion driving the creation of their list. Each group will then share their list with the larger workshop group, after which collective exploration of the themes raised will begin with the most common questions first.

On ‘Ballast’, black geographies, and gathering in: an interview with Quenton Baker

our escape then/
a hinterland

Oversized in white text on a translucent mesh screen, these words appear as if broadcast on and through a television suspended from the ceiling. Broadcast through, these words, and their permutations, find other temporary homes including the wooden floor beneath the screen, and the walls parallel to it. Those permutations include fragments from the poem, such as letters “e s” or “a” or “n t” stretched and flipped in ways that both undo and imbue different meanings.

Soon, these words disappear from the screen. Their fleeting presence directs the eye elsewhere. On white walls are vertical black blocks. On closer inspection, these blocks are paragraphs where most words in once-written text have been blacked out to create erasure poems with only a few words visible. From old paragraphs new meanings appear such as “this wound, this public instrument.” Meanings continue to oscillate: upon closer inspection, the blacked out paint is not opaque but translucent, allowing a strained reading of the original text.

This work comprises Ballast, an exhibition by Seattle-based poet Quenton Baker, which runs at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, WA through February 3, 2019.

Ballast, “examines,” from language from the Frye’s website, “the 1841 slave revolt aboard the brig Creole, using the event as a kaleidoscopic lens through which to consider the position of blackness and the ongoing afterlife of slavery.” More from the Frye’s website:

The Creole revolt occurred when a group of enslaved persons, led by Madison Washington, commandeered the ship en route from Virginia to Louisiana, and steered it toward the British island of Nassau. Britain abolished slavery in 1833, meaning that no authority could be exercised over any of the enslaved who landed on English soil, and 135 people gained their freedom as a result. It is the only successful large-scale revolt involving U.S.-born enslaved people in American history.

Ballast then centers the slave revolt on the Creole, a scantly written about event, through two main aesthetic orientations, Baker’s “erasure poems—made using pages from the Senate document detailing the Creole case,” and Baker’s poems in invented form that appear and disappear in segments on screens throughout the space. As such, Ballast aesthetically uses poetry to, in Baker’s words, “resolve … without speaking for people, because that’s impossible and demeaning … to create a language in the void” of silences and erasures of black life. Ballast asks viewers to consider new languages, absences, and presences as an imperfect way to center the lives of black people chronically devalued in and erased from archives. “I want them to feel gathered in,” Baker told me.

What follows is more from our conversation. (Interview edited for length).

JASMINE MAHMOUD: I’d love to hear more about your background, especially the influence of geography. You are from Seattle, you have an MFA in Poetry from the University of Southern Maine, and just debuted this show inspired by a slave revolt from Virginia to Nassau. How do the various geographies with which you dialogue influence your work?

QUENTON BAKER: Geography is an interesting one for me. I was at Cave Canem this summer …

MAHMOUD: What is that?

BAKER: A retreat for black poets.

MAHMOUD: Where is it?

BAKER: It’s held … they’re based in New York, but it’s held in Greensburg, Pennsylvania on a satellite campus for Pitt. It’s run by Cornelius Eady and Toi Derricotte. They started twenty some years ago.

So at Cave there’s 34 fellows per … all black poets from across the world really. I was talking to Dante Micheaux about where I lived and moved … born in Seattle, grew up in Seattle, lived in Seattle for most of my life. Moved to Portland, Oregon when I was rapping, and that was where that career took place and then I went to Portland Maine.

He was curious, he was like “those are obviously all like really not black spaces … but with your work, knowing what I know of your work, it makes sense that you would choose those places, because you don’t have a provincial focus, or because you’re focused on these broader themes.”

That made me think about it, because that was the first time I really thought about geography in my work. I think because of how black folks are positioned globally, but specifically here in Seattle, there’s just this extreme isolation. Even of course, even if you have a community, even if you have folks, just the way that the city is oriented and created. It’s meant to … even in community, you’re meant to be isolated from so many of the broader moves and most of the city. And I think that influences me, and influenced me, my experience in the city, but also as a writer. Essentially it dictated my internal landscape, so much. So for me it’s less about the external geography. As a poet of place, I really consider myself to be a poet of the interior. So, it’s the ways in which these places have created and folded into that interiority.

So really I think I’m drawn to places where I am externally isolated, because that matches the isolation that blackness as a position inhabits within civil society. And where I can retreat in some ways to work, and still have community when I do venture outside, but really … because when you write in New York, or San Francisco or like the Bay … the city becomes a character in some way and you have to attend to that. But, here I felt like I can think and write broadly, using my understanding of how civil society enacts itself through the lens of Seattle, but without having to attend to the physical geography or topography in anyway.

MAHMOUD: How did you first learn about the Creole and how did your engagement with the revolt influence your process?

BAKER: While I am a poet of the interior landscape, I’m also a poet of research and history. I was writing a project about the Negro Leagues, Negro league baseball. One of the directions I ended up reading about was the secondary slave market. Partially it was also because I had just gone to New Orleans for my sister’s wedding. She got married in New Orleans and … the barracoons are just right there. There’s still slave markets and shit. The slave pens are still right there. Which of course, that was my first time in the south, so that was like damn. So then I wanted to read about those.

Soul by Soul by Walter Johnson is a fantastic book and [Johnson] mentions it just briefly, and I was like, “wait what? A what?” Because I was under the impression that there were no large-scale revolts that succeeded. So I started tracking down more information, which was difficult because it’s very sparse in comparison with something like the Amistad of course, which got Spielberg treatment. Coming across this story, and feeling like there was something there, that was worthy of looking at, was really what grabbed me.

MAHMOUD: In the exhibit you do blackout poetry on the US Senate document that details the Creole case. What was your process with engaging with that text? And also, how were you thinking geographically about Virginia, Louisiana, Nassau?

BAKER: You have to think geographically when you’re thinking about chattel slavery, for so many different reasons. Geography influences life outcomes, potential for escape, family, kinship ties, everything. The geography becomes… it’s such a determining factor, you can’t help but think about it. When I first came across it and started reading about it, I really thought I was going to do a straight narrative, maybe persona work. I just really thought it would be pretty straightforward, just like I’m going to write about this thing because this thing I think deserves more attention.

It’s emblematic of a certain kind of reification of black non-being or black non-existence. The way we can be banished to no place instantly. So that I just wanted just to look at it. To give it time. It’s like Claudia Rankine says [to paraphrase], “bring forth the forgotten bodies, the forgotten names.” I just wanted to do that. But, it really changed a lot, because I also assumed there’d be more material to engage with.

MAHMOUD: How much was it? What does the archive look like?

BAKER: Fredrick Douglass wrote his only piece of fiction, he wrote a novella about this.

MAHMOUD: Oh wow, I didn’t know that.

BAKER: Yeah, it was one of the first things he ever wrote, and the only piece of fiction. It was essentially an abolitionist tract. So, what I found was that most of it was turned into like pro-abolition propaganda, basically, which felt like a different kind of erasure. And, a frustrating one. Obviously, the abolition movement was so problematic. No one was interested in making an engagement with how the slave position was entangled with social death. No one was interested in resolving that, because of course it would mean the complete demolition of the social structure. So, abolition became this call for etiquette basically.

So Madison Washington. The leader of the revolt, there’s some things that we know: we know he did escape slavery and ended up in Canada. And we know that for some reason he went back. We know he was a skilled laborer, but we know very little about him. What Douglass — and there were some other people who wrote novellas about this abolitionist — they all hit on the fact that he was going back to save his wife, and there was variations, sometimes the wife was on the ship, and then he saw her and decided to–

It’s always this very clean narrative, and then a very clean sort of delineation of a kind of agency, which is ahistorical and obliterating in a lot of ways. And so it was at that point, I was reading the narratives of these other people, and of course their novellas are fiction. But that really set me off the concept of … that made me have a really long, still ongoing session with myself about what it means to engage with this kind of material. What it means to consider the slave … to really have a really really solid understanding of what chattel slavery and modern anti-blackness mean in terms of how black people and blackness are positioned within civil society. That became paramount, so that really changed everything. Mainly being so aghast and offended because the most frustrating thing was Douglass. Because I’m like, “bruh, you are in the Bahamas, you’re in Jamaica, you’re in all these places. You could have gone to Jamaica and talked to these folks, but you didn’t.”

No one did. The fact that no one, 135 five people, five of them went back to New Orleans, 130, I think one or two died. I mean 128 people who mostly all went to Jamaica, you wanted to find them, you could of found them. You wanted to write about them, you wanted their story, you toured with it, you orated, you gave all these talks but you didn’t go, no one went and talked to them.

That was so frustrating for me. So I wanted to resolve that without speaking for people, because that’s impossible and demeaning. But I wanted to speak. I wanted to find a language, I guess, to create. In my mind, the way that I could approach redress, of course I could never succeed, but was to create a language in the void. It wasn’t going to be their language exactly. It’s not going to be my language exactly, but there is a void, there’s these and other, all these voices, all these interior spaces missing and, in that elision I can put something. It won’t be perfect… it’ll be something I hope, that’s the hope. So, that’s how I came to … so my methods really just did a complete shift over the process of researching and thinking through it.

MAHMOUD: I want to talk to you about the aesthetics of the show itself. How did you make the decisions about what Ballast would look like, and how it would dialogue with the meanings you were making as a poet?

BAKER: The erasure stuff … I started writing this in 2015 and then adapted it for the show. So, all the erasures existed already on the page in similar formats.

MAHMOUD: So you would put the blackout text on a page?

BAKER: Yeah, so that’s part of the manuscript and then it was just a natural fit, so then it was, okay let’s find a way to adapt these. So they’re not exactly the same because I painted them in.

MAHMOUD: In that space?

BAKER: In that space. Then also thinking more about they’re gigantic now, so how do I maintain a level of visual interest that maybe isn’t necessary or possible on the page? I think it comes back to wanting to dig underneath that obliteration, because when I read the … I originally just got the Senate document just for research, just because it was a primary document. You want to get your hands on everything that you can. As many primary documents, as many secondary sources as you can.

I was reading it and got very angry. The Senate document is a back and forth between the US Consulate in the Bahamas and the British Consulate in the Bahamas, and it’s very political language. It’s very polite but also they’re super mad at each other.

And, then it’s testimony, sworn affidavits from the white crew members. It’s for the United Stated Senate, so it’s hard to layer more hegemony in one document than what’s there already. Essentially the US … he’s trying to get the United States’ property back, but he’s also trying to make a point about how Britain is overstepping their … because this whole thing. Most of the reason why there is any record of this is because it was a political kerfuffle. Because the United States and Britain were about to go to war, potentially. They were at odds and then this was another thing, and so it was just … and of course this still happens all the time now but just to have your existence, your life, which of course isn’t really considered that at all.

To have it be a chess piece, like a strategic move, because you see them making strategic moves against each other, you see the game being played at a very high level, but what it’s being played over. It’s just this constant paving over of what’s actually happening, what’s actually occurring when we’re talking about … So it really became just out of anger, I just wanted to … it just felt like digging into a very deep grave to just toss back all of these layers of soil to get at anything that wasn’t that.

Just to find any echo, anything that could … to find in their language, in this language, anything that could speak or attend to what was important there. What actually happened there. Of course, yeah it was a successful revolt and that’s good, it is, but it’s also so inconsequential because there’s no freedom from social death. There’s no freedom from non-being. There’s the ways in which, as the unimpeachable Saidiya Hartman says, we give ourselves redress, we give ourselves these flawed victories. And so to think that this fantastic and wonderful flawed victory was still so hidden and still so paved over, but then also that we would have to do so much work just to pay homage to essentially a wonderful failing also fuels the anger. So that’s what the erasures became about for me, just a way to attend to — however inadequately or unexpertly — to attend to just what was lost and alighted and what an elision for your whole existence, and the existence of everyone that you could possibly care about to be able to be like in elision is, of course these theorists in chattel slavery and of course the experience in our modern moment as well. And so it was just, “how do I attend to that within this document?”

MAHMOUD: Have you read Saidiya Hartman’s “Venus in Two Acts”?


MAHMOUD: I was just thinking about that these girls, you know girls who were horribly abused and murdered, that their only life is documented in a footnote.

BAKER: Yeah, that attends to the same issue.

MAHMOUD: What does this exhibit mean for Seattle? Many have written about the role of restrictive covenants and redlining (and more broadly the spatial dispossession of black people and other people of color) in the making of Seattle, as a city, that despite its reputation for progressiveness, was founded on the dispossession of indigenous people. What does your exhibit – engaging a slave revolt nearly 200 years ago – mean for Seattle today? How is this show resonating with Seattle for you and also from what you’re hearing from people?

BAKER: Yeah, there were a lot of previews. One of the previews was mostly black and brown folks and so the questions that they had for me, specifically black folks. … I felt like how they were engaging with the work made me feel like what was being communicated was on point, like that’s what I wanted, the kinds of questions they were asking were the kinds of questions that I would want.

MAHMOUD: Do you remember what some of those questions were?

BAKER: Yeah, so someone asked me about … so it was this younger cat, I mean he’s probably 20 something and he just walked me over to one of the pieces and he was like “I don’t get this.” And I was like “that’s cool. You ain’t got to get it necessarily,” but I took him through what I was thinking about it and he was like, “oh damn.” He’s like, “I never really thought about that, but that makes sense.” And that’s really like … I want black folks or people who have an investment and care for black life outside white imagination … I want them to feel gathered in, in a way. Like I’ve done all this work so that when people encounter my work, they can feel seen and called to expand if they want to. Because that’s how I felt and that’s how I feel when I come to the work that changes what I think is possible or inspires me or expands me in some way. So that’s what I want to do, I don’t know if my work is doing … obviously I’m conditioned to not think of myself very highly. But I want … ideally in a community we expand each other.

Even if we encounter something that we already know, in encountering it over and over again, we’re expanded. Encountering it in a new space or even just to see ourselves again, considered. Just for people to feel like they’re … that they were attended to, in some way is what I got from the questions.

Someone asked me about the title of the show Ballast. And I gave them the real answer. … I want people to walk into the show, or read the book, when and if it comes out — to know what they are. There’s a way in which … we all value each other’s survival. We all value the way we create under constraint and provide what we can for one another but we also live in like a civil society that in no way attends to our actual entanglements. In no way, can call on or make visible our interiority, so of course it’s on us to make it visible for one another. So that’s all that I want, is just for that to take place.

MAHMOUD: What does the title mean?

BAKER: Ballast. For me there’s something … what I think is so unique about chattel slavery but really the position of blackness is like a historical and current force within the way that American social life and global social life is ordered, is that the ways in which black people are made to be the counterweight to their own destruction.

And so obviously with Ballast, it’s the counterweight that a ship carries before it on loads its cargo and then it’s offloaded at the port; well now they use water but back in the day, bars of iron and take the bars of iron out, leave them at the port and load in any of the cargo. Of course, sometimes it was humans, sometimes it was tobacco, sometimes it was molasses, whatever. But just the ways in which black people were like the semiotics that we engage with, the kind of myth-making around blackness, the way that whiteness only coheres through violence against black flesh and blackness as a concept. Like of all those ways that we’re made to perform our own death until then when we actually die.

And I think like … to me this comes up in police brutality a lot, like shootings … it’s always that the black person was scary and aggressive. There’s a way in which the black people are made to perform that aggression, and you’re made to perform that aggression for an exact moment. The ways we have to, no matter how hard we try not to, we have to hold the space for what undoes us. … There’s no way for the ship to run without that weight and there’s no way for the ship to return to port without its cargo. There’s no way that the whiteness [in] America civil society functions without blackness and black flesh as both counterweight and property.

MAHMOUD: What I really liked about the projections was the way they cascaded. You saw a phrase and then words disappeared. Which kind of mimicked a performance of reading, or a performance of listening. Because it made me pay attention to words, so I appreciated that.

BAKER: I was really happy with how it turned out. That was a challenge to– the inventive form poems are on the page, are very spread out and they’re meant to be read like in any direction.

There isn’t really a way … there maybe is a way, but with what else was going on in the show, there really wasn’t a way to like demonstrate that, so yeah, we settled on like … then let’s really have people consider this but also try to get some of that, I guess autonomy of each couplet or image or thought. So that was one of the challenges. But it’s funny cause it’s kind of an inversion in the ways … in the manuscript view, the erasure poems are like pretty straightforward and then the invented form poems are much wider and sprawling and then in this space you can choose any direction to go with the erasure poems and then the inventive forms are like pretty determined.

It was a weird flip, which I wasn’t necessarily like … when I set out, I wasn’t intending that but I liked how it ended up.

MAHMOUD: Do you have any other final thoughts you want to add?

BAKER: Well, you asked me what does it mean for Seattle, I don’t think I answered that. I hope what it means is that some folks who would never go to a museum, or would never go to a museum and think that anything was in there for them, I hope that those folks will go and see the show. And feel like something was for them. Maybe not for like a museum, not for like anything, but just somebody was thinking about you and somebody made work for you.

This work and all my future work really is for people who are able to think about black life free from the white imagination because it’s so damaging when people can’t … and living in that and within that, it’s traumatizing and horrifying and there’s no reprieve and no let-up. And I don’t think that my work will be a reprieve but I just think it’s part of those flawed victories.

Quenton Baker: Ballast runs at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, WA through February 3, 2019.

Internment’s rural racializations: an interview with Rita Brogan, co-curator of ‘Joy and Heartache: Japanese Americans on Vashon Island’

“People need to be reminded of the consequences of anti-immigration hysteria.  America is getting precariously close today to repeating the injustices of yesterday.  We cannot allow this to happen.” — Rita Brogan

Suitcases from the ‘Joy and Heartache’ exhibit. Photo by Zack Elway, August 2018

White luggage tags mark a pair of battered, tan hard-cased suitcases. These tags indicate the suitcases’ owner, Tsuma Yoshima. But they also mark something more pernicious: internment, the forced government removal of Japanese-Americans from their homes. “So this was Executive order 9066,” Rita Brogan tells me speaking of these suitcases. “People were given two days’ notice and were allowed two suitcases,” she continues “so that’s why we have these suitcases here.” During World War II, President Roosevelt signed the executive order, forcing Japanese-Americans out of their homes and onto internment camps, and decimating once-thriving communities up and down the West Coast.  “Every family got a number matching the tag on the suitcase and a tag that topin on your clothes so they would know what belonged to what,” Brogan continues. She tells me of a Japanese-American student at Vashon High School who was “the valedictorian in 1942,” but “evacuated 13 days before graduation so he was, of course, never able to give his valedictory speech.” She also describes how “people wore many layers of clothing because they were only allowed what they wore plus two suitcases. It was really hot.”

Rita Brogan is a Japanese-American business owner and longtime Vashon resident, who has been a long-time activist in and around Asian-American affairs and civil rights in the Pacific Northwest and nationally. Brogan recently co-curated Joy and Heartache: Japanese Americans on Vashon Island, an exhibit at the Vashon Heritage Museum, which runs through Spring 2019.

Rita Brogan in front of the entrance to the ‘Joy and Heartache’ exhibit. Photo by Zack Elway, August 2018

Vashon is an island the size of Manhattan with a population of 12,000, and is about two miles and a 20 minute ferry ride from Seattle. In 2015, the island was declared the “most liberal place in America” (many contested this declaration). The rural island is arts-rich, queer-friendly, and in 2017 was described by a Los Angeles Times writer as “one of the region’s experimental laboratories, a place where new strains of environmentalism and progressivism flourish, unencumbered by mainland reality. It presents an increasingly rare constituency: rural but not red.”

A 20th century map of Vashon Island from the ‘Joy and Heartache’ exhibit. Photo by Zack Elway, August 2018

In Seattle, internment wiped out Japanese-American businesses at the famed Pike Place Market, which by the early 1940s, represented 80% of the market’s business. Although internment often conjures an idea of Japanese-Americans removed from West Coast urban centers, Joy and Heartache reveals the rural dimension of the devastating and dehumanizing forced removal of U.S. citizens. It brings to life stories of chickens and strawberries on Mukai farm, of Vashon Japanese-Americans planting cherry trees and curating dances and other cultural programs, and of anti-Japanese violence by white residents. I interviewed Rita Brogan who co-curated the exhibit, to learn more about the central role of Japanese-Americans on Vashon, and to think through the impact of internment, and racialized spatialization, in a rural area.

“Mama-san in the Strawberry Field” (2018), metal sculpture by Miya Sukune at the ‘Joy and Heartache’ exhibit.

JASMINE MAHMOUD: How did you get involved with curating Joy and Heartache? What were some ideas and themes that you wanted the exhibit to communicate?

RITA BROGAN: I got involved because I have many decades of activism around Asian-American issues, Japanese-American issues and Asian-American studies and I had already been doing some pro-bono work with the Mukai Farm [& Garden] on Vashon Island on branding and outreach. The Mukai Farm is on the National Registry of Historic Places and has been called the best existing example of a Japanese-American farmstead in the United States, and it was an important community center. Through this, my interest grew in the larger historic role of Japanese-Americans on Vashon. I wanted to find out more about why Japanese-Americans played such an important role in the economic and social history of Vashon Island but also what happened to them. I got involved because there was a group that wanted to do an exhibit of Japanese-American history on Vashon, but they really felt the need to engage people of Japanese-American ancestry in creating the exhibit.

MAHMOUD: What’s the importance of having this exhibit on Vashon and what does the Japanese-American presence and then displacement mean for the history of Vashon and the Puget Sound area?

BROGAN: We wanted to cover the entire history of Japanese presence on Vashon Island. That presence changed significantly with the disruption caused by internment during World War II. The first Japanese settlers were mostly young Japanese males who were trying to find economic opportunity in America. That period of time at the beginning of the twentieth century and the latter part of the nineteenth century was a period of major economic upheaval in Japan. Many Japanese young men became intrigued by the idea of creating a new life in a new world, but also were being recruited as labor for various projects in America.  

We organized the exhibit around five stages of the Japanese socio-cultural evolution in America, which we called: Hope, Struggle, Trauma, Resilience and Identities. That first phase, when the young men first came to Vashon Island, we called Hope.  They and the picture brides they subsequently brought over, all had great hope for life in the new world. What occurred on Vashon, as was true in other communities as well, but particularly true on Vashon was that the Japanese-Americans community—despite major discriminatory laws such as the Alien Land Law, anti-immigration harassment and anti-immigration laws—began to make a life for themselves. They were very successful in farming. Their families placed a great deal of emphasis on education and on community, both involvement in the Japanese-American community but also involvement in the larger community. By the time that World War II came around, there was a really significant Japanese-American presence in Vashon Island society and Japanese-Americans in many ways dominated the agricultural economy. Of course, that changed overnight.

Image from ‘Joy and Heartache’ exhibit. Photo by Zack Elway, August 2018

People were given two-days’ notice that they were going to be evacuated from Vashon to a place unknown. Besides the clothes on their backs, they were allowed two suitcases a piece. Unlike other Japanese Americans, Vashon evacuees were moved around frequently during the period of internment.  Some Vashon Japanese-American families moved up to five times. Vashon’s Japanese-American community was pulled apart in the process, moved to different locations throughout the United States. Only a third returned to Vashon after the war.

Luggage tags at the ‘Joy and Heartache’ exhibit. Photo by Zack Elway, August 2018

Even though many wanted to come back to farming, their farms had been neglected for four years and only a few could be restored. Also the agricultural economy throughout the nation changed because the interstate system which made it much easier to get produce from California. So even the those who were trying to make it in agriculture were ultimately not successful.

Image of an internment camp from the ‘Joy and Heartache’ exhibit.

MAHMOUD: Why is it important for people who often think about Internment only affecting Japanese-Americans in cities to also think about Japanese-Americans on Vashon and on rural areas?

BROGAN: It’s important to understand that everyone who lived on the West Coast was affected and what the disruptive impact of internment in rural areas was, I wouldn’t say that the rural experience was worse than the disruption for urban Japanese, but it did have a more significant impact for the island economy. It was bad for everyone, but sometimes people just don’t think about rural people.

Map of internment camps. Photo by Zack Elway, August 2018

MAHMOUD: The exhibit had so much great photography, art, and poetry. How you did you think about those artistic aspects? What did this art communicate in the exhibit?

BROGAN: Photographs were particularly telling. For example if you look at the picture of an elementary school class in 1939 there were more Japanese-American students than whites. When you look at the class picture 10 or so years later there are no Japanese students.  This is a poignant example of how the evacuation changed the world for Japanese Americans on Vashon. We also included some of the anti-Japanese cartoons of the period, created by people like Dr. Seuss; a lot of people don’t realize how anti-Japanese he was. I think that the historic photographs certainly help bring the stories alive.

We also had a terrific opportunity to involve visual and spoken art. We asked Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma to create a poem on the exhibit and so he organized his poem around the themes: “Hope,” “Struggle,” “Trauma,” “Resilience,” and “Identities.” [See this video for Pruiksma reading from his poem “Here” written for the exhibit.] His poetry brought so alive the issues that Japanese-Americans were dealing with, both culturally and politically. We also got a grant from King County’s 4Culture, and Miya Sukune, one of the Japanese-American artists on Vashon, was able to use that to develop six metal panels that depict the lives of the Matsuda family on Vashon Island such as having bon odori dances at the Tule Lake internment camp. There arts played a really meaningful role in communicating and message and making a visceral impact.

Image of a Miye Sukune’s metal sculpture “The Dust Storm (Mary and Ardith)” at the “Joy and Heartache” exhibit. Photo by Zack Elway, August 2018

MAHMOUD:  What is the most interesting thing you learned from the process of curating this exhibit?

BROGAN: I would say that I had not really known or even thought about how the internment fundamentally changed both Japanese Americans who were evacuated, but also how it fundamentally impacted the entire Vashon community. Going through the sources really gave me a much more in-the-moment appreciation for the experience.

MAHMOUD: I’m curious what this history that you’ve excavated means for present day Vashon.

BROGAN: This has been the most popular exhibit that’s ever been shown at the Vashon Heritage Museum. It’s gotten a lot of attention on Vashon as well as off-island. There are a lot of people in the larger Japanese-American community who have come to Vashon to see the exhibit. It’s gotten great media attention as well.

This means many things. One is an appreciation for the historic experience of Japanese-Americans on Vashon Island, but a very current message about the continued discrimination against immigrants and people of color in this country.

MAHMOUD: Do you have any other thoughts to add, Rita, or any other closing thoughts?

BROGAN: Well we didn’t really talk about the stages that much: “Hope;” then the “Struggle” phase went through the hardships that people had to endured in order to make their way in America. “Trauma” refers to the evacuation and internment. “Resilience” refers to the period right after World War II where Japanese-Americans tried to reintegrate into society and in doing so tried to become more American than American and more white than white. Many tried so hard to prove that they were not only equal to but that they had to be better than white Americans. And a lots of that thinking changed during the 1960s and 1970s, with the cultural disruption of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the Third World Movement, where so many younger Asian-Americans were saying “no we need to be proud of who we are.” So that’s why the last stage is called “Identities.”

An excerpt from the program translated in both Japanese and English. In September, Brogan hosted a homestay with the Japan-American Society Grassroots Summit, a U.S.-Japan exchange that brought dozens of Japanese citizens to Vashon and the Pacific Northwest. With the exchange, many Japanese visiting the Pacific Northwest toured the exhibit which was translated from English to Japanese.

The Japanese-American community today on Vashon is very different from the Japanese community before World War II. The Japanese-American population on Vashon today includes few of the original farming families.  Today the community includes people who have moved to Vashon because of the schools; it’s made up of war brides, retirees, commuters– folks who haven’t had the same experience as Vashon’s Japanese-Americans prior to World War II. And yet we continue to face and combat discrimination and racism. For the “Identities” section of the exhibit, we tried to debunk the idea that the Asian-Americans are “model minorities.” We document continued discrimination, but also celebrate the fact that there are some really wonderful ways in which our culture is being embraced by younger generations.

People need to be reminded of the consequences of anti-immigration hysteria.  America is getting precariously close today to repeating the injustices of yesterday.  We cannot allow this to happen.

Touring Project Row Houses: Lessons on Arts as Anti-Gentrification Urbanism in Houston’s Historically Black Third Ward

On this block sits a one-story shotgun house with a modest “A”-frame structure. Two parts comprise the home’s street facing façade: a window centers the right half, while the left half indents inwards towards a front door. White paint unites the entire house’s exterior; this paint also covers and accents the horizontal wood beams that adorn this house.

Nine other nearly identical replicas—more one-story white “A”-frames—surround this house. In this near uniformity lies a story about the inception of these homes, and their continued meaning making in Houston’s Third Ward neighborhood.

These homes sit along Holman Street less that a quarter mile from a mammoth interstate intersection, and some two miles south of Houston’s Downtown. They are part of Project Row Houses. Founded in 1993 by artist Rick Lowe, Project Row Houses is, as described on its website, “a community platform that enriches lives through art with an emphasis on cultural identity and its impact on the urban landscape.”

I toured Project Row Houses (PRH) in late May 2018 as part of this year’s Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) conference. What most impressed me: PRH’s unwavering commitment to centering the needs of its mostly African-American community and residents (the majority of whom are marginalized due to race, gender, and income) amidst gentrification threats.

The tour included a welcome from Executive Director Eureka Gilkey and a neighborhood tour by McKenzie Watson, Guest Services and Membership Coordinator. Days later, a plenary at AAAE featured an interview with founder Rick Lowe and Director of Strategic Partnerships Tamika Evans. Essential lessons from them close this post.

Much has been written about arts and gentrification. Notably, sociologist Sharon Zukin researched artists in 1980s New York City lofts in then-fringe neighborhoods and Richard Florida has written about the role of the creative economy in the neoliberal growth of cities. But in these discourses, there is often an unstated link between mostly white artists who move to and make work in mostly non-white urban margins, and the role of that racial difference in sparking gentrification.

More recently, the term “artwashing” was coined to describe “the work and presence of artists and creative workers is used to add a cursory sheen to a place’s transformation,” and to attend to race and racist processes of gentrification involving the art. [More on artwashing here and here.] Journalist Peter Moskowitz has also been more explicit about that link between white artists gentrifying non-white urban areas. He does so through redlining, writing in 2017:

Redlining not only depressed the economies of inner cities, it created an entirely new kind of people in the suburbs—the white middle and upper-middle classes. For the first time in American history, the majority of white people were living largely privatized lives in single-family homes, without many community spaces or diversity, a lifestyle that reinforced the ideal of the nuclear family, with a stay-at-home mom and a working father. When the children of that economic and cultural experiment we now call “white flight” looked around, and decided they didn’t like what they saw, they began moving back to cities. In the 1970s, New York, San Francisco, and every other major urban center began experiencing an influx of a new kind of white person—one raised with the aesthetic, economic, and spatial values of the suburbs.

[…] suburbanization unleashed on cities a deluge of artists who cared more about marketable aesthetics than about art that could create social change.

In the 1930s, the racist process of redlining (whereby government backed home loans provided top rates to whites, and abysmal rates and denials to blacks regardless of financial healthy) racially segregated Houston, as it did in a majority of sizable U.S. cities. [See the unparalleled Mapping Inequality for more.] Through redlining, white bankers and governmental officials marked a majority of Houston’s Third Ward (a mostly African-American neighborhood) in red, that is, as “hazardous”; a yellow mark meant “definite declining” and delimited the remainder of the area. They did so solely due to race, because the neighborhood was mostly black. In redlining, those banks and officials denied mortgages and/or gave black residents the worst mortgage rates solely based on race, and thus divested from black people and black spaces. They also, in lining white areas blue and green, subsidized white neighborhoods with the best mortgage rates and investments.

Texas Map & Blueprint Co. (1930): Street Map, City of Houston, Texas, circa 1930.

Through Moskowitz, we can make an argument linking aesthetics and race (as I’ve written about before), about how dense, redlined, and non-white urban areas that were once economically devalued due to governmental racism became, in the late 20th century, attractive to white artists who grew up in green-lined (and thus white and economically valued) suburban areas. U.S. gentrification narratives often narrowly focus on white artists entering non-white neighborhoods. Linking redlining to gentrification—whereby the presence of white artists in non-white neighborhoods attracts neoliberal capital and in turn displaces existing residents of color—then, more robustly animates how aesthetic and racialized values have been differently attached to white and black bodies because of past and continued racialized urban investments, and frames work by existing residents to confront dehumanizing neighborhood change.

Now a neighborhood of 15,000 residents, Houston’s Greater Third Ward currently has a population that is about 64% black. From 2000 to 2013, home values nearer downtown have risen over 176%, displacing many long-time residents. Project Row Houses centers historic and existing black residents, and humanizes those made most vulnerable by contemporary neoliberal development, and past redlining. From my tour, I learned that it does so in at least three ways.

First, PRH uses its resources to respond to the needs of the community, including confronting racial policies that have long dispossessed black residents in Houston. During her welcome, Executive Director Eureka Gilkey told us how PRH centers the question “How can we use our resources to respond to the needs of the community?”

Eureka Gilkey introducing Project Row Houses to our tour group

Some answers in the organization’s 25 year history include:

-Preserving housing stock. PRH started one of the first affordable housing programs in the neighborhood and more recently purchased 20 units from a slumlord, renovating them to become safe and quality places to live.

-Bringing back small businesses along Emancipation Avenue, which runs by Emancipation Park. Emancipation Park is the oldest park in Houston and in Texas. Bought in 1872 by former slaves who pooled together $1,000, the park celebrates Juneteenth, the day commemorating the emancipation of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 (two years after the Emancipation Proclamation). In the 20th century, Emancipation Avenue had myriad of black-owned businesses that acted as a refuge for black residents denied entry into mainstream businesses elsewhere in Houston. In the past few decades, real estate prices have jumped from $5/sq. ft to $100 sq. ft. PRH has helped to anchor small businesses including NuWaters Co-Op, a food market.

-Working with University of Houston and Texas Southern University, universities located in the greater Third Ward, to hire residents who live in their zip codes.

-Using the majority of their annual budget of $2.6 million (which is mostly foundation funded) to sustain these structures.

Ultimately Gilkey emphasized how the work of Project Row Houses recognizes the complex the racial and classed effects of gentrification, and fights against how long-time residents have been displaced without recourse and resource. She detailed city policy issues, including the fact that if you are a renter in Houston, you cannot be part of your neighborhood’s civic organization and are threatened by same day eviction. However due to PRH’s community-engaged work, by 2018 some 22% of land in the neighborhood was owned by non-profit and churches, organizations that do not adhere to capitalist development plans.

Second, PRH invests spatially in its community. During our tour, McKenzie Watson revealed how the structures that define Project Row Houses – the row houses, but also homes for single mothers — all invest spatially in the marginalized community. Here are some of PRH’s spatial work:

Young Mothers Residential Program“The purpose of YMRP is to empower low-income single mothers and their children in achieving independent, self-sufficient lives. YMRP has supported roughly 100 mothers and their families, some of whom have gone on to earn doctorates, law degrees and become community leaders and entrepreneurs.”

Murals across from the Young Mothers Residential Program homes

Row House CDC: “Project Row Houses and Rice Building Workshop collaborated to create a series of row house-inspired duplexes to provide affordable housing for people in the community. In 2003, Row House CDC was created to act as a sister organization of PRH to manage the Affordable Housing Program.”

Cookie Love’s Wash n Fold, a laudromat for PRH residents named after a neighborhood resident

Small Business Incubation: “PRH’s Incubation Program provides space, time and/or mentorship to artists and creative entrepreneurs working in the early stages of project development. The incubation program affords creative entrepreneurs the opportunity of operating within a close-knit community of artists and activists in addition to operating on a neighborhood level with members of the Third Ward community and beyond.” Many businesses are begun by former PRH residents.

Inside Crumbville, TX, a vegan bakery owned by Ella Russell (center) incubated by Project Row Houses

Inside NuWaters Co-Op with a member-owner

Inside NuWaters Co-op

Many incubated businesses are near Eldorado Ballroom, owned and renovated by PRH, the historic home where 20th century black audiences, denied from white-only theaters, were able to see traveling black musicians.

-Space for Art: From Public Art, to Residencies, to low-cost studio space, PRH is spatially thread by and led by art.

A stretch of row houses on Bastrop St used for art installations including radio broadcasts

“Neighborhood Fantasies” exhibit

Third, PRH animates an artistic thinking about its mostly black neighborhood. The AAAE plenary featured Rick Lowe (founder) and Tamika Evans (Director of Strategic Partnerships) in conversation with Sixto Wagan (Director of the Center for Art and Social Engagement at the University of Houston). Rick Lowe detailed the inception of Project Row Houses; how high school students visited his studio and questioned the greater goal of his work. As he detailed in 2006:

I was doing big, billboard-size paintings and cutout sculptures dealing with social issues, and one of the students told me that, sure, the work reflected what was going on in his community, but it wasn’t what the community needed. If I was an artist, he said, why didn’t I come up with some kind of creative solution to issues instead of just telling people like him what they already knew. That was the defining moment that pushed me out of the studio.

At the plenary Rick Lowe also made us think about the relationship between art and the community, even admist neoliberal displacement, saying “in a market economy, we exercise our role in the market as well,” “you loose things when you scale up,” “as an artist, you make something and you think about it,” and “having an expansive mindset integral to the whole thing.” Lowe suggested framing residents as artists, as those with expansive and creative mindsets, is integral to the work that Project Row Houses does.

Sixto Wagan, Tamika Evans, and Rick Lowe at the 2018 AAAE Plenary

Tamika Evans, director of Strategic Partnerships, also expansively revealed how through centering arts, “PRH had the capacity to dream” and to “empower people and engage community through direct action.” She also incisively queried, “What does it mean to be a in a community with another human being?”

By thinking artistically, by working artistically in its neighborhoods, Project Row Houses makes an expansive space for its community and confronts the spatial dehumanization of black people. Especially in urban processes like redlining and gentrification, black people aren’t given multitudes of meaning. They are just marked in redlines as “hazardous” or through development as “to be displaced.” By contrast, Project Row Houses has allowed for multitudes of meaning to be re-attached to black residents from animating Emancipation Park, to housing single mothers, to making space for black businesses, financial aptitude, and of course, art.

Unless otherwise noted all images are by Jasmine Mahmoud. 

Biking Seattle’s Redlining: An Interview with Merlin Rainwater

Redlining Map of Seattle from 1936

“The policies that created segregation have been so successful, that if you live in a white world, it’s kind of hard to see out of it. You just have to learn to see it.”

-Merlin Rainwater

Consider the following language. When was it written? Where was it written?

No person or persons of Asiatic, African or Negro blood, lineage, or extraction shall be permitted to occupy a portion of said property, or any building thereon; except domestic servants may actually and in good faith be employed by white occupants of such premises

No residence property shall at any time, directly or indirectly, be sold, conveyed, rented or leased in whole of in part to any person or persons not of the white or Caucasian race.

Tracts or parcels of land in this plat shall be used or occupied only by members of the white or Caucasian race, excluding Semites, and no other persons shall be permitted to use or occupy said tracts or parcels, except employees may occupy the premises where their employer resides.

From the 1920s to the 1940s, this language was widely written into deeds in housing stock not in Detroit, or Chicago, or St. Louis, but rather in Seattle. Now documented on the “Racial Restrictive Covenants” section of the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History project at the University of Washington, much of this language—although outlawed by the 1968 Housing Rights Act—still exists on today’s home deeds, acting as a vestige of the racial restrictions that pervaded Seattle in the early 20th century. Despite that past ubiquity, many Seattle residents remain unaware of the ways in which the city was (and arguably still is) systematically racially segregated: through these restrictive covenants (private agreements made by white homeowners to exclude non-white and ethnically white residents), and through redlining.

Redlining, as many have documented, was the system begun in the 1930s by which the federal government worked with banks to spur the economy during and after the Great Depression. They did so through homeownership; in particular: racially restrictive homeownership. Banks drew up color-coded city maps based on existing and desired racial segregation. Banks then offered white residents seeking homes in white areas (areas drawn on the maps in green and blue) the best mortgage rates, and contrastingly, black residents seeking homes anywhere, but especially in black areas (drawn in red — hence the naming redlining), either no option for home loans, or exorbitantly high rates. Redlining took place in 239 cities across the U.S.; the process was backed by the federal government, invested money and wealth-making property into white people and neighborhoods, and divested from black and other non-white people.

Many residents of progressive-ish Seattle remain unaware about restrictive covenants redlining and their effects on the city today. Due to the growth of Amazon and other companies, Seattle has been the fastest growing city of the last decade. But that population growth took place without equitable urbanist policies in place. As such, many residents have dealt with drastically increased rents, lack of protections for vulnerable residents, displacement of non-white neighborhoods of color including the historically black Central District, and increased homelessness (an estimated 41% of Seattle’s homeless population is black). These changes and their racialized impact dialogue with past urbanist practices that dispossessed people of color from neighborhood space.

Merlin Rainwater, a Seattle-born resident, has been trying to change how Seattleites—in particular mostly white Seattleites—understand the history of race and racial dispossession within Seattle’s neighborhood spaces. Earlier this year, she launched the Red Line Rides, a bike tour (and subsequent walking tour) of redlining in Seattle. So much of her tours are about teaching white residents to, in her words, “learn to see” how and where white Seattle was built by systemic and racially restrictive practices, and the strong residues of those practices today.  I interviewed her to learn more about the what, when, why, where and how of the tours.

Interview edited for clarity. 

JASMINE MAHMOUD: Tell me about your history in Seattle. Where did you grow up? What are your initial memories of the city?

MERLIN RAINWATER: I was actually born in Seattle, but I grew up mostly in a little town … about 16 miles out of Seattle: Edmonds. We belonged to the Quaker meeting that met in Seattle, so I had a strong connection with the neighborhood around the University [of Washington], the University District. Both of my parents were born in Washington State. My father’s grandparents on his mother’s side were pioneer settlers outside of Seattle. And my mother’s parents homesteaded in Eastern Washington.

When I moved back to Seattle in 1974, Seattle was in the middle of a major recession, and it was pretty cheap to survive here. When I got married, my husband and I were able to buy a house, a very reasonably priced house in an area that had been redlined and that was on the margins on the Central District, the historically black part of Seattle. Looking back on it, almost 40 years now, we were really the first wave of white gentrifiers moving into the historically black part of town.

Central Area and Mount Baker from Beacon Hill, 1955 (

MAHMOUD: What was the Central District [historically African-American neighborhood] like when you moved there in the 70s?

RAINWATER: The neighborhood had been very hard hit by the recession. I had a girlfriend who bought a house nearby in 1976 for $3K. [Before she bought it], it had been repossessed and had stood empty for several years, and there were a number of other houses in similar conditions that young, liberal, white people had been able to buy. So by the time we bought our house, the neighborhood had stabilized quite a bit. … The people who’d lost their jobs … were gone. It was just a cusp of a boom in this area. So a couple of years after we bought our house, I counted 14 new houses that had been built within a three block area that were all fill ins of these undeveloped blocks.

MAHMOUD: Around what year was that?

RAINWATER: That was 1986 to ‘88 probably, when those houses were filled in. And when we moved here, probably about half of the families on the block were black, and then little by little those people left, moved out, sold their houses. As all these new houses were built and new people moved in, all of the new neighbors were white. One black family moved in next door to us, the year after we moved in here, but that’s the only black family that’s purchased a home. We have a long block with probably 30 houses. so it’s been a gradual but dramatic change. So when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t really see it.

Looking back on it, I recognize that one of the things that really struck me as I’ve been was trying to educate myself about all the issues related to segregation, I realized that my family and I have directly benefited from both the impoverished and the disinvestment in this neighborhood that happened over many years. Then the legislation that the city council passed in the 70s to outlaw redlining so by the time we were ready to buy a house in a previously redlined area, we were able to get a nice federally insured loan. Yeah, so that’s been a challenging bit of learning from the work that I’ve done.

MAHMOUD: How did you learn about redlining?

RAINWATER: We have a really wonderful project based out of the University of Washington called the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project. They have a great little slideshow on Segregated Seattle, so I was aware of the general history, then I was aware of the campaign for open housing that had taken place in the mid sixties, but as a white person that knew about that, I was a rarity. And so when I went to visit the Douglass-Truth [Seattle Public] Library, which houses the African American collection and is located in the middle of the Central District, the historically black area, and I saw this nice display about the open housing campaign. I thought it’s great that they have this display, but this is not where it needs to be, people who live here and come to this library, they already know that. [Rather], it’s the people who benefited by the established by the fact that huge areas of Seattle were over 90% white until quite recently in its history.

If you look at population maps. Often, they are colored so that the presence of people of color shows up in more dramatic colors, but seeing a series of maps where what’s highlighted is the areas that are high percentage white, and it’s pretty much dramatic to look at all the parts of Seattle that were over 90% white until … If you weren’t white, you had no choice [where to live].

And so, people that lived within that little [redlined] sliver were forced into that part of the town. They knew what was going on. But if you were white and you lived in the vast rest of the city, you could be completely oblivious. Most people still are. Most white people still are.

MAHMOUD: Your tour animates what scholars like sociologist George Lipsitz (author of How Racism Takes Place) and urban planners J. Rosie Tighe and Joanna P. Ganning point out: that divestment in neighborhoods of color has long accompanied investment in white neighborhoods. You have said: “I thought, you know, this is information that really ought to be in Laurelhurst. It should be in Broadmoor … Because black people in the Central District, they know this history. It’s the white folks in the segregated white parts of the city that need to know that there was a struggle for open housing in Seattle.” What connections do you see between white and black areas in Seattle? How are these ideas animated on the tour?

RAINWATER: The section of the redline that I feature in the walk is an area on Capitol Hill, where there is actually quite a dramatic boundary between the affluent white, by racially covenanted north part of Capitol Hill, north of Roy and Aloha, and the redlined area to the south.

The area of Capitol Hill that’s south of Roy Street, basically, the character of the housing stock is not that different as you move east to west. There are modest, middle-class, pretty nice houses, but east of Roy Street, it was redlined and the only excuse for considering that area a bad investment was that black people lived there. The only thing that the surveyors bothered to point out was that there’s black people here. So on the one hand just a lack of contrast and they’re still fairly similar on both sides, but the lack of contrast is interesting.

Then as you go further north, the north of Roy and Aloha, a huge number of those lots had racially restricted covenants on them. And the sense that you get is that … and the houses are generally much larger and they look affluent. The fact that so many of the white folks in that part of town were afraid that black people might infiltrate, that they went through the trouble of getting together with all their neighbors and hiring a lawyer and drawing up a covenant that says “no Negroes can ever live in this place.” That’s dramatic. So to see the contrast in actual investment … I mean, the Central Area it’s sustained a very vibrant, middle-class black community that was mixed in with people of all economic conditions, but it wasn’t a terrible, general hell hole. So people had to work really hard to hold onto their properties and maintain their properties.

But at the same time, the investments that allowed white people to move out of the city and into the suburbs, you can’t actually see that when you’re standing on the line, I guess is what I’m trying to say. And I think that really is the challenge because the policies that created segregation have been so successful, that if you live in a white world, it’s kind of hard to see out of it. You just have to learn to see it.

MAHMOUD: Where did your idea for this tour come from? Why did it first start as a bike tour?

RAINWATER: So I started doing a series of bike rides that I call SLOW rides, Senior Ladies On Wheels, which is a fabulously brilliant acronym–

MAHMOUD Yes, it is.

RAINWATER: –because I have always used a bike as my main transportation, and I think it’s really the only sensible way to get around. I don’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t always agree with me. I was looking for a way to create an opportunity for tentative bike riders to learn how easy it is to get around on a bike in the city, and so I developed SLOW rides through the Cascade Bicycle Club Free Group Rides Program. I wanted it to also be a way for people to learn about the Central District and the history of the Central District.

And so I start all my rides at the [Northwest] African American Museum, and that way, if anybody who comes along … now they know, we have an African American museum which many white people don’t know. I did a ride called “An Introduction to Seattle Black History Through Parks,” so you go to a about dozen different parks that are named after important figures in black history and learn a little bit about them. [Figures include musician Jimi Hendrix, director of Urban League Edwin Pratt, Seattle’s first black female pediatrician Blanche Lavizzo, editor and reporter Susie Revels Clayton and Horace Roscoe Clayon, Mount Zion Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Samuel Berry McKinney, entrepreneur Prentis Frazier, second black settler in Seattle William Grose, dermatologist Homer Harris, musician Powell Barnett, children’s advocate and talk show host Flo Ware, and legislator Sam Smith.] So looking for ways for the rides to be subtly educational and I was just looking for another theme for a ride and I came across an article about the redlining maps that had just recently been made available online. And I thought, wow. That sounds like an interesting bike ride.

So when I first did it, I really tried to ride along the big section of the line, which made for kind of a challenging bike ride, and I had marginally too many people show up, and I was really not sure how to … I really wanted to do it again, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. But just the fact that it attracted a lot of interest the very first time that I did it made me want to do it again and refine it. Also, it’s just by coincidence, one of the people that I know through the biking advocacy realm is a personal friend with the student who had written the essay on racially restrictive covenants for the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History project.

MAHMOUD: Oh, wow. Yeah.

RAINWATER: Her name is Cat Silva, who is now in Berlin, Germany, unfortunately, but anyway, she got real excited about the idea of these rides, and she mapped out for me where many of the properties with covenants on them are. So that’s really a great prop to have for the tours, to be able to show people where the covenanted properties are. I also had a request from the Plymoth Congregational Church that were just fans of my SLOW rides and they heard about the redline ride, asked if I would do a version just for their intergenerational study group, so I did that and simplified the ride a little bit to really make it for anybody to participate.

[See here for “Segregated Seattle Visualized: Patterns of Enforcement in the Central Area” by Cat Silva.]

My daughter went to preschool with the son of a woman who is the president of the Seattle Black Heritage Society, and we’re still friends and neighbors, so she and I would get together, talking about what we were doing. She mentioned that there was going to be a major exhibit of photographs of the Central District at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) – the photos of Al Smith. The photo collection belongs to the Black Heritage Society, but is housed at the Museum of History in Industry, and so Carol and I were talking about this exhibit and the work she’s doing with the Black Heritage Society. I kept telling her about my bike rides, and at some point we kind of went, “oh, the museum is looking for community activities in conjunction with the exhibit, so maybe you could do a bike ride in conjunction with the museum.” So I met with the people from MOHAI I met them … Carol was with me. We all thought that doing the redline ride would be a good thing to do, as part of public activities connected with that exhibit.

They asked me to develop a walking version, so I said, okay. We worked this out in October [2017] and the tours were scheduled for March [2018], in the weeks following a town discussion on segregated Seattle, from redlining to gentrification. And I think they probably posted the events in early February, and within just a matter of days, all the … So I did two bike tours and two walking tours and everything sold out instantly.


RAINWATER: And we were all really surprised it was so popular.

MAHMOUD: What were some of the reactions to the tours?

RAINWATER: I haven’t got a lot of really direct feedback, other than that people just find it thought provoking. Since then, several people have contacted me, interested in the tours, and have asked me to do repeats and one organization that contacted me was Zillow, the online real estate [company].

MAHMOUD: Oh, wow.

RAINWATER: And they actually approached me through the Northwest African American Museum. And arranged for me to do the walking tour three times in order to accommodate almost 50 of their staff. They’re doing an educational series around the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. And they have recently started an equity initiative in the company. So anyways, the first time I did the tour, they had asked me to shorten it a little bit. I said it was going to take two hours, they wanted it to be an hour and a half. I asked for feedback and the only feedback I got was, well, you spent too much time in the wealthy areas. And I think they were expecting to see desolation or something? So I tried to be more clear about what I was intending to show them in the wealthy parts of Capitol Hill.


RAINWATER: And I didn’t change where I went, I just changed a little bit how I talked about it. Also, when they asked me to shorten it, I had left off a section by the site of the Liberty Bank, the black owned bank that was founded in ’68, and there had been a big controversy about attempts to preserve the building that had housed the bank. That’s a really interesting part of the whole learning about segregation and disinvestment, but in order to shorten the tour, I left out the Liberty Bank, and just mentioned the bank, and they said, well, you should have said more about the Liberty Bank. Okay, so I put that back in. But that’s the most direct feedback I’ve got. And there’s people during the tour expressing their surprise at things they didn’t know anything about.

Liberty Bank in 1968. Credit:

MAHMOUD: What are some important moments of places to you on the tour?

RAINWATER: So, I think the most dramatic place on the tour is the corner of 19th and Madison where the Mount Zion Baptist Church is located, because it’s not only right on the margin of the redline, it’s also on a boundary between two redlined areas that the surveyors described differently. So, to the east of 19th, there’s an area, both north and south of Madison, is the area that the surveyors described as “this is the Negro area of Seattle.” That was all that needed to be said. And to the west of 19th, there’s a band that was redlined, but included on the racial map Jewish, Oriental, and Italian residents, so from that corner on 19th and Madison, it’s an opportunity to talk about that, but the fact that parts of the Central District really had been a combination of different minority and undesirable groups, that’s such a complicated, fascinating history.

Mount Zion Baptist Church

Anyway, so there you are on this corner of redlined area, and then west of 19th and north of Madison is a section of the map that’s colored yellow, that the surveyors described as, “this is the twilight zone.”

MAHMOUD: Oh, wow.

RAINWATER: And so an area that really felt it was under threat by undesirable populations. Diagonally, across the street from Mount Zion, two entire blocks that in the [19]20s, the homeowners got together to establish a racially restrictive covenant. So Mount Zion moved to that location in 1920, to 19th and Madison, and this is an eminently respectable, historical institution in the black community. The neighbors diagonally across the street are terrified and hire lawyers to make sure that no Negros ever move into their block. That’s just really dramatic. I think that’s the most dramatic point of the tour.

When I do it as a bike tour, I also take people down into Madison Valley, and we look at the storm water management project down there; that’s an example of disinvestment, because in the 1970s, the city got a bunch of federal money to do various kinds of projects and they routed storm water from Capitol Hill down into Madison Valley. And there was supposed to be another component to the project that would take the storm water out to Lake Washington, but they ran out of money, and they ran out of interest in this whole thing, and for many, many years, once or twice or four times a winter, Madison Valley would flood and the sewage would back up into people’s basements.

MAHMOUD: Wow. Wow.

RAINWATER: Madison Valley was probably more than 90% black neighborhood. Very poor, very modest little houses down there, and people were having to deal with these sewage soaked basements, year after year after year. And it wasn’t until white people started moving into Madison Valley that it started to get the attention of the city. They ended up purchasing an entire block of houses to create a storm water retention facility, and they invested a huge ton of money. It’s a really lovely, lovely part, this storm water retention pond. But it didn’t happen as long as the neighborhood was entirely black.

MAHMOUD: You have said: It really is white people’s history. White people were the actors that developed and implemented the policies that led to segregation. And it’s really inappropriate to, say, segregate those aspects of history that black people suffered under, and label those ‘black history’ as if they weren’t relevant to the rest of us. How do you frame your own racial positionality as a white person in the making of this tour? What have been the reactions of white attendees? Black attendees? Folks of other races? How you see this tour as that, as part of a white people’s history, or as framing whiteness in Seattle. How is this tour in dialogue with that?

RAINWATER: Well, it’s really the focus of the tour. And I have to say, when I first did the tour, there were two women of color I of the 20 people who came, everybody else was white. And I was a little bit, almost apologetic, about being a white person talking about this, but I was talking about that with one of the black women on the tour, and she said, “oh my God, I’m so glad that you’re doing this.” She said she’s a university student in a class where she’s the only person of color, and she just hates being the one that everybody turns to when ever anything comes up that has to do with race as if she’s the only person that has a race. I’m just fed up with that. This whole idea that the United States has a “Negro problem.” Well, no, we don’t. We have a white people problem. And I’m so glad that the Lynching Museum finally opened, because that visualizes, that makes it concrete. You know very well that the reason that those stark monuments are hanging there. It’s not the black people that did that, you know?


RAINWATER: And that’s something that our country just has not come to terms with. It’s been very easy for white people to turn their backs and say, “no, this doesn’t affect me, this isn’t about me. I might feel sorry for those poor people that have suffered so much, but it’s not about me.” I just don’t agree with that. I think I mentioned … Or maybe I didn’t mention, that my senior year in high school, I spent in West Berlin. And at the time, the people around me really did not know how to talk about the Holocaust and the Nazi period and everything that had happened during that time.

Just a couple of days ago, I got a package in the mail from one of my friends in Berlin, with a brochure that describes the Stolpersteine project, the stumbling block project. It’s a project of identifying and memorializing the individual Jewish people that were deported and murdered during the Nazi era, by creating little brass plaques the size and shape of paving stones, and these little brass plaques are embedded in the sidewalks in front of the homes that people were forced out of.

And each little block, each little brass plaque has the name of the individual and a brief summary of when they were born, where they were deported to, and when they were murdered. And these are just embedded in the sidewalk. The brochure that I got discusses just one street that’s two blocks long in West Berlin and it contains about 25 of these little blocks.

And this is just one tiny component of a project that’s placed about 5,000 of these blocks in Berlin alone, and thousands others in other cities. And I just think it’s important. This project, this little stumbling blocks, they don’t tell you to do anything, they don’t pretend to fix anything. They just remind you that you’re walking through a landscape that contains this terrible history. I just think it’s important to acknowledge that and live with it.

MAHMOUD: I’d love to about your passion for biking and non-driving forms of transportation. Why do you feel it’s so important to emphasize them?

RAINWATER: I guess that the really fundamental reason that I think it’s important is that keeps us contact with a place, that if you’re walking or biking, you can stop and notice things, and you don’t have to look for a place to leave your two-thousand pound box that you’re carrying around with you, and you can interact with people and the environment. I think that the world of cars has taken something really important away from us in these tiny every day interactions that people have when they get around on foot.

Merlin Rainwater during the “Red Line Rides.”

And I’ve also found a really fun community of other people who love to bike and love to walk and are working to make the city safer and better for human beings. Bringing these interests into my commitment to racial justice and my passion for walking and biking, they don’t always easily mesh, but that’s what I’m trying to do.

MAHMOUD: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share about this tour?

RAINWATER: Well, it’s really been a learning experience for me and just right from the beginning, just looking at the map, and walking and biking around this neighborhood, where I’ve lived for 40 years, and looking at it through that lens has been very thought provoking. I’ve thought for a long time, I’ve been curious about the people who were forced to leave this neighborhood before I moved here, and wondering who they were and what happened to them. And this has given me some more motivation to really explore that. Why did they lose their houses? What kind of financial arrangements had they used in order to be here in the first place? A lot of questions like that. I have these very general assumptions about what was going on at that time, but I haven’t tied them to the individual stories that they’re connected to. That’s an interesting next step.

Port Urbanism, Blackness, and the Shipping Crate in ‘Collapse: Works by Dewey Crumpler’ — a conversation with curator Sampada Aranke

Dewey Crumpler, Untitled 3 (2017). Photo by Yosef Chaim Kalinko, Seattle University.

“He would do these walks along the port, and see these shipping containers come in and out, and became particularly interested in the way that was shaping his relationships to the walk, to these meditative zones that are supposed to be about taking in nature and enjoying the stunning views of the Bay. It’s in the shadows, these giants cranes.” –Sampada Aranke

Scattered everywhere are green bananas. In the foreground, bunches of the unripe fruit iteratively sit upright and lie sideways on the damp, cold sand of a beach. Snails and crabs also reside on this beach. Their burnt sandy color almost camouflages the shell creatures within the sand as they move among the bananas: this fruit is their feast now. A large gold-yellow shipping crate sits centered, mid plane and suggests this feast was intended for human beings. But now shipwrecked, the looming crate sits stuck in sand, broken with an horizontal fracture at its side, with its goods—the tropical fruit from elsewhere—spilled in this location where the sand meets the sea. Something has broken this crate, this beast, this large, heavy symbol of global trade and consumerism. In the distance, three other crates meet worse fates. They, too, are even more stuck in the low-tide beach, almost submerged in the damp, dense, heavy sand water. They, too, are broken with cracks that empty out their contents: more green bananas. Hundreds of the green bunches line the sand as it turns into the sea. Some bananas have a hint of ripeness—a hint of yellow—that echoes the yellow color of the crate, and hints at the global processes, and people, that have imperfectly brought these goods from someplace else to here.

I viewed Untitled 3, 2017 (acrylic and mixed media on oil canvas) last month as part of Collapse: Recent works by Dewey Crumpler at the Hedreen Gallery in Seattle, WA. Dewey Crumpler is a Bay Area-based artist and Associate Professor of Painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. A description for the show reads:

Collapse considers the beauty and terror of financial systems and their ecological, social, and aesthetic impacts. These works take on the disturbances of potential catastrophe, rendering the container as the locus of awe, wonder, destruction, and fear. In these works, Crumpler asks us to consider how goods transported globally via ships and ports might open up other histories of destruction and creation. By citing aesthetic practices that range from religious iconography to dreamscapes of ruin, Crumpler lays bare the connective tissues between past, present, and impending futures of collapse.

The shipping crate centers all works in the show; the crate acts as a concrete signifier of port urbanism and an abstract lens to the processes and aesthetics of global capitalist processes and of blackness. To learn more about the exhibit, I spoke with its guest curator, Sampada Aranke, Assistant Professor in the Art History, Theory, Criticism Department at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago.

Dewey Crumpler, Untitled 1-5, 2017, installed at Hedreen Gallery, Seattle, WA. Photo by Yosef Chaim Kalinko, Seattle University.

JASMINE MAHMOUD: A main motif throughout the exhibition is the shipping crate. In Untitled 3, the gold yellow crate sits centered, midplane and endlessly surrounded by unripe green bananas. In Untitled 4, stacks of crates in red, green, purple, yellow, blue, grey—stacks that appear like rectangular bunches of yarn—sit piled in rows in a ship sinking a stormy sea. And in Untitled 5, perhaps an aftermath of the previous work, crates of blue, orange, and brown splash and sink (and perhaps float) into the sea. How does the motif of the crate dialogue with urban, spatial, and geographic claims that Dewey Crumpler makes in his work?

SAMPADA ARANKE: I call the show Collapse, and the series actually doesn’t have a unifying title or a kind of gathering conceptual umbrella except for the crates that keep coming up. That really comes up with Dewey … taking these walks along the bayfront in Oakland and Berkeley, and the port being this really dominant place. Dewey writ large has always been … he’s within the Black Radical Tradition, he’s has a really engaged critique of capital and of commodification, and that’s been a vibrant tenor in his work for years.

These crates, for me, the reason why they’re so compelling when I first saw them is they’re an immediate signifier, they mobilize a very vibrant, understanding: we know what it is. But they also, in different paintings, vary in their legibility. Some, in the bananas Untitled piece, it’s very clear what we’re looking at. And then in the gold foil pieces, it’s a little bit more abstract.

Dewey Crumpler, Untitled 1 (2017). Photo by Yosef Chaim Kalinko, Seattle University.

I think that really does characterize how, in these works, I think Dewey is making certain kinds of claims around place and placelessness, groundedness, the ways that global financial systems and the moving of goods; the commodification of pleasure, desire, and food systems—these big, systemic questions, how all of these questions actually rely on a force of transport. We could ship bananas, which we can’t grow in a particular place, to places that can’t grow them.

In terms of geography, in terms of the question of place, I think Dewey’s always been kind of concerned with groundedness and placefulness or placelessness in his work, and this is a way that those two interests around capital and place come together.

The container becomes a mobilizing factor for both of those things. On the one hand, it’s an object that is meant for stacking and carrying and transportability. One shipping port in San Francisco has the same system for packaging and moving goods as a shipping port in Los Angeles. The container is the thing that everything is organized around. It brings a real sense of consistency. On the other hand, the container is this portable fluid object that can move with ease globally. I think that kind of ambiguousness about the container is precisely why it is such a rich motif, a rich subject in all of these works.

MAHMOUD: That’s great. Tell me about your curatorial process. How did you come upon Dewey Crumpler’s work and decide to curate this exhibition? What aspect did you focus on in your curatorial process?

ARANKE: I had the pleasure of working with Dewey when I was at the San Francisco Art Institute. I’d come across Dewey’s work actually because I started to take on a research project that was thinking about Black West Coast Abstraction, particularly American. Right before I got the job at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2014, and I was eager to work with Dewey. Dewey came up in the 1960s and 70s with figures like Raymond Saudners and Jay DeFeo (who isn’t Black). I was thinking about this milieu in the Bay Area, mostly painters and some sculptors in the 70s and 80s. It really struck me that there wasn’t a lot written about Dewey.

So when I went to the Art Institute, Dewey and I became fast friends also because we were both … He is incredibly well-read, incredibly well-versed in the very kinds of aesthetic questions, cultural theories, theories of capital. With Cedric Robinson and his call to Black Radical Tradition really loosely, we had these conversations that just kind of were so seamlessly enfolded in what he was doing.

I asked him to give this artist talk for this event I was doing on campus, and he gets kind of shy about presenting his work in that way. He was like, “I have some new work, can I add that in?” I was like, “Of course.” I remember seeing this new work and just asking Dewey, “What the fuck is this? This incredible work!” It was incredible and he was just doing it in his studio, he’s just so dedicated to making the work.

When I saw this work, I started talking to him about it because it’s so striking and yet it’s still compositionally and formally … it makes sense in relation to his broader practice. I became really interested in an artist who has dedicated his entire life and practice teaching at an art school, continuing to make work, and now kind of switching up the game in terms of his practice, really working right at the intersection of abstraction and figuration. Whereas before, so much of his work was really working in abstraction more clearly for the audience. I think Dewey would probably push against that, but I think that’s my assessment. We’d built this trust between us, and I was like, “Dewey, I want to curate this show!”

Dewey Crumpler, Untitled 4 (2017). Photo by Yosef Chaim Kalinko, Seattle University.

By the time I started doing the research process around this—talking to Dewey, doing studio visits, looking at some kind of major questions that come up globalization in the early 2000s throughout the idea of a fourth iteration of global market systems—I couldn’t get Dewey’s work out of my head.

So when Molly Mac called me and was like, “I just got this position at the Hadreen here in Seattle and it’s the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party” because that’s my area, she was like, “I just wanted to know if you had any ideas about shows that you might want to do here?” I was like, “Ding ding ding,” because Dewey also has this really incredible political history, where he was in conversations with Emory Douglas and the Black Panthers, but of course he worked in abstraction and he didn’t want to follow the revolutionary representational mandate. He’s made all these murals all around the Bay area, he was a social realist muralist, and I was like, “He’s the perfect kind of figure, and the perfect person.”

I’m also interested in a late career artist, somebody who’s making work, continuing to do work in a consistent way. So all three of those things really converged around these works for me. So in terms of what aspect I focused on, I really thought a lot about this critique of capital that keeps emerging in these paintings, but also the use of religious iconography, the humor and playfulness that’s operating, and of course the question for me that’s always going on in the back of my mind is, “This is a kind of Black aesthetic critique that’s being mobilized, and yet in these works, Blackness as we’re used to seeing it isn’t in the foreground.” To me, it just made the most sense.

MAHMOUD: This is brilliant. I’m curious, you talked about West Coast Black abstraction. I’m curious how you’re thinking about Dewey Crumpler’s work in dialogue with his geography, as Black artist who grew up and continues to live in the Bay Area?

ARANKE: Dewey was born and raised … He’s lived his entire life in the Bay Area. He has been in the Art Institute for I think close to 30 years. He’s at the Art Institute, he got his MFA at Mills [College in Oakland, CA] and worked with Jay DeFeo. Actually she was like, “You should come to Mills, get your MFA,” which is incredible. He has continued to make work in the Bay in a way that’s really remarkable. I was so humbled when I first got an invitation by Dewey to do a studio visit with him, and the amount of work that he has is just illustrious.

Dewey Crumpler, Untitled 2 (2017). Photo by Yosef Chaim Kalinko, Seattle University.

The Bay is always in his person. It comes out in the work, but I do think that his latest fleet of work really does imbed the Bay Area in the DNA of the work in a different way, and so much of that I think is about Dewey’s … like I said, he would do these walks along the port, and see these shipping containers come in and out, and became particularly interested in the way that was shaping his relationships to the walk, to these meditative zones that are supposed to be about taking in nature and enjoying the stunning views of the Bay. It’s in the shadows, these giant cranes. And that really does make its way into the work. I think not just with the local of the container, but also the idea of these goods that are spilling out on these landscapes, or the making of these landscapes that are stunning and they’re just overflowing with these objects.

MAHMOUD: I am curious about this show in Seattle: the city has become so expensive and many dialogue the high cost of living with the political economy of Amazon and other corporations headquartered in the area including Microsoft, Starbucks, and Boeing. I have been thinking about Seattle as this late capitalist, neoliberal, even austere city with so much wealth and also so much unaffordability and homelessness. How did you think about this show in dialogue with the city of Seattle and the political economy and other global networks that take place in Seattle?

ARANKE: That’s a great question. What’s interesting for me is, I lived in the Bay before I moved to Chicago, I lived in the Bay for about nine years. And during that time, everybody is always … the word on the tip of their tongue is gentrification. Another word on the tip of their tongue is tech, or the Google bus, or the work campus, or whatever the thing is. That makes me very sensitive, not only to your own financial precarity, but also the ways that that dominates the cultural atmosphere. There’s all these ways that every cultural institution in the Bay is trying to feed after Facebook, or Google: invest in us, give us money, invest in artists. There’s a disconnect there, it’s not happening. Tech people don’t want to give money to artists. I don’t know else how to say it. They want to spend $500 on their meal.

I’ve always had a little bit of a cynical, at best you could call it a pseudo-feminist Marxist critique, at worst you can call it a cynicism. I’ve always been kind of cynical about the relationship between these big giant global corporations, and the way that they acculturate, not to be ironic, but the way that they acculturate or don’t to local places that they’re in, and how cultural institutions should re-think how we posit value, and the kinds of ways that we make critiques.

In terms of Seattle, what became really interesting for me is the way that that conversation that I was having today was totally vibrant and happening, has been happening in Seattle for a long time, too. It was a perfect pairing to put this—what I think can be read as a Bay Area conversation—into a context where it’s so relevant. But I think that it’s also a bigger vision for me that I’ve been thinking about with this show, in an ideal sense, I would love to travel it to all port cities on the West Coast that are facing similar things. Seattle, to me, was a tipping … the perfect first place for the show, and I would love to see it go to Portland, I’d love to see it go to the Bay, I’d love to see it go to Los Angeles, because there is something about port cities as—

MAHMOUD: —even Vancouver [BC].   

ARANKE: Totally. The content of this show is modeling the ways in which these questions are so urgent and relevant, and yet so familiar. You can actually drag that history all the way back to a post-WWII moment, and having to relocate this port relationship to the economy, to shift it from a war-time economy towards a goods place economy. I think Dewey’s work really shines the light on the way that that shift is indicative of all the things that we’re living with now.

MAHMOUD: I’d love to hear more about your own research. How does your work engage with urbanism and with geography, especially in dialogue with how you think about and think through Black aesthetics?

ARANKE: It’s a great exercise for me to think about. I focus on post-1960s Black American art. I’m thinking specifically of the intersection between abstraction and figuration in re-shaping and re-thinking the political. I think there’s such a way that in my own work, I take the question of place for granted, but in some ways I’m really trying to reconfigure that.

Dewey Crumpler, Untitled 5, Untitled 1 2017, installed at Hedreen Gallery, Seattle, WA. Photo by Yosef Chaim Kalinko, Seattle University.

I’m working on this project right now on David Hammond … He did this performance in 1981 where he pissed on a Richard Serra sculpture in New York City. I’ve been thinking about that work as a kind of intervention around place and placelessness. That being this very deeply embedded Black American critique. By activating an abject, corporeal relationship to this monument, I think that what Hammond is getting us to—and Glenn Ligon has really opened the door in a lot of ways in his writing about Hammond—getting us to re-think how we consider bodily proximity in relation to Blackness, and how that is very much entrenched in relationship placelessness.

That’s one area where I’m really dipping my toe in to see what that relationship might be, and really devoting myself to becoming a student of people like Katherine McKittrick, Rashad Shabazz, and Kemi Adeyemi who’s working on this in such a radically incredible and imaginative way. I feel like I’m just dipping a tiny little bit of my toe into it.

MAHMOUD I think that’s really rich is how you conceptualize Black aesthetics in dialogue with these questions of place. In some ways, you might not directly be thinking about urbanism or placelessness, but your focus on aesthetics gives us a different way to think about place, if that makes sense.

ARANKE: That’s really humbling.


COLLAPSE: Recent Works by Dewey Crumpler Guest Curated by Sampada Aranke runs March 15, 2018 to May 19, 2018 at The Hedreen Gallery in Seattle, WA.

On April 12, 2018, the following event will take place: COLLAPSE in conversation with Dewey Crumpler and Sampada Aranke at Seattle University. Public Conversation 6:30-8pm, Publication Release Reception 8-9:30pm. In collaboration with Capitol Hill Art Walk. Visit the gallery’s website for more information.

‘Priced Out,’ ‘Erased,’ and ‘Eminent Domain’: Voices from Portland, Kansas City, and Saint Louis – Part Two

How do we best document those displaced by pernicious, dehumanizing forms of urbanism?

In October, I attended “We Lived Here!,” a panel at the Griot Museum featuring residents—all black women—displaced by processes of eminent domain in St. Louis, MO and Kansas City, MO. As detailed in this previous post, each described eminent domain as an ugly, hurtful, demeaning process used as the reason to take her home and displace her mostly black neighborhood and as a tool for economic development that only benefited a few.

Image from “Eminent Domain/Displaced” exhibit at the Griot Museum, curated by Lois Conley and Matt Rahner.

The panel took place as part of events for the “Eminent Domain/Displaced” exhibit at the Griot Museum of Black History. Described on the Griot’s website, the exhibit is a:

[m]ulti-media installation of place, portraiture, landscape, and appropriated space that explores how the use of eminent domain contributed to the disappearance of three Missouri communities: Wendell-Phillips (Kansas City), Mill Creek Valley, and St. Louis Place (St. Louis). Salvaged objects, oral interviews, archival materials, photographs and more explore the impact of displacement.

Matt Rahner, a photographer and Assistant Professor of Art at Missouri Valley College, and Lois Conley, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Griot Museum, curated the exhibit. Conley’s own history and the museum’s location only amplify the exhibit’s meanings. Conley “was a teenager when her parents lost their Mill Creek neighborhood home to eminent domain. A portion of her former backyard became Market Street after the city leveled the area in the name of progress.” The Griot Museum “sits across the street from the site of the future National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, in a demolished area that was part of the St. Louis Place neighborhood.” (The above two quotes are from an interview with Lois Conley about the exhibit, found here.)

Image from “Eminent Domain/Displaced” exhibit at the Griot, curated by Lois Conley and Matt Rahner.

How do we best document those displaced by pernicious, dehumanizing forms of urbanism? I talked the exhibit’s co-curator, Matt Rahner, for more about creating work that documents deleterious urbanization.

Jasmine Mahmoud: How did you begin putting together this exhibit and photographing displaced neighborhoods?

Matt Rahner: I’ve always been a documentary photographer and as an artist I’ve always been interested in real world things. In August of 2012 I read an article in The Pitch [free alternative weekly newspaper of Kansas City] about eminent domain and the city’s plan to tear down the neighborhood of Wendell-Phillips and replace it with a new police station and crime lab. The article grabbed my attention, and I became interested in the process, the neighborhood, and the residents.

The article raised more questions than answers, so I decided to contact Ameena Powell, who was mentioned in The Pitch story. Ameena became a central figure in my series, and was integral to making the work. One of the most important photographs from my series, Eminent Domain, is a photo of Ameena on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse. She had just left the courtroom where her home was condemned by the city, as one of the final steps in the Eminent Domain process. Ameena stands in front of the courthouse with bags of paperwork, defiant in the face of a city that has forcibly, yet legally, made her move from her home. The city had decided this was going to happen, and there was really nothing Ameena could do other than fight for more just compensation for her home. Her goal was to save her house, but everything was stacked against her. There really was no way she could have done that.

Ameena Powell standing on the steps of the Jackson County Court House after her condemnation hearing in 2012. Credit: Matt Rahner.

JM: What other subjects have you documented in your photography?

MR: Eminent Domain was my Masters of Fine Arts thesis project. Before that I was just a photographer of the world. I had documented people who stay on the side of highway exits holding signs and got to know their stories. However, Eminent Domain was my first real in depth documentary project.

JM: How did you meet the residents of St. Louis?

MR: I was connected with Lois [Conley] at the Griot through Robert Powell who owns Portfolio Gallery in St. Louis. Robert is actually the uncle of Ameena [Powell] so Ameena contacted Robert and said “hey, Matt just made this project, I don’t know if you’re interested in it or if you know somebody who is.” It just so happened that Lois had gone through eminent domain herself growing up in the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood. On top of that, her museum, the Griot Museum sits right on the border of the NGA site. Lois had been wanting to do a project on eminent domain herself, and it seemed quite pertinent and a great time to bring our two projects together. Her project Displaced and my project. 

JM: What were you trying to communicate in the exhibit?

MR: In the photographs I wanted to communicate how the residents felt about the process of eminent domain because they didn’t have a choice in the matter and they had to move. They had to leave behind a house they’d lived in for 50 years.

My photographs aim to communicate the way the residents felt. Their reaction to eminent domain. As I took the photographs my camera became a stand in for the city and their presence in the photograph was more a reaction to the city. There are definitely pictures of defiance but also I was trying to give the residents a voice, give them agency over the situation … because no one really listened to what they wanted or to how they would have liked to see things handled differently.

A note scrawled inside an upstairs closet in a home of a long-time resident of Wendell-Phillips. 2012. Credit: Matt Rahner.

And with the exhibit my goal was to transform the space of the white wall gallery into a homelike space. I wanted to create an intimate environment where my photographs could reside on the wall with objects from the homes and neighborhood. I decided to recreate wallpaper that I had found in one of the homes and use it to transform the space of the show. On top of the wallpaper, I hung my photos as well as found paintings and prints that came from Wendell-Phillips.

I used objects that were left behind, and I was never sure why they were left behind. Some of them were damaged beyond repair and I could understand why people threw those away. But the objects allowed me to access the past and to understand the neighborhood better than I could have in the time that I was there.

For example, one of the main found sculptures in the show is a pile of bricks that came from one of the homes after it had been demolished. I chose to bring the bricks into the gallery space to speak to my experience of watching this place be torn apart. As I was documenting Wendell-Phillips, it was a common sight to go back to the neighborhood and find a new house had been torn down, until eventually all of the homes were razed. The pile of bricks in the gallery represents the essence of these homes and the devastation brought onto this neighborhood by the city. The bricks are physically in the space, and you have to walk around them, you have to bear witness in your own way and have your own experience of this place. The bricks on the floor relate to the photographs on the wall, so they tie together the past and the present.

As I organized the plethora of objects I had collected, I realized there were specific arrangements that became more potent than my photographs in terms of communicating the story of the neighborhood. I arranged the objects for the viewers of the show to be astute and to pay attention to the clues hidden within the arrangements. My hope is that viewers saw the connections between the objects and how they can describe a larger narrative of the history of Kansas City and this place in particular.

JM: What were some of those objects that were more potent than the photographs?

MR: The family photographs that I found were really potent. I was an outsider going into this neighborhood as it wasn’t my neighborhood, so I was really respectful of that. My photographs were from my point of view, as an outsider, but the family photos come from a different place. They are insider views on people’s lives, and something I wasn’t able to access as a documentarian.

Found object assemblages installed in the exhibit Eminent Domain. Credit: Matt Rahner.

Many of the items in the exhibit were given to me. One resident’s family lent me this incredible document that goes back into the 1800s that shows every transition of ownership on their land and house. It’s an incredible object, visually, and the history of the neighborhood can be read in the creases and folds of this document. It’s powerful that way.

In the show I wanted to draw comparisons between the treatment of this neighborhood and the history of the United States. Obviously Native Americans were here first and were pushed out by settlers. From day one in America there is a history of taking, and systemic racist ideology. These practices have been perpetuated in urban America, and continue to happen in cities like Kansas City and St. Louis. Practices of redlining, block busting, white flight, and racially restrictive covenants have left negative effects on cities and neighborhoods. I believe that this particular eminent domain project is an extension of systemic racism, it was an extension of all of these things that had been in place since our country was founded. I wanted to talk about this in the show, and I used the objects to tell that story. Specifically, I used a print of Jesus on the cross, hung next to a velvet painting of a Native American Indian. Each story (of Christ and Native Americans) deals with taking. Interestingly, in the print of Jesus, his wounds are visible on his torso, hands and feet, and on the painting I found of the Native American the velvet canvas was pierced and had holes in the figures torso, hands and feet. I put these two pieces in the show to specifically raise the question of power and authority, and of who is able to “take” from whom. Often it is the powerful wielding influence and taking from the powerless. I saw this correlation in the history of the neighborhood up to the use of eminent domain.

A found velvet painting of a Native American, installed in the exhibit Eminent Domain. The wall paper the painting hangs on is recreated from one of the homes within Wendell-Phillips. Credit: Matt Rahner.

A found print of Jesus Christ on the cross, surrounded by two angels. This print was found hanging on a wall in a home in Wendell-Phillips. Credit: Matt Rahner.

JM: Did anything surprise you while putting together this project and/or once it was displayed?

MR: I think the surprise came when I had everything in the gallery, and I was like wow, the installation, with my photographs and the found object felt complete. That was actually a surprise for me. I’ve been surprised as well by how Eminent Domain has resonated with people. My goal was to tell “A” story of the neighborhood and not to write “THE” history. I wanted to tell the story of eminent domain in a compelling way and hoped that people connected with it, which I think they have.

While making the work, one thing that was more appalling than surprising was that the city handed out these bricks at the groundbreaking that were brand new and had silver plaques on them with the inscription, “Kansas City: rebuilding our city one brick at a time.” It was such a tone-deaf and disingenuous gesture that ignored the history and relevance of the neighborhood. It was totally opposite of what the city had done, because in reality they had torn the city down one brick at a time. Now, these city employees and contractors have these bricks in their homes or offices as a sort of trophy for destroying this neighborhood. Luckily, for posterity, I was able to secure one of these bricks, and I display it in the exhibition to serve as a reminder of the city’s complicity in the process.

JM: At the event, I remember that many were so depressed after hearing the residents’ stories. They asked, “what can we do? It seems like we can’t do anything.” Do you have thoughts about what we as citizens can do to either stop eminent domain or make more equitable neighborhood change?

MR: That’s a great question. First of all, I think understanding the history of the place you live is really helpful, understanding how our cities are formed, developed and redeveloped. Some people are aware of racially restrictive codes and redlining … but for the most part people aren’t aware of those ideas. So understanding this history. … Places that are chosen for eminent domain have usually struggled and I think for neighborhoods it’s helpful to be organized and have neighborhood organizations that have a plan for their own development. Also, I think it’s important to document the place and create projects in the neighborhoods, whether that be art making projects, creating written histories, or visual documentations. Neighborhood leaders can create asset lists of the neighborhoods and document those things now so that when the city does come up and say, “We want to do this project here,” the neighborhoods can say, “NO, there are all of these important cultural markers in our neighborhood that we think are important.”

Found object assemblages installed in the exhibit Eminent Domain. Credit: Matt Rahner.

Found object assemblages installed in the exhibit Eminent Domain. Credit: Matt Rahner.

In Wendell-Phillips many residents felt that the city never cared enough to ask them (the residents) what they thought the City should do to spur economic growth or to curb crime, and that’s too bad because I think the residents had a lot of great ideas, and tearing down the neighborhood wasn’t one of them. The city, however, had their “reasons” for taking the neighborhood, and perversely, one of the more prominent ideas they pushed was that it was going to help the surrounding neighborhoods. They tried to sell the idea that this re-development would help the residents. This kind of faulty logic is on the city, and the effects are yet to be seen. Many residents wished the city would be more involved with the neighborhoods and listen to their feedback.

JM: Are there any other thoughts you have about this project?

I think it’s important for artists everywhere to be involved in their communities … if not making work about these topics, then to at least get involved in some way, whether joining associations or attending city council meetings. I don’t feel like I can measure in any qualitative way what my project has done, but I feel like it has helped raise awareness on these issues. Other professionals are working in their respective fields to raise awareness and create change. It takes multiple perspectives and multiple people to create change, and it can’t be just one person. There are strength in numbers.