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Posts from the ‘RISD Maharam Fellows’ Category


Way-finding in Delhi’s urban villages

I am excited to be working in New Delhi, India this summer with the residents of Zamrudpur urban village, to use design interventions in their streetscape as a means to draw visitors into the community and start important dialogues to address prejudices against such marginalized communities and their residents. I will be carrying out the project in collaboration with Adhyayan, a community driven NGO focused on empowering youths from marginalized communities by teaching them valuable skills and resources that are otherwise denied by social, economic and cultural circumstances.

Existing as agricultural villages previously, and then subjected to different municipal laws, urban villages share an uncomfortable relation with the rest of the city that engulfed them in its rapid globalization. Today most urban villages in Delhi suffer from a lack of proper infrastructure, and the social and economic marginalization of their residents. A clear example of their exclusion from the urban discourse is the exclusion of their presence on Google maps in today’s tech-based world.

Working with Adhyayan and the youth of the village, I hope to facilitate the process of the residents coming to understand their role and status in the city, and raising their understanding of themselves as active agents. The project will be split into 3 phases – design charrettes and mapping exercises, installation creation, and pop-up performances within the village, with the goal to have the residents open up their community to outsiders. Limiting my role to instigating and facilitating the ideas, the project process will be self-driven by the students, teaching them skills in organization, collaboration, and management of resources among others. This summer the village children become the hosts and ambassadors of their village to create a “secrets” map of their village. The main aim will be to target perceptions of discomfort and hostility through navigation of socially different spaces for an outsider, thereby affecting their interactions with the locals in that place.


- Zoya Puri


Diving Into Legal Design

This summer, I’ll be diving into an exciting new space: the intersection between design and the legal system.  I’m working with the NuLawLab, Northeastern University School of Law’s resident innovation hub, to look at how design can be used to create a legal system that works better for people.  What if we could use human-centered design to build a legal landscape more responsive to community needs, more engaging, and more empowering – where everyone has access to justice?

I know you’re likely wondering – well, what does that look like?  While the design x law space is emerging, there are a bunch of projects that show the potential for new approaches to transform how we interact with the law.  Take in a preview of the NuLawLab’s first project, led by socially engaged art studio REV-, which uses mobile technology to connect with domestic workers:


Margaret Hagan, a fellow at Stanford’s and creator of the new Program for Legal Tech + Design, has illustrated a clear breakdown of how different types of design can interact with the law:


My summer will be spent exploring the possibilities for what legal design could look like in the context of Rhode Island.  While learning from the NuLawLab’s design-oriented approach, I will be working to support the current efforts by the law firm DeLuca and Weizenbaum to create a new center for public interest law in the state, in coordination with Roger Williams University School of Law.  It’s exciting to be joining this work at such a formative time in the development of the new law center.  My work will be based in immersive local research and will involve 1) using design to communicate legal needs, and 2) exploring what kinds of solutions could meet those needs.  More to come!

-Allison Wong


Too 3D

Mariya Sitnova

I will be spending my summer in Washington D.C. at the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian X 3D initiative. By 3D scanning their collections, museums can now make historical objects available to the public for access by people who cannot visit them in person or educators wanting to delve into new resources.

I will be working with museum educators, K-12 teachers, and 3D digitization technicians to design learning modules for these growing virtual collections through technologies like 3D printing. Examples of these modules include the iBook the Smithsonian intends to publish to demystify 3D technology through a historical inquiry of Abraham Lincoln, as well as a framework for case studies that will serve as the road map for reconstructing historical inventions.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 9.12.26 PM

The Lincoln life-mask was one of the first objects 3D scanned and included in the Beta Smithsonian X 3D Explorer.


Design Thinking at the Collaboratory

In November 2013, the U.S. Department of State launched the Collaboratory, a new initiative in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). ECA runs educational and cultural exchange programs for American and international students, artists, athletes, business leaders, and more to promote mutual understanding through public diplomacy. The Collaboratory seeks to integrate technology into in-person exchange programs and to develop and pilot new ideas to enrich person-to-person exchanges using technology.

I am eager to serve as the Collaboratory’s Designer in Residence and Maharam STEAM Fellow beginning this summer. I will be responsible for getting involved with many of the Collaboratory’s initiatives. In addition to incorporating virtual technologies into existing in-person exchange programs, I’ll develop ideas for new programs centered around virtual exchange. I will spearhead the Collaboratory’s partnership with NASA’s Education Department with the goal of expanding NASA’s Digital Learning Network to an international audience. I’ll audit the Collaboratory from a design thinking perspective and write a report on my research and findings. Finally, I will assist the Collaboratory with branding and visual communications as the need arises.

This represents a unique opportunity to integrate design and design thinking into an organization early in its lifetime, with important implications for sustainability and the prevalence of visual problem solving within institutions. Furthermore, while design thinking in government is becoming a topic of interest amongst forward-thinking members of the public sector, design practitioners in government are still outnumbered by those who advocate for more traditional approaches to governance, especially at the strategy level. As a new initiative operating on the forefront of innovation at the State Department, the Collaboratory has recognized this need for design thinking from within. As the newest team member at the Collaboratory, it is my hope that our mutual belief in and enthusiasm for the power of design to change public policy will result in a productive partnership with lasting impact for public diplomacy and design thinking in government at large.


A Summer at Massport

This summer, I’ll be working at the Massachusetts Port Authority in East Boston.  Massport is an independent public authority that oversees major transportation related infrastructure in the state of Massachusetts.  This infrastructure includes Boston Logan International Airport, Hanscom Airfield, the Port of Boston, and hundreds of acres of waterfront property.  Massport has recently created a new position within the Department of Capital Programs & Environmental Affairs focused on resilience.  This position studies how existing infrastructure can be more resilient to future man-made or environmental threats.  These concerns include global warming, the rising sea level, and superstorms like Hurricane Sandy.

ImageNautical chart of Boston Harbor, US Harbors: Massachusetts.

ImageAerial views of Logan Airport, facing southeast.  Photo on left by Michael Philip Manheim, 1973, US National Archives.  Photo on right from Google Earth.

Developing plans for the future resilience of transportation infrastructure is important because it affects an area with which everyone is involved.  Transportation is a crucial part of our daily lives but is largely underappreciated.  We expect it to be functioning smoothly at all times, yet any disruptions can block access to schools, workplaces, or safety.  In 2012, Boston Logan served nearly 30 million passengers.  A natural disaster would therefore affect travelers all over the world. And since airports are a primary platform for receiving aid, damage to an airport like Boston Logan could be crippling for a region struck by an emergency.  Thinking resiliently can help prevent such scenarios by studying current conditions, preparing for future problems, and designing to ensure a rapid recovery phase.

ImageLogan Airspace Map, 2011, The Massachusetts Port Authority.

I will study transportation in terms of networks and connections operating at multiple scales.  I will also look at these systems in terms of time: time in relation to the short term and long term goals that Massport is developing for infrastructure resilience.  I will conduct precedent studies concerning resilient design strategies and compile this information into a library of design approaches.  I will present my findings, along with work by professionals within the resilience field, on a carefully curated website.  I will use the resulting collection of information to draft a set of guidelines for applying my findings to Massport’s facilities.

Adria Boynton


Whitney Oldenburg: Summer at the PRC


Hello! This summer I am implementing an art research project at the Mayo Clinic Pain Rehabilitation Center (PRC) in Jacksonville, Florida. Initially started over thirty years ago at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the PRC was one of the first programs to help people with chronic pain. These patients suffer from long-term, pain- inducing diseases that may not improve over time. In most cases, these patients will not benefit from surgical or medicinal treatments and are at risk for developing addiction to pain medication. Thus, a primary goal of the program is to help patients cope with pain through alternative care.

This March, the program doubled in size and while the new center is being renovated, fifteen patients will be treated in one area, while an additional fifteen patients will be treated in a separate area. Under the supervision of both the Program Coordinator of the Center of Humanities in Medicine and a Mayo researcher,  I plan on implementing critical art engagement in the experimental group and having no art engagement in the control group. I will compare the experimental group’s physical and mental functioning with the group of patients not exposed to art making. Over the three week treatment period, the following improvement indictors will be measured for each individual: the increase and decrease use of pain medication, patient satisfaction, the change in depressive symptoms, the change in aerobic activities, pain severity, and perception and control of pain, etc. I will do this test three times for a nine-week project time span. I hope my pilot study will contribute to an overall understanding of how art can aid in patient rehabilitation and improve overall health. I am also interested in the integration of visual art with medicine, and I hope my project will show how each field can influence each other.



Demonstration block initial project!

This is a post that is overdue.  This is a post that is timely because of its relevance to my architectural thesis work which is beginning now.

All of the research, meetings, talking, etc. that I did in Detroit this summer will surely continue now that I am gone.   It will continue with others in Detroit furthering their projects and a lot of the work started.  I’ve also carried the work and thoughts back to Rhode Island with me.  Throughout the end of the summer I focused a lot of energy into developing some ideas, schematics, and images for initial projects on the demonstration block site.  Now, I am immersed in the Fall semester of my final year in the M. Architecture program at RISD.  My work on Mack Avenue in Detroit is not over.  It will continue to inform my work throughout this final year at RISD where I will propose and execute an architectural thesis project.I fully intend for the work that I am doing throughout this year to be directly relevant to the work that was done this past summer with LEAP and the Mack Avenue Green T project.  It may not be specific to the same site, but I am focusing on similar issues with vacant land in Detroit.  This type of research is then applicable to other areas within the city as well as other post-industrial urban landscapes with similar conditions throughout the American Rust Belt and beyond.

Backtracking a little…

The Mack Avenue Green T project fits within the framework of the Detroit Future City plan.  It fits within the neighborhood development plan for the entire LEAP district.  One thing it lacked for quite a while this summer was a comprehensive conceptual approach for itself.  Alongside my manager, Jackie, I helped develop that plan toward the end of the summer.  I’ve mentioned the Detroit Future City Plan previously, but I may not have mentioned that the grassroots organization that put the plan together published a graphically beautiful book that outlines the entire thing.  They are promoting free access to the information for anyone who is interested in working within Detroit and the framework of the Future City.  To me, the book has become a religious document that outlines the framework in which my creativity can roam wild.  I was able to pick up two copies of the book over the summer.  One I intend to keep and cherish, the other I’m donating to the RISD Fleet library.  The RISD community deserves to have a copy of this book to keep in their archive that is accessible to everyone.

future city book

detroit future city book

The concept plan for the Green T is very simple.  Blocks will be planted with pennycress plants for biodiesel harvest.  The strips between the road and sidewalks will be converted into bioswales that will help capture water runoff from the road as well as the crop.  This in turn, alleviates water treatment pressure in the treatment facilities across Detroit.  Several locations throughout the Mack Avenue strip were selected to develop as sites for public art installations.  They will be attractive locations that allow people to experience the new agricultural intervention along Mack Ave.  Each location has a concept material for the public art specific to that site.  Creating a plan that allows for each site to have a separate visual identity, not only provides diversity to the project, but it allows the nearby residents to help identify with the location.  Having the ability to identify your home alongside landmarks within a neighborhood, begins to develop a place as an identifiable neighborhood.  It can provide residents with a sense of place and sometimes a sense of pride for where they live.  The following images outline a basic plan for the Green T public art projects as well as two prominent landmarks that have been identified by community members and LEAP as worth preserving.

2013.8.15 concept masterplan

2013.8.15 concept masterplan

2013.8.15 concept masterplan

I was fortunate enough to have the time to implement a small installation on the Green T strip.  It is the first intervention within the entire project and is located on the demonstration block site.  Drawing from the idea of material themed public art, I chose to use tires.  We chose the location adjacent to the telephone pole at the center of the site.  The installation serves two major purposes.  It acts as a relocated bus stop and a location for informational signage related to the Green T project.  The bus stop is being relocated from the adjacent block to the East where there is no longer bus stop signage.  Therefore, we proposed to relocate the stop to the demonstration block where a new sign could be mounted on the telephone pole and draw more eyes to what is happening on the site.

bus stop study

Bus stops on Mack Avenue and throughout most of the city lack any type of shelter or even a bench.  It gets worse.  The buses are so incredibly inefficient and inconsistent that it could take nearly an hour past the scheduled time for a bus to arrive.  There are also stories of individuals waiting for the last bus home at night only to realize that it is never going to come.  Why?  Sometimes the reason is just because the driver didn’t feel like making the last run.  One day when I was out documenting the area with my camera, I watched a woman and her son walking to a bus stop, carrying a milk crate to sit on.  I approached them and we had a friendly conversation about the bus system and the lack of benches throughout the city.  After that conversation, advocating for the installation of benches throughout the Green T project, became a personal priority for me.


2013.8.1 _ Quinn and Manuel waiting for the bus on Mack

Throughout the summer I’d been taking notes about where there were piles of dumped tires throughout the neighborhood.  Even before solidifying a plan for implementation, one day was spent returning to those locations and collecting tires.  This was a learning experience all on its own.  Initially I thought I’d just stop, pick up the tires, and then leave.  However, when I stopped and began collecting them, neighbors took notice.  Over a dozen people stopped to ask what I was doing.  They all thanked me for helping to clean up some of the garbage.  Several offered to help, including a young boy on rollerblades with a broken arm.  I politely declined his help because that just seemed like a recipe for disaster.   A few people asked if I was collecting or dumping for fear that I was adding to the piles of trash.  Although most people were a bit confused as to why I wanted so many tires, most just shook my hand and thanked me for helping out.  These simple actions can go a long way in neighborhoods which are mostly ignored by outsiders.


2013.8.14 _ tire dumping site on the Eastside


2013.8.14 _ a bad flat


2013.8.14 _ helping clean up some rubber


2013.8.14 _ demonstration block site with the collection

Upon returning to the demonstration block site, I neatly stacked the tires in the middle of the block.  Overnight, a few of the stacks tipped over.  Only a few days later I returned to see all of the stacks upright with some graffiti on them.  We were actually hoping that the tires would serve as a blank canvas for graffiti artists, but we didn’t expect it would begin so soon!


2013.8.18 _ “art is a lie…?”

These two concept collages depict the intention of the tire intervention.  Low tires, rising out of the ground, serve as seating for people waiting for buses.  Stacks serve as an infrastructure for vegetation to climb on.  Signage is arranged within the space to allow for historical references, information about green infrastructure, and to explain the process of converting pennycress into biodiesel.  Creating an arch that signifies a gateway to the project was the preferred direction.  However, it was decided against because there could be liability issues if someone were to climb on it and fall.

demonstration block_ render ARCH

demonstration block_ render TOWER

When the came time to start working on the tire installation, it proved incredible difficult to dig into the site and sink the tires as much as I wanted to.  It was not because of the hard nutrient deficient soil or the high levels of clay.  Many of these empty sites across Detroit are deceivingly empty.  It’s not uncommon to dig and find piles of trash and remnants of the buildings that once stood on a particular site.  Digging at this site, was like digging into a stack of bricks.  Given the amount of time available to complete an installation, I had to modify the approach tread lightly on the site.  Here is the result.

2013.8.16 _ staking the installation area

2013.8.16 _ staking the installation area for grass removal


2013.8.24 _ clearing the grass


2013.8.24 _ rebar support in the stacks


2013.8.24 _ end of bench


2013.8.24 _ contemplating the new landscape

It’s not yet clear exactly what the neighborhood reaction is to the initial phase of the Green T project.  I do know that it is generally positive.  Once the rest of the project is underway and all of the pieces become tied together, I know that people will be very excited about the Green T.   The once vibrant urban corridor that once existed along Mack Avenue is likely to never return.  As designers and artists, we must consider and test new approaches to utilizing these vacant and unproductive spaces.

Mack ave historic photos_ burton collection-3

1921 _ Mack Avenue _ Wayne State collection


date unknown _ Mack Avenue _ Wayne State collection


date unknown _ Mack Avenue _ Wayne State collection


date unknown _ Mack Avenue _ Wayne State collection

My manager, who I worked with throughout the summer, recently told me that people have begun dumping their unwanted tires on the demonstration block.  It is as if they are hoping to see more tire installations happen.  Incredible!  And they’re in luck, because we are hoping to find a few people to do more tire installations on the site.  This way, we won’t even need to haul used tires to the site.   This process shows one way in which communities in Detroit operate.  When something positive, out of the ordinary, and potentially beneficial to the neighborhood happens, it doesn’t go unnoticed.  Nearby residents begin to mimic what has been done and hope that it will work to their benefit.  That is what happened with the Heidelberg Project.  It is a neighborhood art piece started by Tyree Guyton that attempted to draw attention to and change the face of blight.   I remember visiting Heidelberg for a field trip during my 8th grad accelerated art class.  The project was not only noticed, but it drew enough attention that crime in the area went down.  Others began adding their own pieces to the area.   Now the project is a full blown non-profit organization that, among other things, advocates the arts in Detroit.  Yes!  Similar things happen with vegetable gardens and blotting projects throughout the city.  When someone plants tomatoes on a vacant lot next door, it often inspires others to do the same.  We hope that the projects LEAP is working on will have similar catalytic effects across the neighborhood and citywide.

The summer work I did with LEAP and the Eastside community went far beyond my expectations.  I was able to further some of the work that LEAP is already doing and implement a small, self-directed, public art installation.  My intention to use the experience as the beginning of my thesis research has been fully realized.  Therefore, my work on the Eastside will continue.  I am not working directly alongside LEAP or producing work for one of their projects this school year.  However,  I still intend to produce work that can be integrated and informative for anyone involved with community urban design on Detroit’s Eastside.  Throughout the future, I fully intend to stay in touch with LEAP and becoming involved where I can and when it might make sense.

Work on the demonstration block continues [Model D article about the Green T].  From the most recent update, I learned that they are going to develop the bioswale at the edge of the site this fall.  There is also still hope they will be planting pennycress this fall.  The graphic design for informational signage is not yet complete.  However, I was able to help enlist one of my former classmates from Lawrence Tech University to complete the signage design.  Installation of the signage is planned for the spring.  Over the winter, a flowering vine will be selected for the tire planters as well.  It didn’t make sense to plant that vegetation this fall because we were advised the plants might not survive their first winter at this point.  The next step is to enlist someone to begin painting murals on the cow building and others to begin designing more public art installations.  Anyone else from RISD interested in taking a trip to Detroit?

2013.8.24 _ locals fishing on Belle Isle

2013.8.24 _ locals fishing on Belle Isle


Until This Winter

We are excited to announce that Graphic Design professor, Ben Shaykin, will be teaching a multidisciplinary studio this Wintersession titled Votelab. Kelsey and I have been meeting with Ben throughout the summer months to help organize the studio, and we are thrilled our research will be used as a point of reference for it. We have identified 3 places of need (polling place signage, election materials, and technology + systems), and it is these focus areas that will be the base of many design solutions created by fellow students.

Kelsey and I will be conducting some poll worker research this November with the Center for Civic Design (the project is funded by the National Science Foundation) and will continue to stay in touch with our beloved election experts.

A few weeks ago at A Better World by Design, closing keynote speaker Sarah Drummond spoke about her service design work in Scotland, “It’s not about design, it’s about critical services.” She closed with a beautiful quote by Ivan Illich, “Give people the tools that guarantee them the right to success.” This is exactly what Kelsey and I hope we can accomplish.

See you around!



The summer has ended, but my project continues. My project was one of the few, if not only, Maharam STEAM projects proposed that has a longer timeframe than just the summer. I will be updating here every month on my progress.

Since the summer, a lot has happened. On September 30th I was invited to give a talk at the Village Leadership Academy about youth incarceration on behalf of Project NIA. I was nervous to accept, because I’ve only just started my journey in learning about this, and wondered how could begin to explain it to children? That is the core of my project, however, and I knew I had to say yes. I was also comforted by the fact that part of Project NIA’s mission is to empower diverse community members to take leadership in addressing issues faced by youth impacted by the juvenile justice system. I am a member of the community, and so I can share what I have been learning. It was as simple as that, and I tried to share that idea with the kids of the VLA, as they will soon begin learning about their own communities and creating their own grassroots campaigns to address an issue of their choice.

When I arrived for the talk, the children were running around and practicing Capoiera. The walls were brightly decorated with drawings the children had done of themselves in their neighborhoods, with writings alongside about who they are and what they like. It seemed like a great, progressive school in downtown Chicago. When the 4-7th graders filed in and sat down, it was time for me to start. I was very nervous. I talked to them about how in Illinois, you can be put in jail at the age of 10. And at age 13, you can become a part of the juvenile justice system. I showed them a video made by photographer Richard Ross, who spent 24 hours in isolation and set his camera up to take a picture every 7 seconds. They saw what a cell looked like, what his clothes looked like, and what he did to pass the time. Much of it was spent reading.

I tried to explain the emotional aspect of it to the students. I asked them to imagine what it would feel like to be separated from their mothers, their fathers, their friends, their school, everything, with nothing to do and no one to talk to. I also showed the students a video where a young man talked about his experience with being targetted by the cops because of the color of his skin. That was at the heart of my talk. I tried to explain in the simplest words I could what racial profiling was, the school to prison pipeline, zero tolerance policies, and restorative and transformative justice. This was really not easy. I had been learning about those things for the past three months, but always using the same terms.

So when I explained peace circles, I thought it might help me explain it to ask them a question. Do you think a kid who gets in a fight at school should be sent to jail and go to court? Or do you think they should talk to the teachers and the person they harmed, and other people from the school and community, and figure out what can be done so that everyone feels healed from what happened? This was an oversimplification, but I only realized how oversimplifed it was after the talk. I talked to two groups of students that day, K-3rd and 4-7th graders. At the end of both talks, I asked the students to imagine what it would feel like to be a child sent to prison or jail, and to respond with a drawing. Those drawings can all be seen here:
When everyone was getting ready to leave and I was collecting the drawings from the 4-7th group, four young girls crowded around me to talk to me about what was in their drawings. I listened intently, excited to hear what they had to say. I asked them if they learned anything, and most said yes, one girl began to explain what, while one girl, emphatically and almost defiantly, clearly said no. I asked her why not, and she said that a man is in prison for killing my daddy, and that’s not right. All I could say was no, that’s not right.

How could you explain to a child or anyone that a peace circle can help people heal from even the worst tragedy? How can you explain restorative justice? In my talk, this is what I tried to say:


Restorative justice is a different way of thinking about what justice means altogether.  It is a way of thinking about how we deal with harm. When we think about justice, we think about good guys and bad guys, the police who arrest them, and the judge who decides what’s fair. We have all kinds of laws set in place that say what is and what isn’t fair, and what kind of punishment you deserve for what you did. The victim of the crime is never involved. It’s the bad guy vs. the state. In restorative justice, the victim, meaning the person who was harmed, the offender, meaning the person who did something wrong, and the community are all involved. This might mean the families of the offender and victim, people from a local church who are willing to help, and anyone else who can help both people feel healed from the harm that was done.

In a peacemaking circle, everyone involved gets a chance to tell their truth and to be heard. It only works if everyone is commited to sitting down and talking about it though. Sometimes it can take hours, and planning has to be done beforehand so that there are people from the community there who are willing to step up and help guide the victim and the offender to healing and reconciliation. Sometimes this means the victim has to do community service. All of this happens with the intention of allowing people to know eachother, the different realities they face, and the community becomes stronger as a whole.


It sounds implausible, and I’ve never done one myself, so it’s impossible to speak from personal experience, but Mariame Kaba, founder of Project NIA, once told me an incredible story about how a peacemaking circle helped her in a terrible situation. Two of her students were dating. One day, that young man killed that young woman. It is incredible to believe that anyone would have wanted anything other than for the boy to be locked away, but that wasn’t the case when Mariame sat down with the two families. In the coming month, I hope to be able to provide an interview with Mariame  about this situation. I also plan on being trained within the coming months on leading peace circles. to gain a greater understanding of what will become a part of my book.

This past week I also conducted a workshop with women who participated in the Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) group CLAIM, or, Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers. These mothers were supported by LSSI throughout their stay in prison. For example, they were able to see their children once a month thanks to a bus service that was organized, and a bus driver who volunteered their time.

The women I met at this workshop were warm, kind, thoughtful, and so strong. I couldn’t even imagine how strong they truly were. And they said some very surprising things. One woman, we’ll call her Claire, was early to the meeting and I thought she worked there. She was beautiful and charming and said it herself, “you wouldn’t even know I was in prison unless I told you.” Before anyone else arrived and the workshop began, we talked about what it was like for her at Lincoln Correctional Center, and it was completely not what I was expecting. She was in for five and a half years, and in that time, she got her GED. She braided hair and did nails. She spent much of her time at the church. She read, a lot. She got to speak to the warden face to face. I was amazed, and I wondered if this was an anomaly.

When another woman showed up, we’ll call her Jamie, she too had similar things to say. The walls of Decatur Correctional Center were brightly decorated. In a lot of ways, she said, it was almost better being in prison than it was being out. Now she has her children with her in a transitional home. They were moved from the stability of a friends home who took them in when they needed it most. She struggles to find a job. Both women talked about struggling to find a job. Claire, whose voice had held so much optimism thus far, began to cry when she said she couldn’t even get a job at Target. A lot of the work that the women had to do upon being released and going home wasn’t just finding a job, it was reconnecting with their families. Hearing this made me realize that a big part of the book should be about what happens before, during, and after a mother’s incarceration. Claire, who had been out of prison for two or three years was living with her sons at her mothers house, and making money by singing at churches. She has a record deal in the works. She sang for us, and it gave me goosebumps, she was so powerful.

Meeting these women complicated my idea of what this children’s book should say. Do you explain to a child why it could ever be better to be in prison than in the real world? How do you do that? How do you explain all the outside forces acting on a person’s life that alter their existence? How much does a child need to know in order to begin to heal? Everything?

It was hard to see them talk about the obstacles they’ve had to overcome, and the feeling of wanting to just give up. There were interns of LSSI present at the workshop, for which I was so thankful. They were supportive and encouraging, and able to empathize with these women in a way that they both knew what the struggle was really like. I don’t know what that struggle is like. But I do know how to draw, and I do know how to tell stories, and I love to teach art. And I want people to hear every voice of their communities, not just the ones with the most access to the microphone. I want to hear those voices too, and learn from them.

“And if I no longer continue to do this work after this project is done?” I continue to ask myself. Am I an imposter? A thief? I don’t think of myself as an activist. For a while I thought I wanted to be, but I realize that I am an artist, first and foremost. Art is the language I speak best. And everything that I learn can’t be unlearned. I might not organize a protest, but I will make a painting, a story, a book that tries to speak as true to the voices I’ve heard and my own voice in response, or in solidarity, as long as I live. That is my passion.  And in that way, I don’t think that the work ever stops. It continues if you let it breathe in what you make.

To wrap up this post, I will mention that on November 9th I will be leading another workshop at an event called “Explaining Jail & Prison to Children with Incarcerated Loved Ones”. Here is the invitation:

Workshop #1 – Things I Wish I’d Said To My Children: A Workshop for Formerly Incarcerated Parents

Join Bianca Diaz, a Project NIA volunteer, in a workshop that asks parents to share their hopes, fears, and dreams for the children they left behind. Through letter writing and art making, we will share and discuss what formerly incarcerated parents would have wanted their children to know while they were gone. How did you explain to your child what was happening? How did you stay connected? Do you wish you could have explained things better? What did you want them to know?


Until next time,



Not So Final Blog Post


It’s been a while since I last posted here, but that doesn’t mean Keela and I’s work has ended, nor slowed down. In fact, the end of the summer only signals the beginning of a new phase in our work, a project that has an indefinite end point. I will catch you up on the latter portion of our summer research, then delve further into what lies ahead for this project…

Keela traveled back home to Minnesota for the bulk of August, but we stayed in touch to continue our plans and research. When she returned in early September we jumped right back into work mode, starting with a meeting with Danny Chapman. Danny Chapman is a government design and usability expert who is “passionate about web standards, open government, and improving citizen to government interactions online.” He was also selected as a Presidential Innovation Fellow for Project MyGov as part of the new White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program. Currently he works with NIC, an eGovernment provider that has contracts with thirty states and is responsible for the redesign of, Rhode Island’s official government web portal. As you can see, he was an ideal person for us to have a discussion with!

Once we sat down, Danny told us about his work and what he does for NIC and we filled him in on our project. The realm of technology within our research has been the one we were most unsure of, in terms of how feasible or reasonable it would be for us to try to get involved. There are many bureaucratic and security issues that surround voting technology, which can be intimidating for two college students. After talking to Danny, however, we discovered that there are some possibilities for change within reach (though I can’t go into details at this time). No solid plans were made, but we all promised to stay in touch as Keela and I look forward to the design portion of our project. Danny may prove to be an invaluable resource, asset and mentor to us, and we are very grateful that we were able to meet with him!

In September Keela and I also reached out to Oregon and Washington, two states that — through our research on best practices — have proved to be leaders in election design and innovation. Besides Illinois, which is where Marcia Lausen worked post-hanging chad, Oregon and Washington are the only two states that have ever had real living and breathing graphic designers working in their election offices. These Election Design Fellows were placed by AIGA (the professional association for design) through their Design for Democracy program. In an email from Don DeFord from the Oregon’s Elections Division, he told us that “we have really enjoyed having the benefits of having professional designers involved with our elections team.” We were able to chat with Tami Davis, Washington’s Voter Education and Outreach Manager, on the phone, where she shared her enthusiasm for having designers on staff. Washington’s first Design Fellow arrived in 2009 and while they currently don’t have one, they are seeking another in addition to pursuing the ability to have a designer positioned permanently.

Washington is a leader in best election design practices and Keela and I were blown away by their progressive practices. Not only do all of their thirty-nine counties have the Adobe Creative Suite, but the state also purchased the font-family Univers for use on their election materials!  The state also has MyVote, an online tool for citizens to look up their personal as well as general voting information. The state’s counties have a shared drive of election document templates and a forum where they can ask each other questions and share information, and there seems to be an overall attitude of forward and open thinking in Washington’s elections offices. As for their future endeavors, Davis shared the state’s desire for an elections result app, a MyVote phone app, an online voter handbook and mobile app. Our phone conversation left Keela and I impressed and excited by the potential for Rhode Island and other states if led by Washington’s example.

Keela and I are currently working on compiling all of our summer research into a book format, which we will present to the Board of Elections and Elections Division once completed. Our research is still not fully finished, however, and the book will be used as a resource for the next phase of our project, which Keela will go into in her blog post…

to be continued


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