On September 9, 2017 the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm hosted Crop Up! an event featuring artists Andrew Black, Dr. Kno, Makeeba Ellington, and myself, along with various Detroit musicians including Emily Rogers and Mahogany Jones. The event took place in a former liquor-grocery store, where community could enter to view the collaborative master plan of the North End spearheaded by ONE Mile.
The exhibition envisioned how the farm can be programmed beyond traditional operations. In what ways can farmland become gallery, entrepreneurial incubator, or innovation hub? The beauty of the exhibit was that it envisioned the North End from community perspectives, rather than an outside one. More importantly it shows that growth and innovation can, and does happen from the ground up. ONE Mile will be instrumental in championing for the North End, and pioneering community based organization. Crop Up! left me feeling hopeful, and excited for the next phase of ONE Miles plans.
I developed wallpaper and prints inspired by the crops grown at the Oakland Avenue farm, drawing from American car parts. Traveling Detroit by bike, through fields and meadows, My mind dreams how nice it would to find love among the pheasants and wild carrots. I think about Moonlight, and the quote “in moonlight black boys looks blue,” and I think about all the queer folk up and down Woodward. What would it look like for us to be hugged by chicory and lace, amongst pheasant and cricket. I think about Erykah Badu’s “green eyes” to me characterizing the beginnings of queer love and longing, and the complications in navigating the world. My wallpaper is the setting of this story in Detroit. Love is what the wallpaper conjures for me, and after seeing it installed I believe it represents that.
For my last blog post, I have spent the past month (mainly being an orientation leader and recovering from that) parsing together my Maharam experience. I find myself highlighting so many of the amazing opportunities I had-from running a design thinking workshop with four departments represented or the passionate people that I met that I am real friends with (I still owe you a coffee date Z) or the struggles I had being positive and professional while answering constituent’s phone calls.
I think the most fun I have when catching up with people is when they ask me what I did. Like actually did? I spent my summer wrestling with that question, and while I was busy with things to do, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that for myself.
last day in the office!
Now, I’ve finally realized what I did was to simply be there. The ambition of a Maharam Fellowship is not to produce an immediate solution to a social issue, but to provide opportunities for artists and designers to be at the table when those issues are discussed. It’s a subtle but powerful consideration when people say “Oh I thought about you when I was formatting this power point” or ask your opinion of the art being hung on the wall. It speaks to a larger consciousness of our visual world- not only in the context of ‘elitist’ design (different conversation) but breaking that down to understand that the best design is best when it’s for real people.
maps is (as) equity
Representation is a buzzword right now, a simple answer to an enormously complex issue of power and identity in society. But I also think it doesn’t get enough respect as a solution. We discussed representation during my last day at City Hall, at an Equity Peer Learning Luncheon, which came out of the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee work initiated by the Sustainability Office. I was asked to present my design thinking workshop and suggest a possible mitigation strategy through wayfinding in City Hall. It was a beautiful moment, that I was able to use both fundamentals of municipalities and design to present an informed strategy to my peers in government. I was so proud to represent as a designer, and recognize it was another intern- a RISD graduate interfering with the Sustainability Office that invited me to share my perspective.
wayfinding is(as) equity
Just as important, I also recognize other forms of representation that are also vital in creating effective, productive and inclusive institutions. It is still remarkable to me the amount of ethnic, racial and gender (just to name the most obvious) diversity that has been added/encouraged to the city during the current administration. These representatives don’t just matter in pictures, but represents a paradigm shift in power structures where government begins to be representative of the communities it governs.
That being said, I am so grateful for the support and opportunities the Maharam Fellowship gave me, my new (and old) colleagues at City Hall and hope to continue this work. I’m happy to be back in the creative energy of RISD, and become a representative for possibilities that exist outside of our typical art and design cannon.
Thank you for following me, and if you want more I invite you to visit my website.
It has been a couple of days post wrap up and I am already out of Guwahati. As I walk this stage between starting a new project and making sure the book I created during the Maharam reaches production, I share a few observations about the city and the impact a project such as this might have in the current scenario.
To understand the current rate of change in the city one must know that it has been recently estimated that the population of the city has grown atleast by 50% in the past 5 years. The recently conducted census is estimated to project a population of atleast 1.5 million in the city as compared to a little below 1 million, 5 years ago. This rate of change becomes more alarming when we realize that the infrastructure of the city has remained more or else constant. Whatever built infrastructure is being added/ adapted, the rate of change is no where close to the required amount.
To understand life in Guwahati, one must also know that this is the largest city in North Eastern India. A lot of people move to the city in the hope for better education or job prospects. These changes seem to have escalated recently that ever before, or they may just have reached the visual breaking point of the city’s capacity. Seemingly small changes like the recent introduction of 2 different application run cab services, have taken a toll on the city life. While local people seem annoyed by this increase in traffic, few seem to notice the overall drop in biodiversity within the city.
The city is definitely chalked to grow further over the next few years. Considered as a Tier 2 city, the government is pushing towards local development and wants to introduce Guwahati as a Smart City (a recent initiative of the central government) in the coming years. A commendable effort, which hopes to introduce smart grids, solar power systems and much more. But does this development come at a cost of the natural environment, which still is very rich in flora and fauna. Admirably the local authorities are really keen to help protect the biodiversity in and around Guwahati, and hence a willing and interested audience for my Maharam project. The intention is to aim at striking a balance without hindering either development or natural environmental proliferation.
The first step towards conservation is awareness and mobilization of the locals, as any conservation effort can be effective only through their willingness to contribute and co-operate. My project hopes to create this awareness and interaction between the locals and the local biodiversity. If we are successful in finding ourselves some more advocates we would have hopefully contributed to a larger movement.
Although, I have moved out of Guwahati for now, my project has only just begun. We have been lucky in having gathered interest from a couple of local authority figures. Two of which, who seem very promising are the District Commissioner and the Managing Director at the Assam Tourism Development Corporation. We are in the process of sharing a proposal for the production of around 5000 pieces to be distributed in schools and made available in other sectors of the city. On another positive note, we may have found someone to carry out our production, as the last prototype (made by a local book binder in Guwahati) felt like we were almost there in quality.
While I plan to be back in Guwahati for a couple of days sometime next month, my supervisor Mr. Purkayastha, has taken charge of the on-ground production trials and costing spree. In the meantime, I am gathering possibilities of production in a couple of other cities as well, just in case we need backups with better skill and resources.
For the purpose of introducing an image in my long rambling about the project, here is a visual of a limited version super tiny book Biodiversity 360 (1 inch square) I made as joke for people who immediately wanted their hands on a copy of the book.
As I wrap up this post, I hope to be back with the news of a successful production.
Until then, I move into other projects with my fingers crossed.
To better understand where I’m working within the government, check out this handy, government-issued flow chart.
Age-Friendly DC is technically under the umbrella of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services’ office. Also within this office are the Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Child and Family Services Agency, Department of Disability Services, Department of Behavioral Health, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Department of Health Care Finance and Office on Aging. Though Age-Friendly DC technically operates within this Executive Branch office, its government partners stretch far beyond the departments under the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.
I feel many of my most valuable experiences working within this government body were the Age-Friendly DC Task Force meetings. These gatherings consisted of several representatives from different departments and agencies discussing progress, barriers and solutions pertaining to the goals of each of the ten Age-Friendly domains.
Though these meetings provided me the most insight for how cross agency communication can improve, each one continues to inform me of how most solutions to government problems are ineffective due to implementation timelines dictated by fiscal years. I continue to wonder, what would happen if departments consistently worked with each other instead of parallel to each other? What would happen if a timeline to solve a problem actually matched the scale of the problem and solution?