Developing projects within a context of participatory planning and co-design requires frequent moments of testing and reflection, and, over the past couple weeks in ABCittà I have been able to fully embrace this work methodology which I am starting to appreciate more and more as a way of practicing as a designer interested in involving users of projects in the design process.
Within the area of Urban Regeneration, I have been completing the production of presentation and project proposal materials for the BinG – Binari Greco neighborhood renewal project and the Dairago green space renovation that is being articulated as a co-design process between ABCittà, students from Dairago’s Elementary School and the Urban Planning and Land Management office of City Hall. Articulating project proposals that not only cater to different professional settings (that range from Urban Planning offices to informal meetings to discuss the development of ideas and project stages,) but also take into account the intergenerational makeup of the audience interacting with the material is not an easy task, and I have been thoroughly putting on the table –and reassessing– both the visual design skills I have acquired thus far at RISD and the new notions I am learning through the collaborations I am involved in within ABCittà.
One design experience in particular that was impactful for me was that of developing a visual system to articulate the idea that, within the BinG archway revitalization project, different age groups will interact with different proposed activities at different times, and will make use of multiple spaces during the course of one day. I was introduced during my time in ABCittà to the concept of generations and generation classifications (developed in Italy by GenerationMover) which became a pivotal aspect of this project, especially with regards to the attempt to overcome cross-generational stereotypes that often preclude access to resources and activities.
The design synthesis of this information took some time to develop, but was pushed forward greatly by the use of personas, a training tool often employed in participatory planning and co-design activities by ABCittà. Personas, which are small descriptions of a potential user of the area, are often used to assess a wide spectrum of issues related to accessibility, stereotyping and the unconscious imposition of prejudices on people. Combining this approach with the more “cut-throat” use of graphs and charts provided a holistic view of the area, that was positively received and commented upon by those who up to now have interacted with the full publication exploring avenues of development for this project.
With regards to Dairago, which is a project that relies on the need for a more diplomatic and technical approach to visual facilitation and interpretation of ideas provided by children, issues of budgeting and availability of funds on behalf of City Hall have caused the work ABCittà has been doing to bounce back and forth, in order to make the drawings realistic and closer to what will actually be doable within the area as opposed to what is being imagined by the young residents of the area.
As someone who very much thinks as a designer, I found it initially rather challenging to deviate from my standard way of working, but I was able to understand through the feedback I was receiving from these meetings that the drawings required systematization, which, as Italian designer Bruno Munari famously states, is the process that takes abstract ideas to the applicable framework of the creative process.
Whilst all this work was happening in the Urban Regeneration area, I also had the chance, with Anna and Chiara, who actively work in the Museums and Society area of ABCittà, to not only develop a prototype for a training tool addressing issues of stereotyping and prejudice articulation towards visitors on behalf of cultural institutions, but I was also given the chance to actively test this prototype by co-leading a series of free workshops which yielded extremely useful feedback for further development of this prototype.
The product we have been developing is a deck of cards called “Museum and Prejudice,” and it is thought of as a kit of parts that allows individuals from differing educational and cultural backgrounds to interact with issues of stereotyping within cultural institutions. Focusing on making the kit accessible to as many people as possible, we articulated a series of different activities that use the components of this deck of cards: 34 image cards, 24 question cards and a viewfinder card.
Leading a workshop was something that I had never experienced from start to finish, and I found it extremely valuable to learn not only how to plan activities, write instructions and communicate with participants, but also how to collect–and implement– feedback from those attending to make improvements in the project being developed. Something that really stuck with me from leading these workshops is how, despite the group dynamic being something that can make or break the effectiveness of the event, the way in which one poses questions and explains what is expected of the attendees is a crucial factor in ensuring that critical information is brought up and collected.
An aspect of working with ABCittà which I have been appreciating enormously all summer long is the constant hybridization of rigorous activities and play, that makes interactive events much more pleasurable both for attendees and those leading the sessions. In the past I have struggled to find a balance between play and instruction/work, and being able to observe people like Anna, Cristian, Chiara and others work through events like these without even a hint of hesitation or worry has taught me plenty about how one can comfortably relate to their audience and make the event memorable for all. The more I move through this Fellowship, the more I realize that I could not have asked for better people to be collaborating with –and learning from!— this summer.
The fact that my time in ABCittà is quickly coming to an end (August in Italy is a month where everything shuts down for summer holidays!) is not the easiest of news to swallow, but I am excited to be fully involved in projects such as BinG and Museums and Stereotypes until my very last day. When my first week in ABCittà was over, I remember telling everyone that I was waiting for the “honeymoon phase” of my Fellowship to soon end, but I am so incredibly relieved and excited to report that the dynamic within ABCittà and the projects I am following has changed only for the better. I truly believe I have been incredibly lucky to find such a wonderful organization and fantastic people to be working with this summer!
Until next time!
As it has been two weeks since I started working with the Parks Department Botanical Center, I realized how there is a layer of complexity in the network of community gardens in Providence.
My original proposal for Maharam STEAM fellowship was to create a mobile app for immigrant families to have easier access to community gardens in Providence. After a couple of meetings with the community garden leaders, I had doubts about how effective this platform would be if not everyone is comfortable with using mobile phones. Instead, I wanted my project to be more collaborative and reflect what the community really needs. Over the past two weeks, the project naturally evolved while taking the core of the mobile app proposal.
From the first week, my supervisor Lee Ann recommended the following four steps to pursue.
- Understand the network of community gardens both owned and not owned by Parks
- Have conversations with the farmers and understand their needs
- Choose a neighborhood that I like and needs my help the most
- Document all the research and interviews and prepare materials for publication of the newsletter
The images capture moments from Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. There are four greenhouses that is connected to the office. They provide educational programs for the young internships, organizes the tour, invites weddings, and take care of goats!
The biggest challenge of working on this project is to gain data from these community gardens. There is so much to learn about how they operate in Providence. However, this information was only obtainable by talking to people in person. Frustrated by the lack of data of the community gardens, I was inspired to create a collective map of community gardens and their stories.
Roger Williams Community Garden Plot, right next to the office of Botanical Center
During the first week, I often volunteered at the Roger William Park Community Garden. From 8am to 11am, I helped with planting and weeding. I had a chance to have a conversation with Pasquale, who is a director and organizer of the garden. We had a great conversation and he recommended me to visit City Farm in Southside Community Land Trust and the community garden in Florence St. He said that his experience of working in this field changed his mind to focus from himself to “us”. The culture is shared through food plants and seeds. Some immigrant families bring their seeds from home and plant on their new home in The States. He also recommended me to visit a farmers market in Cranston armory since it has the largest congestions of farmers and I would be able to find people who have interesting story and perspective from the different cultural background.
Meeting Pasquale was a great reminder for me to reflect on the purpose of this fellowship. Although I am a foreigner to Providence, I am interested in community gardens because people who are from the States and who are from other places like me mingle in the community garden, starting to build a network of relationships. I am very interested in the process of how they work as a collective entity and the individual stories of urban farmers.
Community gardens from the Parks Department have multiple scales of operation in the context of Providence. Roger Williams Community Garden runs solely from a volunteer system and they produce vegetables that are donated to kitchens and social organizations such as Amos house, Providence Rescue Mission, and St. Vincent De Paul Society, supporting people who are often marginalized by the society. Other community gardens that are smaller scale are distributed throughout Rhode Island and it is provided for families or individuals who harvest crops for themselves.
South Side Community Land Trust is a social organization that supports and educates people from various cultural backgrounds to become urban farmers and be engaged in a larger network of community. They began as a group of people who were frustrated by the lack of gardens and started one on Somerset St. City Farm is a model of gardening for beginner farmers to understand how children’s education, marketing, and sustainable agriculture work. They also sponsor urban farmers to join the farmer’s market by providing space and furniture.
Diagram for the System of Community Gardens from The Parks and SCLT (the drawing is created by the author and it is based on interviewing and meeting with the administrators)
I had a chance to visit the market in Knight Memorial Library that happens every Wednesday from 2PM to 6PM. Surprisingly, all the stalls were from farmers who work with Southside Community Land Trust. Cilantro, lemongrass, sticky corn, pumpkin leaf, amaranth…etc; I really enjoyed how fresh and unique the vegetables they sell. Some of them are very specific to their home country and these vegetables cannot be found in any other supermarket!
Farmer’s Market in Knight Memorial Library opens every week from 2pm to 6pm
At the end of the second week of my fellowship, I gathered all the information from the meeting and visiting community gardens. I realized that there is not any database for collecting individual stories from community gardens. Yet, I believe this is a very important aspect because it helps bring more attention from the public on the larger mission of promoting urban agriculture in Providence. From the meeting with garden leaders of Summit Neighbor Community Garden, it was interesting to hear how they wanted to grow their gardens by providing more educational workshops and they were very curious about how other community gardens expand their educational model. As the community garden in Providence has been growing exponentially since 2003, it is really important to understand the larger network of community gardens and how the information and opportunities can be more accessible to the public.
This map is from the article Edible Providence: Integrating Local Food into Urban Planning. Please check it out since it contains very holistic research of urban agriculture and case studies of organizational movements that attempt to make Providence more Edible!
For the next couple weeks, I will continue to have more meetings with different community garden leaders and try to create a Story Map that visually maps where the gardens are and provide a new layer of narrative and educational events in individual plots.
My supervisor was very excited to hear my project idea and she said that the story map project was something they have wanted to do it before. She shared the Parks ArcGIS platform that I will be using to continue making a story map and this will have direct access from the Parks Department website. Although this is a very beginning stage, eventually this page will have pin-points for all the community gardens in Providence and storyboard of individual plots.
One challenge I have is to listen from the perspectives of farmers who are immigrant families. Although I had a really good time talking to farmers from Farmer’s market, some people were not very open to talking with me when I asked about their personal stories and cultural background. I hope as my fellowship proceeds, I could have a better understanding of the different perspectives from the government, social organizations, and local farmers.
This table is the most updated collection of community gardens from the Parks. I acknowledge that there are still more out there that I am not aware of. I am very excited to discover and visit more community gardens and see my garden bingo table fill-out more!
Wanted to share some of my sketchbook- a little insight into my daily life here outside of work. I’ve visited museums, shopping centers, wandered some neighborhoods of Petaling Jaya, etc.
Uh, I’ll need entire other blog post just for the food….. COMING SOON!
I keep replaying Bryan Stevenson’s commencement speech in my head. “Proximity, changing the narrative, staying hopeful, and being uncomfortable”- all of which I am trying my best to fulfill during my time here. I started at Tenaganita’s shelter for residents in need (women and children). I introduced myself by sharing my story, photos of my mother, and some of my work I have done at RISD. My mother was born in Malaysia, and had experienced the oppressions of domestic work here in Southeast Asia. This experience is incredibly personal, but allowing myself to be vulnerable helped create an immediate bond with these women. By week two I went from “Joyce” to “Kakak” which means “big sister” in Malay.
I am mainly conducting collaborative workshops with residents at our NGO’s shelter. I have been working with about 8-10 residents every week, all migrant workers primarily from Indonesia or India who have ongoing legal cases with their former employers. These cases are horrific and are tremendous violations of their human rights. We focus less directly on their cases and more on developing friendship and a sense of democracy and community through art and design. In short, we are simply enjoying getting to know each other. We’ve creating multimedia work that is inspired by Indonesian and Malaysian landscape.
As I shift focus from my own design work and exhibition goals, I realize that my time here is precious. Within the first week I re-shifted my schedule to my initial, overarching goal: EMPOWERMENT. I can see everyone gain confidence and become more comfortable just by being more comfortable with materials and techniques.
For their own protection, they are in our NGO’s care, and aren’t really allowed out of the vicinity unless they are assisted (it is a gated community). I realize the HUGE privilege I have with mobility and try my very best to bring elements of the outside world into theirs (mainly in snack form!). I’ve also been incorporating moments of just stepping outside into their yard to pick leaves or found objects for our artwork. They are all curious, excited, and so willing to break their routines but their circumstances necessitate protection. Unfortunately, in the shelter they quite literally become “sheltered”.
One of my main goals was to heighten my sensitivity and become more self-aware during my interactions with others. I feel this developing each day here. At the end of the day, we are all humans in search of human connections. Last Sunday we surprised two residents with birthday celebrations. The two women ran quickly to their rooms and came back out in full gowns for their celebrations- one of them initially being the shyest resident our first week together. It is a cultural tradition to share the first slice with everyone as the birthday guest feeds it to us by hand. It reminded me of when my mother used to feed us our meals by hand when we were children.
I (of cooooouurrse) brought my violin with me, so one day we just played music. I encouraged everyone to try to hold the violin and play open strings. It’s always a fun time when someone tries an instrument for the first time. The violin lets you know when you’re not playing it properly, but when you hit the right resonance it sings. They all had that moment while playing. Another woman knew how to play the guitar, so we jammed at the end! I have also come across some old violins and are fixing them up for Tenaganita’s use!
It warms my heart to be accepted by these resilient souls. The word “proximity” rings the loudest with me, and I am truly enjoying every minute of being here!
Some History of HIV/AIDS in Art/Design and Community Action, the ACT UP Oral History Project, and Comics as Public Health Tools—Raina Wellman, BFA Graphic Design, 2019
For a portion of my Maharam Fellowship I am working on expanding my research, archive, and writing relating to the relationships between pandemic disease, art, design, community action, and stigma. The paper I am working on is titled, “Cultures of Paranoia and Repair: Art History and Pandemic Disease.” Dr. Matthew Landrus, a research fellow of the history of art department and faculty of history at Oxford (as well as a Wintersession professor at RISD) has advised me on the project. I’ll be sharing a small portion of that work in this blog post.
My research project addresses disease, its initial historical contexts, and the socio-cultural material that has been produced in response to illness. Disease is a powerful circumstance, it generates more than just physical sickness. It results in shifting cultural perceptions and has historically been used as an instrument for often exclusionary, xenophobic political policy as well as the integration of religious moral values. By focusing on disease’s ability to shape culture I hope to do three things:
- To create a collection of visual culture as it has responded to illness.
- To combat, as well as reveal, historic and contemporary processes of othering and stigmatization in response to disease.
- To inspire political organization and artistic action as a method of disease prevention and education.
A large portion of my research has been dedicated to HIV/AIDs. This is because of the availability and breadth of contemporary documentation of the pandemic, as well as it’s lasting impact on communities to this day. The HIV/AIDS pandemic produced a great deal of important public health engagement, grassroots organization, and important art and design reaction. The disease also revealed a repeat of historic disease reactions, processes of confusion, stigmatization, fear, and eventually a path to repair. Notably, this repair was partially thanks to the art that informed public health engagement and community action.
Homophobia, anti-drug sentiment, and other “ugly feelings” helped to develop the toxic cultural response to AIDS, as Sontag wrote in 1989, “A whole politics of ‘the will’—of intolerance, of paranoia, of fear of political weakness—has fastened on this disease [AIDS].” (Susan Sontag Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, 151) All this was not helped by the fact that as observed by Sontag, “AIDS is an illness that in this part of the world afflicts minorities, racial and sexual.” (Susan Sontag Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, 171)
The posters above reveal some of the massive confusion and fear in response to the HIV epidemic. These public health information campaigns explain that AIDS infection cannot be spread via public pools, restaurants, hand holding, public telephone usage, cup sharing, big bites, and other day-to-day things. Evidently, stigmatization and generalized panic had reached into home life, workplaces, and lifestyle.
Likely beginning in 1970, the HIV infection (which develops into acquired immune deficiency or AIDS) spread around the world and infected people from all races and ethnicities, though higher incidence of disease occurred in isolated communities. For much of the outbreak, HIV was considered a gay disease with certain attention payed to infected intravenous drug users.
Much of my research on the disease centers on NYC beginning in 1981. NYC was a hub for community public health action and a great deal of information as well as documentation of the epidemic is available from that place and time. The disease, like other epidemics, was marked by confusion, stigmatization, and delayed action.
AIDS was first identified in 1984. As observed in the Museum of the City of New York exhibit, “Germ City”, “government inaction on both the local and federal levels and punitive laws that criminalized people living with HIV sparked intense advocacy by the New York communities most impacted by the disease, including gay men and people of color.” An unpredictable and difficult to treat retrovirus, HIV/AIDS deaths in NYC peaked in 1993 and 1994.
In an environment of widespread homophobia, governmental silence, and apparent apathy, the numbers of dying patients intensified. Patchwork community-based voluntary service organizations were the only real response to the needs of the sick and dying in North America. Dr. Alvin E. Friedman-Kien was a dermatologist at NYU Langone Health and one the leaders in healthcare response to AIDS. In an interview with CNN he recalled, “The attitude was, these (diseases) are only in gays and IV drug users, underdogs, people who didn’t deserve any special attention… It wasn’t until the hemophiliacs developed PCP pneumonia and other opportunistic infections that the government suddenly felt they were victims.”
Direct action groups like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) consisted of activists and graphic artists who, according to McKay were able to, “[succeed] in challenging the view that AIDS was universally fatal and in changing the contours of treatment access.” (Patient Zero and the Making of AIDS by McKay, 16) Such action was incredibly important. They also assisted in organizing protests and widespread community action.
Gran Fury was an artist collective that affiliated with ACT UP. They created publicly accessible media such as shirts, buttons, stickers, posters, billboards, and flyers in order to call for action and educate wide audiences. One of the members and designers behind Gran Fury, Avram Finkelstein wrote about the group’s creative process:
“In advertising, all images are coded, but the image we sought needed to act as a signal beacon to its lesbian and gay audience without excluding other audiences. An icon would not only liberate us from the complexities of representation but also enable us to draw on existing queer codes. In some ways, this might have been easy, since to be queer is in many ways to coexist with codes. But it was not easy at all. We tore through, debated, and rejected every agreed-on symbol for the lesbian and gay community: the rainbow, the labrys, the lambda, and the triangle. All of them had baggage, and on some level we were uncomfortable with each of them.” (Excerpt From: Avram Finkelstein. “After Silence.” 110).
In his book about Gran Fury and ACT UP, Finkelstein shares interesting perspectives on graphic design and activist action. Along with valuable perspectives on typography, he shares recollections relating to the creation of politically charged design pieces for the purposes of raising awareness, organizing, and fundraising. Finkelstein wrote about the inherently political nature of Gran Fury as an art/design collective:
“We were a consciousness-raising group, but as our meetings dug deeper, I felt we were bordering on a political collective, and within the constraints of our own uniformity of privilege, we spent a lot of time exploring how race and gender were being foregrounded or ignored in media depictions of AIDS and in public policy.” (Excerpt From: Avram Finkelstein. “After Silence.” 98).
To anyone interested in learning more about the visual culture and circumstance, Finkelstein’s book provides one very valuable perspective.
Following the AIDS epidemic, promoting condom usage became a crucial public health tool (and it still is to this day for HIV prevention as well as other STIs/STDs). As observed by the health researcher, A. G. Salem, “AIDS brought condoms back to the forefront during the 1980s. In 1987, the FDA began to test latex condoms for leaks which resulted in improved quality condoms.” The posters above reveal varied approaches formally and conceptually to condom promotion in response to HIV around the world
I have a great deal more to share, but for the purposes of space and time I am going to shift directions.
Today, conversations about HIV/AIDS have shifted, but it remains a troubling disease with major cultural impact. New developments like PrEP or pre-exposure prohylaxis, allow people “at risk” to reduce the risk of HIV infection by taking a daily pill. Attempts at developing a vaccination against the disease have not yet been effective.
During my time walking around NYC and using the subway I’ve spotted a few public service posts and advertisements, one of which you can see below. It’s interesting to see the ways in which graphic styles and communication have shifted since the initial epidemic.
Since I am currently working with the New York Health Department, I thought it would be a good time to share this comic series they created for the AIDS epidemic and another they recently created to encourage conversation regarding mental health particularly in queer communities. The comic style is a creative technique to share important information in an engaging way.
In addition to this visual communications research I’ve also begun diving into the ACT UP Oral History Project. As they write on their website, “The ACT UP Oral History Project is a collection of interviews with surviving members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, New York. The project is coordinated by Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman, with principal camera work by James Wentzy and additional camerawork on the West Coast by S. Leo Chiang and Tracy Wares.” The purpose of the project is to, “present comprehensive, complex, human, collective, and individual pictures of the people who have made up ACT UP/New York. These men and women of all races and classes have transformed entrenched cultural ideas about homosexuality, sexuality, illness, health care, civil rights, art, media, and the rights of patients. They have achieved concrete changes in medical and scientific research, insurance, law, health care delivery, graphic design, and introduced new and effective methods for political organizing. These interviews reveal what has motivated them to action and how they have organized complex endeavors. We hope that this information will de-mystify the process of making social change, remind us that change can be made, and help us understand how to do it.”
It is truly an incredible resource. You can access it at this virtual location: http://www.actuporalhistory.org/index1.html
I’ve also been planning a field trip to the site of ACT UP’s physical archive, which they donated to New York Public Library’s Rare Books and Manuscript Division.
I truly believe that the legacy of ACT UP and other AIDS activists can provide important lessons in community action for needed change, particularly in health care. I’m certainly dedicated to pursuing this idea more deeply…
I also believe that their approach to visual communication is truly notable. If my archive of over 200 images is correct, they were able to create content that was effective, personal/emotional, and often visually appealing. I would like to see more of this creative approach in contemporary public health communications.
Sometimes it feels like what is considered possible is just what is easy.
These first few weeks here at IntegrateNYC have been consistently challenging – not in that I’ve been having a hard time, but in that my understanding of what is realistic, sensible and possible has been called into question over and over again.
Week one is like walking into a theater halfway through the performance.
My supervisor, Zaps, gives me a warm welcome and an intern workbook in the form of a Google Doc. Between phone calls with pro-bono lawyers and INYC team members, she’s telling me all about . She invites me to take a public speaking lesson with her (she’d be giving a speech at a gala soon), and we learn how to throw our voice and I’m wonderfully overwhelmed for the entire hour.
The next day, we go to a Youth Summit held at Beacon High School, which is a screened public school in Chelsea. There are no cops and no ID’s. I watch Zaps argue with an art teacher from Long Island City about students who “don’t want to be helped.” Leanne, our rising High School Executive Director, takes the lead on our next panel and details the complicated inequities in NYC public schools as she steers conversation between educators and policymakers. Another INYC student leader gives the keynote address and later tells me all about her experience planning this summit while studying for her SAT’s. I meet the rest of the INYC student leaders the next evening as they meet to set goals for the next academic year: large demonstrations, proposing a test-less final evaluation, launching a podcast, and so much more.
Week two, we have a major win.
The 5 R’s of Real Integration, a framework for implementing and assessing integration that has been developed by the student leaders of INYC over the past 5 years, are utilized in policy making by the NYC District of Education. More specifically, the 62 suggestions made by the School Diversity Advisory Group, on which many of our student leaders and adult allies sit, are passed as policy changes – we call this the #First62. We celebrate with smiles at our desk as we scramble to plan a fundraising gala for that next Monday. The goal is to make enough money to keep us kicking and punching as we rally and negotiate for the Next 62.
That gala comes together at the last minute, as such things do. The next day, I’m sitting behind Mayor De Blasio, Maya Wiley and Chancellor Carranza as they announce a change to the Memorandum of Understanding and the implementation of Sanford Harmony social-emotional learning.
Then Zaps leaves to go on the honeymoon she postponed for 5 years.
There has been a significant change in the pace and kind of work I’m doing, given that the academic year is officially over and my direct supervisor is gone. I have been writing a grant, planning a workshop about Artivism, creating a fundraising video, redesigning the INYC website, and cooking up my own project that I’ll be proposing to Zaps once she returns. As much as I’m excited to speak on those and share my work with you all, I’d like to direct your focus back to INYC as an organization.
I think it’s really important to note that this is all achieved via online communication and from this tiny space:
When I look at my supervisor sitting at her desk in the corner of a co-working space, I can’t help but feel like we use the word “realistic” in reference to labor and movements without thinking critically.
You may be looking at a small operation, but this small operation pays their student leaders for their time. This small operation is sitting down and meeting with DoE board members weekly while also planning huge demonstrations. This small operation is focused on race and income and operates as such, but is actively working with other community leaders to make sure they do not ignore ability and gender identity.
When did we become convinced that the growth and power of an organization is based in acquisition of space and capital, and not in the creativity they use to maintain ethical labor practices and efficacy? When did good work become unrealistic?
What I am trying to say, really, is that it doesn’t seem like INYC even needs a desk. INYC is not just an organization, but a movement guided by an indomitable set of values and clarity. The movement is the people, and the people want to fight – so they do. No desk necessary.
Coming next: All of the projects I’ve been working on. Lots of visuals.
On the Beginnings of My Projects & an Introduction to Volunteers in Medicine—Raina Wellman, BFA Graphic Design, 2019
For the start of my Maharam Fellowship I’ve been working on several projects in order to get a greater sense of what it means to provide healthcare and promote wellness, particularly in the United States.
My work in the field began this June with a series of collaborations and graphic design projects at Volunteers in Medicine (the Cascades office in Bend, Oregon).
VIM uses retired medical personnel to provide voluntary, part-time help for those without access to medical care. Currently, there are 88 member clinics from 26 states in the VIM Alliance. These locally managed and operated clinics provide health care to the uninsured and medically underserved in their communities. As an organization, VIM created a model that provides a comprehensive, guided process for creating free clinics, which is meant to be rooted in community organizing. This means that the clinics are able to run effectively and offer the services that their communities truly need.
VIM has no federal funding, they use volunteers and pro-bono healthcare help from generous practitioners or hospitals. Many of the pharmaceutical prescriptions as well as medical devices are donated as well. With over 80 clinics nationally, VIM must demonstrate it’s dedication to quality care and value as an organization in order to receive financial support in the form of donations and grants.
Following the expansion of medicaid programs, VIM has begun primarily serving patients that are not U.S. citizens and who mainly are Spanish speakers. As a clinic, they only take in patients without insurance and no billing occurs. I also learned that appointments often take double the time due to the need for translation between patient and health provider.
During my time on site I was able to attend group meetings where they discussed issues and goals. One in particular came up a few times. How can they clearly communicate (to volunteers and donors especially) where money comes from and how they operate? As the clinic runs only on private donations, how can they communicate gifts from the community effectively? Within nonprofit structures it is so important to be clear about the ways in which your organization is running.
Later, on June 24th, I joined a group of Oregon providers who were meeting to discuss diversity and healthcare and more big questions arose. How can they shift views to show how inequalities effect everyone? How can they break the myth that Oregon is not diverse in order to provide and support better care models? How can they create greater awareness of need and address disparity at all levels?
These questions are all so important and difficult. I know that visual communication can play a role in resolving them, but it certainly isn’t the whole solution, nor is it a project that can be properly taken on by an individual. Through a larger scale project, the “Roadmap to Health Equity,” I’ve been able to witness a new model of collaboratively working to provide the best possible content to the public. .
Since early June, I’ve been working with VIM (and several other health organizations) on the “Roadmap to Health Equity” project. With projects like this one, every detail is discussed and many people are involved. Currently, they’re collaboratively working to best define their mission, goals, and messaging as a whole. I’ve virtually attended several large meetings (often in the double digits), which have included participants from each participating organization, including Americares, the National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC), and Loyola University of Chicago. In projects like these I am always both impressed and shocked by how much energy and thought is put into finding the exact right words and designs.
Here are a two of the drafts I created for the project:
So far, I’ve felt like I’ve been given the opportunity to operate as my own “design agency,” providing visual communication aid to groups in medicine and healthcare. In the process of engaging (in person and remotely) with VIM (and now the New York Health Department) I’ve been able to learn about how different agencies relating to health and wellness operate, utilize funding, engage the public, and their interesting relationships with graphic design.
Working with VIM has been a lovely experience and I plan to continue donating my “designer time” once my fellowship has concluded. I have never felt so welcome or appreciated (right off the bat!) at an organization. As a group, they are really aware of the power of good visual communication in a way that truly surprised me.
So far the bulk of my work produced directly for VIM (Cascades) is headed straight for Instagram. They know the power of social media too! I worked a great deal on visualizing statistic information for VIM, which seems to be a consistent graphic design need within public health/healthcare provider sectors. I’m starting to wish I took statistics back in high school instead of Calculus.
When creating these designs I needed to use VIM’s current brand colors, shades of pink, orange, green, and blue. Besides these color restrictions I had a great deal of freedom. I aimed to create designs that were playful and engaging. Additionally, as these are primarily infographics I wanted to add a human element to the content, rather than just focusing on numbers.
I also created some holiday content they will use later in the year… Before shifting projects, I shared all of the visual tools with them (in an Illustrator file) so that they can continue producing their versions of my designs with new content and new design experiments…
Ten minutes after arriving on my first day at the office, the city-wide Committee On Transportation met, a group consisting of representatives from myriad city and non-profit groups interested in improving public and active transportation options in Nashville. They discussed the city transit budget decision, upcoming events, political alliances, funding, and organization strategies. Then, I was surprised to hear scooters come up.
Because of several recent electric scooter-related accidents, there’s been talk around Nashville of regulating, or even banning, electric scooters like Bird, JUMP, Lime, Lyft, and others. Since I’ve barely been out of the Architecture building at RISD to eat and sleep, I hadn’t been closely following the introduction of electric scooters on US streets. Though making space for small motorized and electric vehicles was a focus of my studio design project this past spring, I hadn’t expected them to be a focus of my work experience this summer. Sure, I’ve seen kids riding them down the street on my way home sometimes, and I’ve noticed them laying around Providence in a few unlikely places, but I hadn’t taken a moment to really consider how they might be subtly catalyzing an important shift in urban design. I hadn’t realized that the scooter industry might be just the extra pressure cities need to expand biking infrastructure.
In Nashville right now, scooters are the source of much controversy. With around 70 accidents and 1 death involving scooters since the beginning of 2018, many are calling for intervention and regulation. Because of our shared interest in biking and scooter lanes, Walk Bike Nashville has emerged as a natural ally to the scooter cause. Walk Bike staff have begun teaching scooter safety classes and including scooter helmet giveaways at some of their events. This week, WBN’s executive director, Nora Kern, appeared on National Fox News during my second week here, to represent the pro-scooter interest. She took the opportunity to point out that far greater numbers of people have been injured or killed in car-related accidents, including pedestrian-car incidents, in the period in which scooters have been in our streets, suggesting that cars may be the greater issue. She took the opportunity to make the case that moving to a more safely diverse (“multi-modal” as they say in the biz) transportation system is a better long-term solution than the banning of devices that might get people out of cars.
In the transit meeting on my first day at WBN, committee members expressed concern that the Mayor might ban scooters, and that the city council would not vote to fully fund city Transport. The next day the word came that basically all of these worst case scenarios–funding cuts to public transport and a temporary ban of scooters–had indeed taken place. What a way to start the summer!
I decided to take a scooter to work while I still could. When there wasn’t a bike lane to ride in, I felt pretty uncomfortable, and definitely got some looks from drivers. When I hopped on the greenway on the way home, I wasn’t sure whether I belonged there either, but it felt great to ride in the cool respite of the greenway on a 90+ degree Tennessee day. A few cyclists cheered for me as we passed each other; one mother held her child nervously to the side of the path though I slowed to a crawl as I passed them.
From regular community ride events around town to safety classes, kids education, fundraising, and tactical active transport interventions, Walk Bike Nashville is already doing so much, that including scooters in their advocacy and education efforts is a lot to take on. The general feeling around the office is, however, if we don’t advocate for the scooter option, who else will? Scooter representatives came to our fundraising party last Friday night and their sponsor logos are now all over the graphic materials I have been designing for various upcoming events.
All around, it’s been a great start to my time at Walk Bike Nashville. The first week even ended with a big fundraising party where I was able to meet many of the organization’s supporters, board members, volunteers, partners, and a few people that accidentally wandered in from the bar next door. Next I’m looking forward to helping more with event planning, and diving into discussions about my city design guide.
After settling in fully at ABCittà (and getting accustomed to the scorching Milanese heat!) I have been able to actively partake in the development and ideation of a series of projects for the ABCittà areas of Urban Regeneration and Museums & Culture, and I am excited to finally look over the work I have done over the past couple weeks, and reflect on the realities of participatory planning that I am learning day by day by being involved in the operations of an organization like ABCittà.
With regards to the BinG project –which I covered in my previous blog post– we finally have had a chance to present our ideas for the BinG basketball court railway arch to a couple of stakeholders in the sponsorship process for this project, and to do so we developed a small publication that articulates the ideas for this area, starting at the scale of the city of Milan and ending at that of a single railway arch. Developing this publication was challenging at times, but I am so grateful that I had Valentina (ABCittà facilitator and graduate from the Politecnico di Milano) by my side to bounce ideas off of and compare and contrast the work I was producing with the long-term goals of the BinG project.
Throughout the development of this project proposal, I found it extremely valuable and meaningful to put myself in the shoes of those consulting the work once completed. I often find myself underestimating the power –and limitations– of different representational techniques, and being able to use the expertise of those around me as a sounding board to test my ideas before they became physical products was an incredibly valuable learning experience –and time saver as well!–
Overall, the presentation of this project proposal was successful, and I was pleased to see that the representational language I selected for this document was positively received both from ABCittà’s collaborators and those whom we addressed in our presentation. I can’t describe the feeling of excitement and gratitude I felt once the booklet was fully compiled and printed: seeing people actively comment upon and work through the drawings and text in the BinG book was a wonderful reward for the work I invested in this project.
One huge aspect about the innerworkings of a no-profit organization that I was able to quickly understand since joining ABCittà, but especially this week, is that priorities are constantly shifting because of a multitude of factors –such as staffing, fundraising, deadlines for public and private calls and so on– and that being able to reorient one’s focus whilst still being able to remain on top of a project’s demands is a very much needed skill. I am extremely lucky to be supported by wonderful colleagues that are willing to help divide the load of projects as evenly as possible, but I also believe I am learning prime skills for my academic –and professional!– future!
Over the past couple days, I have been taking on another project in parallel to BinG, which is the development of similar presentation materials for a participatory planning project taking place in the town of Dairago, in the Province of Milan. This project in particular works in a participatory manner with children and young adults, and therefore the implications of the visuals presented is even stronger. I am currently working through assessments of representational techniques with Simone and Valentina, ABCittà planners and collaborators, and I am excited to see what the outcomes of the institutional meeting these materials are being produced for will be.
As of now, in parallel with the projects taking place in the Urban Regeneration area, I am extensively working with Anna and Chiara, ABCittà members focused on Museums and Cultural institutions, on the development of new training tools to be used within the scope of the Museums and Stereotypes International Training School to foster productive discussions around the ideas of museums and the stereotypes that these institutions –and their collections– bear. With a specific focus on the stereotypes that institutions place on their visitors –both consciously and unconsciously– we are in the process of developing a series of activities, envisioned to be collected in a kit, that aim to address the stereotypes that bear on visitors of museums and their interactions with these –often way too institutionalized– spaces. Discovering the project Look at Art. Get Paid. by previous Maharam Fellow Josephine Devanbu was an incredibly important catalyst for this project.
The discourse that I am engaging in right now regarding the position of visitors within the framework of museums and other cultural institutions is extremely significant in Italy’s contemporary cultural framework. Recent re-organizations of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and its objectives have brought many curators and professionals in the fields of museum curation and development to question whether the direction in which the Country’s plans for where cultural institutions are heading as of now is the most appropriate –and future savvy–
I had the privilege to attend the panel “Multiple Narratives: Challenging Museums” at ArtLab 19, a conference held by Fondazione Fitzcarraldo which addressed some of the most pressing changes that are happening in the world of cultural institutions and their partners. Anna was a part of this international panel and I was able to understand a series of critical perspectives on cultural institutions and their narratives that I believe I would have never been able to grasp from some written works or “textbook like” materials. These insights have given both myself and Anna and Chiara new ideas for the direction in which our project for the upcoming training kit is heading, and we’re excited to complete the first iteration of this project for the workshop that will happen next Thursday.
Overall, I am thoroughly enjoying my experience with ABCittà so far, and I am endlessly appreciative for the time and knowledge that all of the people that I work with are able to dedicate to me every single day. Having the opportunity to be at the forefront of project development in a professional setting, and being able put in practice ideas at such speed is revealing to be an incredibly motivating experience, and I am looking forward to seeing how a more general public will react to the work that we are producing in the coming weeks.
Until next time!