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!
As I have now completed my full second week of work with ABCittà, I believe this a good moment to sit down and reflect on what this experience has been like so far. Being someone who thoroughly enjoys being busy and working on multiple projects at once, I am very happy to report that this is exactly the type of environment I have been immersed in thus far for my fellowship!
I was welcomed with such warmth and enthusiasm from the whole ABCittà team, and this really made the start of this internship experience a lot less stressful and much more positive. My first meeting with the team happened in the community garden of BinG, an urban regeneration project started by ABCittà’s Urban Regeneration area that I have been able to actively work on over the past couple weeks.
BinG – Binari Greco (Greco Railways) is a project that empowers the inhabitants of Greco (an impoverished neighborhood close to the outskirts of the city) to transform their own neighborhood through social activators such as art, nature and sport. Initiated as a response to the Comune di Milano’s 2018 Bando alle Periferie (open call to the peripheries,) ABCittà, with the cooperation of Progetto Arca, Gruppo FAS and Legambiente Lombardia aided with all aspects related to participatory planning and implementation of the ideas proposed both by teams of experts and those who reside in the area.
With the city-issued portion of the project now completed, ABCittà is now working on a second phase of this project, that involves the development and construction of an intergenerational living area, an urban typology that is becoming more and more popular across Europe because of its many benefits associated with quality of life and self-sustenance of the community that is formed. Despite this intergenerational living area project being one that articulates itself on a rather long timeline, and therefore not something that I can’t necessarily tackle as a project over my two-month internship with ABCittà, there is another component of this urban regeneration project that I am very much directly involved in: the regeneration and repurposing of a series of railway arches that cross right through the site of BinG.
I was directly involved –since day one!– with the planning and physical execution of a public consultation workshop aimed at understanding what the residents of Greco envision for this railway arches area, and I found it so rewarding to immediately start understanding how one plans and then utilizes the results of these public opinion gathering formats to develop project proposals that activate areas in a regenerative and responsible manner.
With regards to the workshop, we developed an 8-meter long poster that diagrammatically represented the 18 railway archways present in the area and up for regeneration and redevelopment and, after a short presentation that recapped what had been done thus far in the BinG area, the attendees from the area were asked to use Post-Its and markers to brainstorm ideas of what they wanted to see happen in their neighborhood, no matter how big, small, crazy or unattainable they may have been in their minds.
Through this 30 minute activity –which happened in one of the archways themselves– we were able to collect 156 ideas that ranged from a neighborhood movie festival to a new greenhouse for the residents to a basketball court for children and adults alike.
The day after the event was over, we immediately started interpreting and organizing the ideas collected in order to categorize them thematically and return the information collected to the residents of the area. As I was able to learn rather quickly, maintaining a constant flow of communication throughout participatory planning processes like this one is what allows for trust to develop between residents and organizations like ABCittà –and vice versa.–
Furthermore, learning how to effectively return information to people after a consultation like this one is such an important skill I am getting to fine-tune right now, as I am constantly finding myself in situations where I realize that different stakeholders of a project require –and expect– different types of documents that summarize the work done thus far and articulate what is to be done next because their interests in the project and its development are different. Working in an environment which prioritizes an “ad hoc” mode of working rather than a “one size fits all” approach is something that is making me enjoy being an active member of these projects so much more, as it is allowing me to understand firsthand how different people position themselves within a project and its inner-workings.
After the collection and re-interpretation process, we selected one idea in particular –the basketball court!– which we are planning to pitch to a series of organization who would potentially be interested in supporting its development in the BinG area. I am currently developing a project book that details both ABCittà’s hopes for the future of this area as well as more concrete pieces of information regarding the construction –and cost– of this basketball court project. As this project hasn’t been shared with its intended recipients just yet, I can’t post the full set of images I have been working on, but below is a small preview of the project drawings I have been developing for this publication which will be presented next week.
In the coming weeks, I am excited to see how the presentation of this project will be received by the different individuals and organizations we are interacting with. Also, I am very excited to start working more actively on workshop facilitation product concepts for ABCittà’s Museums & Culture area, a portion of the organization I have also been very involved in thus far through meetings, concept development and attendance to conferences about museum development and the relevance of prejudices and stereotypes in the operations of cultural institutions.
All in all, I am extremely fascinated by the vibrancy of the environment I am working in right now, and I am extremely excited to be able to witness firsthand (and share with all the readers of the RISD Maharam Blog!) the results of the work I am producing within the realm of ABCittà’s day-to-day operations.
And finally my fellowship at the Strong Museum has come to its conclusion. It has been a rewarding experience working in the museum, constantly receiving feedback and support from the museum’s team member—and to come up with an outcome that I would totally have never expected, which is to develop a prototype for a product. Without further ado, I am excited to share and announce SYNDBOX: a wireless, multi-user (and eventually programmable) sound controller that is made out of geometrical building blocks.
Here are some initial renders for the product:
Here are the three following themes that I pinpoint as necessarily relevant and framework-worthy, as well as the individual elements that I actively think about.
But first of all, why sound? Why not on-screen visualization or 3d simulations? True, eventually I am imagining these control points to be application agnostic, i.e. it behaves as an input device for a wide variety of application. However, despite its less than tangible appearance, sound occupies real physical space in a way that visualization could not. With multiple output channels, sound can be sculpted, and I reckoned that there is opportunity for it to be utilized as a component that parallels spatial computing. Additionally, the museum has not had the opportunity to explore sound and music on a more experimental approach, and after a few discussions we agreed that the outcome would be informative to both parties.
However, the default knobs and buttons of synthesizers are more often than not fixed to its hardware. The gesture associated with a button is either pressed or clicked, and that of knob is turned on a fixed plane. But what kind of musical expression would form if this button is instead rolled, thrown, shuffled, balanced, swung? When I arrived at this juncture I was wondering if I should just appropriate the smartphone which, with its multifarious sensors and image recognition abilities, is the exemplar of an interconnected control object/a wireless play object. And thus in thinking about its uniformly planar and rectangular shape, one could almost wish that there is a modular and universal cardboard holder for smartphones, similar to Nintendo Switch’s Labo! Imagine an application that allows a person to make a custom holder for a smartphone that they own, and interact with apps and softwares in a totally different way! (I’m poking at Google cardboard, but in a direction that is beyond goggle/optical application of VR/AR)
All that said, I ended up designing my own system instead. The reason for this was size as well as ease of programming. A smartphone could be bulky, and there were several proprietary limitation that had to be overcome. A DIY microcontroller like Arduino on the other hand, is more flexible and customizable. Eventually I ended up with modules that are half the size of my own smartphone, and I am certain that through mass manufacturing and further development, these could grow to be even way more compact. (On top of that I ended up learning about mesh network and inductive charging designs, which are both pretty neat!)
I chanced upon a number of important inspiration while I was on the go. Mike Streb, the head of the exhibit team, lent me his LittleBits Korg synthesizer pack, and it really got me thinking about modular control points. My supervisor mentioned Johann Sebastian Joust–a local multiplayer no screen video game which is facilitated by a simple handheld tool. The classic Froebel’s Gift became a starting and end point, and as such the concept of SYNDBOX arrived at a super simple approach: embed sensors (such as one that measures tilt, or a color detector) into each shapes, and let their spatial orientation and location determines ‘how far a knob is turned’ or ‘which button is pressed’.
After a series of sketches and experiments, I realized that geometrical shapes allow the transmission and control of certain logical parameter. For an example, at its bare minimum, a cube can express 6 different outcome since it has 6 different sides—just like a dice! If one were to explode this possibility even further, one can also utilize its resting on each edges and corner as a state, with all this eventually amounting to 26 states! Percussive samples on each? That’ll be a fun drum machine.
Furthermore, one can also measure the planar orientation at any point in time just like a knob. This is similar to the case of a cylinder—and in my opinion there is no coincidence for a cylindrical shape to already be used as the default shape of a knob. That said, imagine if this cylinder is plopped out of its base, and still acting as a rotational control point. Now, it can essentially be broken down into 3 different states. The first being it standing on its bottom cap, the second being when it is lying on its side, and the third when it’s standing on its top cap. 3 different interchangeable knobs! One of the basic example would be to have a continuous value control on one cylinder side (a more continuous change in pitch, like sirens for example), and a quantized value control on the other (this would be notes, do, re, mi, etc).
The last module, the cone, is a color picker. On one hand, it still act as a knob; on the other hand, it is a placeholder that store the color of a surface that it sits on. Currently, the cone determines the character/timbre of a sound. However, in the future I am imagining these to be reprogrammable, i.e. a user can then store different functions on these color ranges. For an example, if the stored color tends to blue, the module will talk to the cylinder. Else, if the color tends to red, it will talk to the cube. With more modules and RSSI detection, these building blocks can be combined into a kind of pseudo-orchestra, or perhaps, as I was talking to one of my friends in Rochester, a tool for outdoor play activities.
Towards the end of the fellowship, I conducted a demo at the museum for the exhibit team. On top of that, my supervisor was really kind as to set up an external critique appointment with Workinman—a local game company. Both parties give feedback that are really helpful and productive, which concerns technicalities, pragmatic and marketing strategies, as well as possible future application. Some of the open-ended questions includes: what would be the tutorial to play with this product? Can the modules become objects that connects different installations, and string together a social experience? If these modules become consoles for a game environment, how can it be used outdoors and outside of the screen, similar to Johann Sebastian Joust?
This fellowship experience has truly rewarded me with the opportunity to learn and explore about the infusion of computational principle into analog play, and the various ways to honor social and spatial interaction. It has definitely set a momentum towards my development of a fully modular and spatial programming language. Despite the fellowship ending, stay in tune for more updates–I will be posting here regularly for more progress on the product. But for now, until next time! 🙂
The African Alliance of Rhode Island has carved a path for people of African heritage within Providence and beyond. The struggles of navigating the non profit world will always remain, however these are merely obstacles that are always faced head on through perseverance and determination.
The summer revealed one of the most important solutions to remedy the oppression in the built environment–through self-determination. By definition the term self-determnination is the process by which a person controls their own life. While this definition may imply a level of individuality, within a community setting it is inclusive of everyone. By bettering oneself and fulfilling one’s civic responsibility as an individual, an individual’s contribution aids in remedying the community.
Overall my experience this summer was filled with highs and lows, moments of discouragement but not moments of defeat. After a long conversation with NJ Unaka, I had to rethink my ideas of a successful workshop. I remembered that during one workshop session I asked students to define success. I recall their responses having nothing to do with obtaining a full and complete understanding of Afrofuturism, but rather their willingness to improve or change something. The act of being proactive in trying to learn something new, gain new information was a turning point, a catalyst to a successful unknown. This attitude of success awakened in me towards the end of my time with AARI.
Ultimately, I realized that Afrofuturism though a large topic is an interesting one. And the fact that many people were interested in the subject and its history was a success in itself. The questions and conversations surrounding the topic of community and Afrofuturism ignites a passion that forces one to question the environment and offer solutions to change it. Using Afrofuturism as a tool that injects the community with the spirit of social activism encourages others to consider how their identity, self-determination and civic responsibility can create better spaces for people of color.
I enjoyed speaking with the community and engaging in a workshop setting. There are many many things that I would like to change moving forward but I can say that it was a success! And I think that there is so much more to be said about Afrofuturism and the communities of color it can offer solutions to.
I am empowered and enriched by the contribution of others within the Providence community and can confidently say, “Black is the Future!”
My time in Lebanon flew by and it was time to return to Turkey. I had been keeping contact with the team in Istanbul prepping for the upcoming launch of Karam House. We were keeping up with the modifications and dealing with issues as they came up. It had been a while since I last worked in a construction site so it was an exciting refresher. I was intrigued by how construction sites function in Turkey and to my surprise they quite similar to those in Lebanon. Considering most of the craftsmen were Syrian, communication was easy among us as well as among the different teams. Moreover, all design decisions were made and there are some details to be finalized. The heavy duty modifications are complete and most furniture has been bought. We worked on setting up the spaces and organizing the furniture according to each room. Equipment and tools for the work spaces were also ordered and are awaiting arrival. Most of the custom furniture contracted was complete with some still being worked on. All members of the team worked together efficiently to be able to finish the building as soon as possible.
In parallel to the modifications, the team of mentors began their training with the foundation. Classes will begin in about a month and so they were being prepped on the academic system Karam House follows. Some mentors from Reyhanli traveled to Istanbul to introduce the new mentors to the program. They gave them presentations on previous studios with examples of successes and failures they encountered. Moreover, they had casual conversations on the challenges of working with refugee kids as well as the immense level of creativity these kids were suppressing. The new mentors all had bachelor degrees in various fields especially architecture with half of them having masters degrees. Finding jobs in their respective field in Turkey was a challenge due to the language barrier though most of them are working on developing their Turkish language. They are all eager to start the year with Karam House Istanbul and began brainstorming studio ideas as part of their training. In addition to the program, they were also presented with the development of Karam Foundation and the nature of work Karam does internationally. It is essential that the team of Karam value the ideologies of the foundation and reflect it appropriately. It was interesting for me to observe the training of the mentors and their approach to the studio culture. They are interesting and inspiring people and I definitely learned a lot from their experiences.
Ending my internship, I was grateful for the opportunity to work with Karam Foundation this summer. It truly was a unique and eye opening experience. I immensely appreciate the work Karam does for Syrian refugees internationally. Though the war is nearing an end in Syria, the refugee crisis will take years to be resolved. As an architect and designer, countless methods exist in which I can help and I hope to be able to make a difference one step at a time.
Okay, here we are at the end! I’m writing this post about a week after my last day at the Providence Department of Planning, looking back at what I would consider a successful fellowship!
So what did I accomplish?
My biggest professional accomplishment was definitely the traffic education campaign I made that details new traffic control devices (traffic signals and street markings) that are being introduced in Providence over the next couple of years.
Can you spot how I photoshopped the base image?
I’m proud of this project for a couple of reasons. I think I was able to find a happy medium between my personal aesthetic and the seriousness demanded by an official publication by a municipal department. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to design for a multi-lingual audience, the specifics of which I detailed in my last post. Finally, the posts using my graphics and language got quite a bit of exposure. I can’t take full credit – announcements of new developments are important and exciting in their own right – but I do think their strong visual presence helped to make them stick. Getting my work featured on the local news was a goal I didn’t even know I had!
Personally, I think my greatest accomplishment was the concepts this fellowship helped me grasp. When I went into this fellowship, my biggest goal was to have a vague understanding of “how stuff happens” in cities. Even with that broadness, I have a much better understanding of the timeline behind city projects. I know more about the complex web of funding (federal grants, the city’s general fund, and corporate sponsorship to name just a few) and politics (the influence city council, the mayor, and department heads have on different aspects of projects) that can get a project of the ground, stop it at the gate, or change its course (I’m writing this from the airport, please excuse my plane puns).
Not necessarily relevant, but I really enjoyed this city government-specific magnetic poem set on the office fridge.
I think the most personally valuable outcome of this summer was a better understanding of when, where, and how I could have the biggest impact with a career in municipal government. While I am happy with the projects I got to work on this summer, the timescale of many projects in city government is long, spanning years and sometimes decades. Becuase of this, I think if I want to actively make our cities more equitable (and believe me, I do!!) I should be prepared for the long haul.
If I had to use one word to describe my summer, I would call it “enlightening.” When I am ready to settle down, mortgage a house, and iron out a morning routine, I know that municipal government is a place where I can make a difference. Until then, I have a lot of work to do and a lot still to learn.
Thanks for reading!
On August 15th, members of DARE’s Tenant and Homeowner Association, What Cheer? Brigade, and I staged a press conference/action and political theatre outside of Rhode Island Housing. The purpose of the action was to call attention to RI Housing’s handling of the Barbara Jordan II “redevelopment” project. RI Housing had hired Camiros Ltd, a Chicago consulting firm, to conduct community engagement on the “revitalization” of Barbara Jordan II (also known as Clowntown for its colorful appearance) a recently foreclosed, 74 unit low-income housing project in South Providence.
Roline Burgess, a DARE member, spoke about her experience working to help a former tenant of Barbara Jordan II find housing, when RI Housing couldn’t help her.
Me and Eli Nixon, prepping for the political theatre.
Me in the Camiros Camaro running over DARE members, representing the exclusion of DARE members from the redevelopment process.
For me, this protest has been an interesting point for me to reflect on my own design process and political stances. Specifically, I’m interested in thinking more about how community work and design can intersect in a meaningful way that values voices of community members.
Of the myriad of reasons for how RI Housing poorly handled the process of redeveloping Barbara Jordan II, I was particularly offended by the lack of due diligence RI Housing did in understanding the history of Barbara Jordan II and who picked up the pieces when they foreclosed on it. Their hiring of an outside consulting firm, rather than truly engaging with community members and organizers as the experts, speaks to their stance on whose voices are valued. DARE and other Providence organizations have been working on housing and helping tenants of Barbara Jordan II long before it foreclosed, and as Malchus Mills, a DARE board member put it, “we have data out the ears” when it comes to the housing needs of low-income Providence residents. It seems disingenuous and performative to hire an outside consulting firm and funnel RI money into other organizations, rather than back to our community.
There are also some thoughts that have been forming in my head around how, as someone who wants to live at the intersection of design and community work, to present oneself as being aware of the pitfalls of design and how design has historically served capitalist ends and not necessarily community needs. How do I describe the work I do to other designers, without playing the legitimation game and using design buzzwords like “leverage” and “stakeholders”?