This is discussion about Voices from the Future: Youth Vote 2016.
This idea is quite important and timely because it develops on a theme that is not discussed today as much as it should be: the impact on the individual in being an engaged citizen. It feels like too often people think that if they vote they are doing their parts as citizens, but it takes more. It requires real engagement with important issues, discussions with fellow citizens, and community action when things are going wrong. This project seems like it engages students before it becomes too late and they become apathetic.
What is so great about this project is that kids will see that there are many ways to empower themselves politically. John Stewart Mill once said that participating in the political process could be an educational experience in itself. Hopefully will teach kids how to be politically engaged from an early age.
Every day, I tutor middle school students.
During the election, I learned that almost all middle school students preferred Barack Obama because they felt that he represented them. However, they did not know how else they could be heard politically.
This would be an excellent way to show the participants they have a voice. Moreover, observers of the same age may become inspired as they notice their peers were getting heard.
I really like your incorporation of youth voices and citizenship into your idea. I can see how this would be a great start towards engaging youth in your community.
I wonder about the extent to which a CD would classify as public art though. I can see how banners would fit however. Perhaps you could talk a little more about the process that you would go through to create those items and if there are other vehicles that you would use to distribute these created products?
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Thank you for your insightful comment and questions. I'm going to answer the part of your question concerning the specifics of our proposed project first and then address the issue of what can be classified as public art in the next section
Inspiration for VOICES FROM THE FUTURE: YOUTH VOTE 2016 comes from the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who famously inspired and organized Minnesotans in their communities and on their terms. A telling example of Senator Wellstone’s methods was his work with the Hmong communities in Minnesota. Before Paul Wellstone, no public official had reached out to the Hmong immigrant community. Wellstone discovered that the Hmong had unique methods of sharing information through story-telling. His approach entailed recording his story in English on one side and in Hmong on the other of cassette tapes. These tapes were distributed in the places that Hmong congregated for civic discussion, including laundromats in their communities.
In our project, we will reverse Wellstone's process! We will record the statements, questions and concerns voiced by immigrant, refugee and American born students. What does it mean for a refugee, someone who has been displaced for so long, to obtain the right to vote? What does it mean for an American-born young citizen to have the right to vote? What does it mean for women and African-Americans to have the right to vote? Student response to these types of questions will be captured on audio to produce a CD of Voices from the Future. Students will present these recordings to their elected officials in a well-publicized and attended press conference.
Our conversations and workshop activities, our collective inquiry into the nature of citizenship, will provide rich source material for the visual art of Voices from the Future as well. Photographic portraits, standout quotes from our conversations and illustrative elements will be digitally crafted together and output in the form of a series of 5' x 11' vinyl banners, suitable for hanging on buildings throughout Lawrenceville. Installation locations for this series of twelve visual Voices from the Future will be coordinated with assistance from Lawrenceville Corporation and input from our neighbors in the extended Lawrenceville district from 33rd Street to 57th Street, including the 6th, 9th, and 10th Wards of the City. As the three Wards of Lawrenceville are spread out from the river to the hilltops, from 33rd St. to 57th Street, obtaining a sense of interconnectedness between residents can be difficult. Our vision for placement of the banners includes the sides of schools, businesses, vacant buildings and other public spaces throughout the neighborhood of Lawrenceville.
A Voices from the Future blog will be created, to provide a location for an online diary for the artist, MGRF staff and students to share their experiences as the project unfolds. Podcasts of segments from the CD will be distributed through the site, as well as documentation of community participation, installation of the banners and the projects' press conference. We envision the blog as an additional way, but certainly not the only way, to generate and build a dialogue between students, their families and community members during the course of the project and beyond. In person conversations are fundamental to our intention and vision for the project.
Through our engagement in this competition and in our collaborative effort with artist Carolyn Speranza, we've been in an inquiry as to how "Art in Public" is being defined by the competition, in contemporary Twenty-First Century culture and by those who write about and define what art is for the rest of us. We like to think that "public" is just that and in our case we are putting the voices, views and life experiences of our participating youth directly into the hands of our elected public officials. We think that's pretty public.
Carolyn had quite a bit to say about the nature of the type of community-based, public collaboration that the competition is calling for:
COMMUNITY SOURCED PUBLIC ART
In the larger cultural and historical discussion of public art created in collaboration with community members, a number of terms have arisen to describe these processes as well as the artists who employ them. For those who are curious about how this approach came about, engaging the community in the creation of public art was largely a response to "plop art," or large, abstract, metal sculptures which where "plopped" in the public square or street corner with little to no input from the people these sculptures would affect. The work of Richard Sierra and Mark di Suvero are exemplary in this regard.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude were among the first to partner in engaging local citizenry in process of producing a public artwork. Jeanne-Claude worked very much in the fashion of a grass-roots, community organizer, talking with farmers' wives to gain the permission of their husbands for use of their land for Christo's mile-scale work.
Although not exclusively, women and artists of color developed this field which came to be known as "community-based" public art. Engaging public participation in the creation of public work became an acknowledged and value-rich process. Generally, the content of an artwork opened up to a range of input much wider than a singular artistic vision. Reception and ownership of such an artwork by the surrounding community became much more likely when community members had a hand in its creation.
Artists using these processes have been called "community artists," "citizen artists," and "community-based artist." Similarly, terminology for the art itself has its own range. We are left with the question, and in particular in reflection of the purpose of this competition being to build civic participation among youth, are the creators of such projects community organizers, artists or some yet-to-be-named hybrid? In looking towards social media where online communities coalesce around artistic projects, writing code, direct political action, or even a favorite band, the term, "crowd sourced" comes into play. We propose the adoption of the term "community sourced" for the process that we are using. In our view, the mix of voices from a community of refugee, immigrant and American born teens will be at the source of our artistic expression.
What a difference the Murals project has made for my English as a Second Language students the past few years! Our students receive so much emotional and personal support from all that the Murals Project has done. This grant proposal MUST BE GRANTED! The project is just what the all of students and this community here need. Our immigrant and refugee students are developing their voices when at times, they are not being heard. This project will not only help to prepare these students for becoming our future citizens, but also help them realize that they are counted and that the issues that they deal with really matter. People across the country will NEED to see this project and the results--A strengthening of the immigrant community as well as greater relationships between their American-born neighbors. What's more, the project will only help them move toward English proficiency, as it will no doubt, require the students to continue to edit their reading and writing. PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO THIS PROJECT!
My daughter has benefited greatly from the Murals Project, as well as from her relationships with fellow immigrant students in the ESL program at Arsenal Middle School, and the many instructors involved with MGR and Arsenal.
This past year, her regular homework included watching the presidential candidates debate and then writing down several key points addressed in the debate. The following morning, I was explaining to her in the most basic terms what taxes are and what they are used for. This was an explanation designed for a person who had only been in the US since January and learning to speak English.
To my surprise, several weeks later we were driving to pick up her friend and she asked, " Mom, do taxes pay for bus drivers?" My jaw dropped. The retention, the thought process, the English, etc. She was definitely listening that morning at breakfast.
And, it is precisely this sort of thing that happens all the time through such programs provided to the ESL students at Arsenal by MGR. Exposure to concepts, creative approaches to learning, and discussions are blended with fun and solid instruction. This group of students, hovering around 30 in number, are what I call a mini United Nations nestled in Lawrenceville. They are eager to learn all they can and, have much to teach.
The other night, my daughter was telling me a story about how she helps other kids by affiliating with them and they become part of her larger circle of friends. Very matter of factly, she said, " I'm a leader." She knows herself and simply needs more tools to take that self knowledge and put it to work with and for others. For her and her classmates to be taught about the political process will enable them to participate in decisionmaking at many levels for many decades to come.
This is the kind of vote I truly look forward to casting. A vote for their future and ours.
First, thank you for creating a project that would have these diverse groups of children engage with one another, at an age when they are more open than they might be in high school. My home town has had a visible increase of immigrants over the past few years, and it appears to me that there has also been an increase in ethnic hate crimes - high school students brutally beating their immigrant peers. I think your project could have a very real, immediate, beneficial impact for the direct participants and their peers.
Second, your multi-media approach provides opportunities to span geographic, age and technology divides. I can see how the cd art would be second nature to children, but could be a barrier to senior citizens. Conversely, the banners could be placed at the mall, lobbies of hospitals and service organizations, grocery stores, schools - and reach those who do not have access to or choose not to use computers. I assume that banners will also be used to direct traffic to the web site.
I can appreciate the cd deliverable as being "art." Also, the banners alone might not grab the attention of kids - I think, more and more, kids have experience as consumers of interactive computer/ video art, but may not know how to relate to a banner that is not a billboard. Is media literacy and graphic design part of the education and training that kids will receive? These are both important skills for influencing public debate in an era with so much visual communication technology.
Is there an intention to use the media as a catalyst for action - to have the website serve as a place for people to connect, to form and contribute to public service projects and socially conscious business ventures that fulfill on the visions that the children express through their cd and banners?
Thanks Michelle, for your comments!
I am going to address them from my experience and from the vision that the MGR staff and I have created together for "Voices from the Future: Youth Vote 2016"
While working with "at-risk" youth as a Career Specialist at Clairton High School just outside Pittsburgh, I became sensitized to how open these students are when discussing their future, their sense of self confidence and the degree to which they feel they can make a measurable impact on their families, neighborhood-- the world at large. That's what we mean by "personal agency," a social services term we use in our changemakers entry. From my direct interactions with Juniors and Seniors, I noticed that in one way or another, they would say "life is rough, the world is hard and there's nothing I can do about it." While I never doubted their personal histories, it struck me that these students had taken a hardened attitude, created by a compressed and compounded series of very hard knocks in life. It was then that I resolved to work with younger students at a more formative stage. In another comment on our contest entry, Anne Davis talks about her daughter at Arsenal, a middle school student, being able to put together some very sophisticated ideas about how our country works --- but also, despite the circumstances of having to learn english and a new way of life, being open to ownership and leadership!
I initially envisioned the 5'x11' banners being hung on the side of Arsenal, for the visibility that location would provide along the 40th street entry way to Lawrenceville. In collaborating on our proposal, however, MRG staff talked about the different pockets of activity and culture which characterizes the wards of Lawrenceville. And the thoroughfares and primary intersections which are not always so obvious. So we changed our entry to integrate the art work much more fully into the everyday life of the district. While our current plan is for building exteriors, interior spaces such as you suggest would work well also. My main interests are always in well-traversed spaces, very public with diversity of audience, integration with existing architecture and a warm welcome from the people who live/work in the space.
The web site address will be prominent as a project branding element in the banners. I made sure of that in the very rough mock-up I did to determine the banner size-- on my way to getting a print estimate for our budget.
Media literacy and the impact graphics can make are certainly part of the fabric of the project-- and the student workshops MRG and I will design. Content focus for the workshops will be civic engagement on a scale that makes sense-- and can become real-- for middle school students. We will be using a broad palette of media for expressing this content- speaking and acting, recorded audio and sound, art and design graphics, Web 2.0 social, news and mapping media. The "engagement" in civic engagement will be our direct interaction with students' elected representatives, in the press conference and in our local office visits in which we will present them with both audio art and visual art.
We are choosing to propose a blog rather than a brochure style web site to support just the type of interactions that you are suggesting. We'll map a straight and simple web address to the blog-- so that it is easy to remember, brandable and promotable-- through the banners, the maps we will distribute throughout the district and through the students themselves. Inspiring an organization, business or government entity to fulfill on the students' vision for their future would create a level of sustainability, reverberation and impact for the project which I had not even been imagining. Thank you!
I really like the idea of using audio and interviewing techniques with the students. I think sometimes students ( I teach teenagers in the summer in another city and also have a teen who attends a large urban high school here) feel that their voices don't matter and that their role is to consume media. Your project proposal directly engages them in the future of their community with that audio component. I think young people want to be heard and also to learn how to control how they are presented. I wish this project could be in every neighborhood in every city!!!!!! It is so important for our democracy.