You’re passionate about participatory approaches that bring communities into everything from public policy to public art. What promise do you see in this?
As much as we may forget it or neglect it on occasion, we live in a shared world. Every time you walk out of your door, you are walking across a collaboratively painted canvas. Zoom out and you can see we live on a giant spinning sphere where every action of each individual is added to the sum of what we share—our airways, our sound waves, our calorie intakes, our ability to move and to stay. You are always contributing and you are always consuming. And so is everyone else.
So, when you get invited to participate in a project—say, reviewing a policy or painting a mural—you get the chance to review and remodel your contribution-consumption pattern. Maybe you get to take charge in a way that hadn’t been offered before, or maybe you need to share the mic with someone you disagree with. Each intentional participatory act provides practice for society. And practice makes presence.
What do you mean by “practice makes presence”?
As you can tell, I’m a process-oriented person. I find that the common saying, “practice makes perfect,” just isn’t realistic, especially when we are working out complex issues around access to resources or uplifting unheard voices. Justice is a better goal than perfection. On the way to justice, we need to practice presence with our partners and with our communities, near and far. How can we be better listeners? How can we make more space for authentic collaboration? The more we do it, the more natural—and essential—it becomes.
As a designer, what tools do you like to share with others to spark and eventually realize a new idea or shared vision?
One of my favorite ways to gather information is making a map. When I lived in Evanston, Illinois, I spent two years asking residents to hand-draw maps of our city as a way of identifying strengths, weaknesses, and collective needs. We have deep memories attached to geographic place through lived experience, and this wisdom may not come out in spoken conversation alone. It was important to draw images, names, and places together to truly explore complex issues and pinpoint where tensions actually played out.
If a problem isn’t “geographic,” a word map is a powerful tool to draw out definitions of words, associations, and attitudes. Often, what we thought was shared language is actually complicated by conflicting feelings or contradicting definitions. Word maps can tease out and help reveal these differences.
You’re also a visual artist. How does making art animate your work in social justice and systems change?
At this point in my life, artistic expression is equivalent to a really good night’s rest, full of dreams. Some wonderful movement-makers and -shakers have taught me that the labor of social action demands quality rest. For many on the frontlines, there is little time for rest, even though their vision for a healed future is rooted in a deep dream. Art-making allows for turning inward, it encourages reflection and relaxation to counter our broken systems’ prying demands for constant reaction. When I feel confused, frustrated, and exhausted, I bring out a smattering of paints, pencils, rulers, needles, and fibers and craft my way back to wonder.
We’re thrilled that joining FBO is bringing you to Oregon. How are you looking forward to making yourself at home?
I’m moving from the busy spaces of Chicagoland and New York City, so I’m looking forward to slowing down a bit. As I settle in, I anticipate lots of locally roasted coffee and working on a quilt that I’ve been slowly stitching over the past three years.
I’m also eager to get out on some great trail hikes. I admire the natural world not only for its beauty, but for its prodding questions: Will you resist change, hardening like aged bark, or will you exhibit the curiosity and flow of a springtime stream? I’m fascinated by Oregon’s diverse ecosystems—rainforests, deserts, a coastline—so I hope to get a peek at them all, and get to know the people who call them home.