LAYERS OF PLACE: Bringing Communities Together by Augmenting Places with Stories, Voices, and Tech
Hello and welcome to MIT's Open Documentary Lab and Co-Creation studio. I'm William Uricchio, professor of comparative Media Studies at MIT and founder and principal investigator of the OpenDocLab. And today we'll have our second conversation in the layers of place series about augmenting public space in order to reframe and reveal the stories of place. The focus of today's session is about inclusivity collaboration, bridge building the dialogic, reconciling the realities of public space, with imagination, and the desire for something better. If you join us for part one, you'll know that I made the case for why documentary is engaged with augmentation, documentaries at their best help us to see more clearly and more critically. They help to expand our experience of the world and sometimes even help us to change it.
are important questions and before we turn to today's panel, to find out two last things. First, a big thanks to our sponsors, the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and MIT's transmedia story initiative, and to our partners, Magnum, Centre Phi, and the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam's Doc Lab. And second, a shout out to our team, the wonderful or wonderful research assistant, Ambar Reyes-Lopez, our producer, Claudia Romano, and ODL's Director Sarah Wolozin. They make having events like this a real pleasure to participate in. I would now like to introduce Benjamin
Stokes, who will moderate today's session. Ben is the founder of the Playful Cities Lab at American University, and you can find his and the bios of the other speakers in the chat. Ben. Welcome. It's so great to be here. And to be part of this conversation. I'm really excited to be moderating this conversation across disciplines, partly because I think that the one of the most important and hardest challenges for the future of augmentation, and documentary as it becomes a little more interactive in community and in place, is how we connect across disciplines, co design with communities, and bring together areas like urban planning, art, and even an area like game design. That's that's where I come from. My background is in game design and game studies, I helped start an organization called Games for Change a while ago. But I think that one thing I've learned is that as we can
take documentary in the direction, of of layered place, and layered meaning we move from having, writing the story once to the layers of place and the layers of narrative that require this kind of CO construction and dialogue. So I love that dialogue was what was just invoked, and I think that will be part of our conversation today. To start our conversation. I wanted to just highlight a couple of the speakers. You're going to hear more from them and we're going to do we're going to bring them in in kind of a layered way as well. So our
speakers can bring on their cameras. We have Carla Bishop, a filmmaker and professor in digital storytelling. Lafayette Cruz, an urban planner and futurist who leverages the radical imagination. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, a
media artist at the intersection of architecture and performance art. And Shey Rivera-Rios, an artist and cultural strategist. All of our panelists, of course, bring many more than just those few bits that you've heard. And I think you'll start seeing some of that in the conversation today. But I want to just
to give you a sample of where, where they're coming from. And I think then also to bring in their voices, why don't I turn it to each of them and invoke place to to hear just a little bit of either where they are focused, where they do some of their their work, or even just where you're based today. So Carla, could I turn it over to you? Could you bring us to a place? Yes, right now I am based in Phoenix, Arizona, but my body of work focuses on on historically black communities across the entire United States. So I'm jumping around and just studying these black towns all across the country. Thank you and Lafayette, help us with a place? Yeah, so I, for most of the pandemic, I've been based in southeast Wisconsin, but my work is focused on anywhere there's communities of marginality, or imagining different futures.
Rafael, how about you? I'm in Montreal, Canada, though I'm Mexican. I migrated here a while back. And most of my work takes place either as a nerd in digital spaces. So that's a space I spent a lot of time in. And finally, Shey. Yeah, hi, everyone. I'm based in Providence, Rhode Island. Narragansett and Wampanoag land. And yeah, my work is very hyperlocal. But I cultivate
transnational relationships too. And like Rafael, I'm a nerd and love the digital realm, and how we can use that to amplify community voices. Wonderful. So you've heard just a little sampling of their voices. In terms of
our approach for this panel. Today, we're going to have each of them give a five to seven minute profile of some of their work, some amazing videos about different places, and community based augmentation documentary, social practice, there's, there's a lot of different pieces you're going to see. And that will help provide a little concreteness to anchor this conversation. And then from there, we're going to move into a conversation across
the work that people have introduced. We'll also start taking questions from the audience, those questions can come in, as you're hearing them, feel free to suggest them. And if you officially submit a question through the Q&A, that may be the easiest way to make sure it isn't lost in the chat, things can sometimes scroll by in the chat and then we can come back to them. We welcome the questions as they unfold. Oh, I should add, so that I'm also not just
subjecting the the panelists this question in terms of place, I'm based in Washington, DC, which actually chose partly for its interesting tensions between the national and global and the local. And so I think that this is a tension A lot of us feel at a time when we can publish media online to wider and wider audiences. There's a question of when do we need to be more and more tied to place and to the local. So I think that that's going to come up in our conversation as well. In contrast to this panel, that was the first part of this two part, one word that I'm going to keep bringing us back to his community. This isn't the title of our of our focus, it's also in an area that
I think each of us is really interested in. And so the question of how do we, to what community are we connecting? Are we accountable? Are we working with is a twist on on how we often think about media, which is delivered to an individual, to a to a viewer, or consumer. And so I think that that's a preview of some of the the recurring theme that we'll take in this session today. To kick us off, what why don't we again, go back to the concrete to see some actual work. Maybe I'll ask Carla, to show, tell us a little about your practice and work around digital storytelling.
Absolutely. Thank you, Benjamin. I'm going to go and share my screen and show you some of my projects while I talk about it. So give me one second. Okay, can you guys see my screen okay. So I love the thought about community and the
basis of all my work deals with ways of using media to bring communities together a farm a farm we believe in using like films and Even screenings and theaters or outdoor screenings as a way to bridge communities. And I'll talk about that and one of the projects I did in North Texas. Before I jump to that I want to talk about even some of the earlier projects I've done my body of work, but the focus of it is documenting historically black communities. And I've worked on intergenerational documentaries, where youth interview elders in their communities and create a feature length documentaries about these towns. And this is an image where we had a red carpet premiere that brought
community together. So we rented out space in a hotel, had everyone from the neighborhood dress up, and they were able to watch themselves on the big screen. So a big part of what I do is to bring people together around these different types of media. And this is just some of the Q&A and discussion that came from the panel after the screening. So that's also a big part of my process and bringing people together. And this leads on to a project I'm really proud
of called freedom in town 2.0, which was an interactive augmented reality documentary that I produced in North Texas, working with college students and community members in this area called se, in which is a historically black community in North Texas. This project worked with students at the University of North Texas. And we framed this project as a, I guess, problem based project and also using some of the design thinking processes in terms of coming up with a problem or figuring out where there was a problem and figuring out how we could use media as a solution. So we created this class, and
we framed around this question of how to use interactive documentaries, to document the history of bins, black communities that educate, celebrate, inspire and engage multiple generations in the Southeast Asian community in North Texas. So our main goal was to preserve a history of this black community, which wasn't fully written about from the perspective of the members of that community. And our solution was an AR documentary, because we wanted to engage youth and elders and in between, to to make this history digestible, and interactive and accessible, and not in just a traditional linear documentary form. So that was a big part of this project. As I said, Before, we use the design thinking process where we did a lot of research, we had to define the problem. And we did a lot of prototyping, prototyping, and ideations of what this was to look like. And I'll show you some of those examples. There we go. So the first part in terms of just design
thinking we research the area. So my students went into the community, and we asked members of that community, what stories do you want preserved and documented. So these are some of my students who were at a local Senior Center, and they were interviewing some of the elders and just ask them, like, what history is missing from the history books. And we did a lot of research in the libraries and went to local archives to also see what was already written. So we can know like what was missing. The next part is then we tie this to an augmented reality application. Um, at the time, we use the open source app.
And, you know, there's different versions of this out there now. But with our AR documentary, we wanted to do two things, we wanted it to be image base, where if you hold up your mobile device to image, a video will pop up telling the history of that image, but also location based. So if you're walking around the neighborhood, and you're you proto historic, historically black church, you can hold up your cell phone in the history of that church will come up based on what the community members thought about that church. So we had digital overlays on top of this physical world to augment these spaces using video, photos, music. And then our first trial run, we used a group of students, I'm so sorry, my dog is very hyper right now. But um, we worked with a group of
students at the Martin Luther King rec center. And we did a trial run of our AR documentary where we had different location points throughout the community. And students had tablets where they will go up to these different spaces and and learn about the history. This is a map that we used where they were going to different parts of this community. And just to give you guys
some examples, for example, in this area of Quaker town, this was a historically black area in North Texas that was forcibly migrated to the southeast part of town in the early 1920s. So each of these x's represents different historical landmarks and points for the students were able to interact with videos and learn about that history of like the first black doctor grocery stores and businesses in this area. The next part after we did the, the, the digital scavenger hunt, I'm gonna pause this really quick. And we decided how else can we get this to Pete members of the community because I know that not everyone was able to walk around the whole town and interact with these videos. So we decided to bring everything to one space. And we created an interactive gallery and I'll go back a little bit where we printed pictures of community members and locations. And
use those as trigger images. So if you hold your cell phone or tablet up to these images, the stories of these individuals in these spaces would come up on your device. And they were like short one to two minute stories, we had between maybe around 40 to 50 different interactive images throughout this gallery space. And we brought a lot of the community out to share with this with the history here. And this is one example. We also realize that even with this, the interactive nature of AR made it hard for everyone to experience the videos in their entirety. So the next part of using this to bring people together is we had an outdoor community screening. And I'll just share this
briefly, where we brought people together to screen it in the local park in this community. So they could see themselves on a large screen and see the history but also having that interactive component where we did have a digital scavenger hunt within the park with different location markers for kids and activities and things like that. So this is part of the screening. And some of the community members that came out, we had games, and again, centering around using media as a way to bring people together. Food, I'm a big proponent of food, bringing, you know, using food to bring people together as well. And that's some of the scavenger hunt. The last part of I guess, the last the next phase, and kind of what up where I'll wrap it up at is after we had that community screening, a lot of members asked, okay, what's the next one? When can we have another outdoor screening to come together. And we realized all you know, creating new documentaries every
year became time consuming. So we also went back to the old school way of just using film as entertainment. And we showed a film in the park. And we shot the last track. And if anyone's familiar with the 1984, cult classic with Bruce
Lee Roy and shown up, and we used AR as a way to create an interactive space for the community where my students created AR glasses and hats from Bruce Lee Roy, and using different filters and whatnot. So we had out another outdoor screening that we tried to make more of an annual thing, or we brought community members together with again with the food, and students having just different activities, again, to bring people together and promote on community engagement, trying to see how am I on time trying to make sure I'm not going too much over. So that the end, we also create like a short documentary before the film that also enhance that screening. And then to kind of just end
on where this work is taking me. What I'm realizing is that there's so much history out there, that's hard to just encapsulate and these one off interactive screenings and whatnot. So at the moment, I'm creating an interactive archive of these black communities were as accessible on a web based or mobile app to basically click on a map and continue to learn about these stories and archive them in a way that's accessible to just larger communities. So that is why there was a lot so um, I guess, is that Am I pretty much at time now? I can always Yeah, I think so.
So that's kind of where I'll wrap it up now, for now. And I guess we'll kick it off to the next panelists. And then we'll, we'll kind of circle back around. Thank you. Thank you, Carla. That's such a rich set of examples. And I think that just one quick observation as we transition is this is not the form changes so much. It's not just like, you'd go and see Oh, this is the
documentary looks like at a film festival. You have so many different forms. And especially when you go into community and want to sustain over time, you're almost forced into conversation with different forms, different media, different voices, different layers of histories, layers, as per the title.
This is really something that is at the at the center, not just something we work around. So thank you for showing, showing that we'll come back to some of the examples. You mentioned. Lafayette, do you have tell us a little about your work? Yeah. Thanks, Benjamin. I'll pull up my slides. Wow. Yeah, so thanks, everyone. As I said before, I'm an urban planner and a futurist.
Worked with organizations like the NGO, the future architects as a writer and facilitator currently working as an art strategist for this organization AI for the people. But today I want to talk about this longer term product I've been working on with some friends and collaborators called musings from the margin of a polygon feature. And this really emerged from like my professional, my young professional life as a transportation planner for regional planning for the regional planning agency in Chicago and my love for science fiction and fantasy. And before I move forward, I want to read this Walter Mosley quote where he says the only form of fiction that I know of that is truly revolutionary science fiction and speculative fiction. Not only is it revolutionary to mean to say it overthrows a way of thinking, it also puts pressure on you to figure out what are you going to do now that you're here. And, you know, as I spent my career, or I keep saying, career, my early my early career, working regional planning, I just became frustrated with the constraints on imagination, working in transportation planning, everyone only wanted highways or when we have large urban issues. When you propose a
solution, you're told, well, that's not possible. And yet, I was making plans for highways and roads and infrastructure that will be built in 50 6070 years. And realize like a lot can change in that time, if we imagined differently. And similarly, the expectations that people were bringing, for me as a planner to build were very constrained.
And also very much informed by the speculative media that they see. And so I would get a lot of questions about self driving cars, because Elon Musk said it or because it was seen in Minority Report. And the frustration with imagination, sort of in both realms made me realize that it come to the sort of thesis that urban planning is a form of speculative fiction, both of those, like the future, nothing is set. But with both fields, a popular narratives and popular constraints and popular bounds are often dictated by straight white men in America. And so it limits what we see as legitimate planning, and what we see as legitimate speculative fiction. And when I first started this work, being an urban planner, being black man, a lot of people like Oh, you want to do like San fransokyo, or like Wakanda. And these
are like big, very directly city based projects. And for me, I was like, Well, no, there are more subtle ways in which our popular media affects what we expect in our communities. Gone with the Wind is this highly popular speculative fiction of the past, and it's shaped many people's perception of the history of our country and thus, the trajectory of our country, or even yellow parents fiction has shaped our national understanding of our relationship to Asian countries and Asian Americans. And so that allowed the general public and planners to feel good about building highways through mixed race in black and Latino communities. In made the sort of physical structure, our community seemed like a plausible and the most rational, way forward. And I found that frustrating, and I found it subtle and insidious. But I also appreciated my
world and long term planning in my world, and speculative fiction helped me realize the ways in which we can flatten time. And that is not linear. In the same way that we're living in the cities that were imagined in the past, we are currently imagining the cities of the future and the cities of the future living in the imaginations of today. And so I created musings from the margins of a polychrome future is meant to be a space where we collected or gathered urban planners, architects, designers, artists, activists around the dinner table. I'm like, Carla, I think food just makes everything better. And we
serve. And we basically said you as people who sit and marginalized community, but also in spaces of change and imagination. Often we spend our time making sure that our histories are new, that we're not erased from history, and that we're not displaced from the President that we don't get enough time to really sit and intentionally imagine more, and see our imagination and our aspirations as legitimate, legitimate forms of planning a legitimate path forward. As like Dragonball Z fan, I like to say it was a bit of a hyperbolic time chamber where we flattened the past and present in the future, and guided and guided people and trying to detach from the constraints of today. To imagine in
a world in the future in which we've won the battles over fighting, we've won. We're not our marginal identities today are not marginal anymore. What are we? What is our community doing? What are our questions? What are who's us? Who else is with us? What does it feel like? What are the cities we're operating around looking like? And so initially start his conversation early initially started with my thesis in grad school, and then these conversations And and we've continued to build from there. So writing speculative fiction, sorry, writing speculative fiction, creating art, adding more creative media that was very much based in place. So that as we continue to grow forward as we continue to plant these seeds as they continue to grow, when an urban planner, here's some, here's a rap about the future and the community, and they can understand that as Oh, this is civic engagement. And this is someone saying, This is what
they want from the community. When with one of the things I've been proposing is like having highways when someone pushes that forward, because it is in the collective imagination. We can see it as a possibility we can see it doesn't have to happen now. But we can work towards that. And so yeah, we are moving forward with this and iterating sort of what are the different media representing the specular world of our conversations? But yeah, we're just you can continue moving forward is creating the spaces of de marginalizing imagining a future where marginalized voices up today get to dictate the vibrancy and the openness of the future that we can't have. But yeah, I'm going to end with this quote, as
well, from Adrian Marie Brown, we see ourselves as part of a growing wave of folks connecting science fiction, or what we're calling visionary fiction with social justice. science fiction is perfect and exploring grout as is a perfect exploring ground as it gives us the opportunity to play with different outcomes and strategies before we have to deal with the real world costs. But yeah, I'm looking forward to more discussion about our work and community. Thank you so much, Lafayette, and for bringing the future into our, our present. That's, I think, a layer that becomes it's so natural for urban planning to think a little about the future because you're making decisions about where will will go next. And, and I think that so often with documentary we also look at the past, and how do we create room for the future. And the past
at the same time is such an interesting challenge that at one point was speculative. But I think that we're starting to see that this is an immediate concern, we have to talk about the future and the past. At the same time, as we start working more in community and augmenting kind of in real time. Rafael Lozano hammer does work in real time as well. And why don't we turn a little and see a little about one of your projects. Thank you so much. I'm an artist who works with a team of developers in my
studio here in Montreal, and often about half of our production is to takes place in public space, at a time of intense divisiveness and discussion of a wall that would separate the US and Mexico, the studio was interested in making an intervention alongside the long tradition of interventions across the US Mexico border. So what I'm going to share is a project called border tuner. It's a project which took over, it was over two over two nights across the El Paso, Texas and Sudan quite as Chihuahua border, we wanted to create this massive bridges of light that will bring the communities together. So I did about eight scouting trips to the area and met with local stakeholders, I understood that the ideas that I came with were completely wrong. What they wanted is
not to talk so much about the wall itself, and the divisiveness and all of the narrative, the dominant narratives of fear, but rather about the things that connected already these two communities is they're basically Sister cities, if you don't know and password quad is they're basically the largest by national community are Metropolis in the Western Hemisphere. And the project is designed along six stations, three in Mexico and the south and three in the United States in the area called chamizal, which was kind of like a meandering part of the river, which was a bi national area for many years. And the idea is that each one of these interactive stations allowed you to control massive search lights that would be seen from a 15 kilometer radius. So this is actually the urban sprawl of El Paso inquiries. Of course, this urban sprawl existed even 100 years before the United States existed El Paso del Norte, and now, especially after Trump, the wall has been supersized as this sort of symbolic way. edge across the two communities that have lived in coexistence for hundreds of years. So the interface is basically a wheel, like
a tuning device, something that allows you to, as you turn this wheel, the search lights that are right on the station you're controlling, they're actually scanning the horizon. And when your lights say in the US and my lights in Mexico intersect in midair, the computer automatically opens a bidirectional channel of communication, so that we can speak to each other. And if of course, if I don't like what you're saying, I could just tune you out and go to somebody else. So these are examples of, of the participation of people. Over the course of these two weeks, we got 10,000 people coming
together in their artwork, mostly to speak to people that they could not see, they could only hear their participation through this system. And it was quite a bipolar project. It was a project where families for example that were separated would get together and it would be a very emotional moment, there was a lot of singing and serenading a lot of flirting, a lot of people just tuning into each other's reality, the place where this project took happened. It's basically like a continuous landscape. So when you're standing in Mexico, you can just see the continuity into the mountains of Texas in the back and vice versa. And the communities of course, you know 70% of the people in one side
have family members on the other side. And so it's a very you know, sort of close. remote the boy pasola can operate we need about the muralla Yes, Hello, sir. Hello. Yo, some important tsunami an important more. So throughout the nights, we had historians and poets and feminist rappers and indigenous communities speak through, the microphones meet each other. Usually there were speaking Spanish, a lot of people were speaking
English. But we also had in de Antigua and Moody, the local indigenous community speaking through some of it, as I was saying was very emotional. But other stuff that we saw is people flirting. You know, like an 18 year old woman would say to the guy in the US, have you ever been to Mexico? He says no. Why? Because I'm afraid Well, I'll show you around. And then the friend says, Well, how old are you? And he says, I'm 20. And then the friends all
get happy? Well, she's 18. And then they exchange Facebook messages. So just creating a continuity out of this session is what what we wanted to make happen. And so the project responds mostly to two new narratives. So the narratives not the dominant narratives of violence and, and, and racism, but the the narrative that emerges out of the interaction of people and so many new voices were heard through this piece or voices that need to be amplified. This is, for example, a veteran of war that fought for the United States and Vietnam was deported. You had, you know, a very large number of surprises. Like for example, this is the Republican mayor of El Paso, talking about how El Paso is on has always been a safer city because of the economic relationship to Mexico because of all of the interconnections that were already existing between them and he stood up to Trump, which was a really refreshing thing to see. He basically said No, Mr. President, El Paso has been a safe city
for 30 years before the wall arrived. And and that's not easy to see when people stand up to speak about complexity as something that needs to be defended. As I said, the initial, every night when the project started, we brought in either performers or musicians or poets or historians, or we had an LGBTQ nights and so on. And the
idea was to have like 35 minutes for these voices to take over the night sky. And then we'd open the microphones for the general public. And so these are, this is the wheel, just turning and then as you turn it, you're scanning the horizon. And like I said, one of the main things about this project is not so much that your voice is amplified, but it's your hearing that it's amplified. Because it is only when the lights intersect that you can hear this person. And if if they are not being collaborative, or they're being annoying, or whatever, you can just tune them out and look for another channel of conversation across the area. The important thing is to create artworks
that are out of my control. The project was entirely supported by philanthropic organizations in the US and Mexico. So there was no advertising, there were no government grants, it was all the Civic Platform to have this kind of interaction across the border. There's a great architect, Renault Rial, and in California, who speaks about a border that is not there to divide us, but as a place of encounter a place where we can come together. And I'm very much believing in that idea of the most important objective of art, like American Marxist composer, Frederic chesky. Said, is for coming together, there is no antidote better than then bringing people into, in this case, the wound, and, and having shared experience. So border tuner happened
in November of 2019, and just to mention that we also had a very important part of legacy. So we cared about, well, what happens after this two weeks, and all of this incredible technology goes away? And the answer is we made up by national fund, to support local artists to continue making cross border art, the communities of art and theory and literature and activism in the region is incredibly robust, it needs support. So we tried for the project not to be just a UFO that landed in the area and then disappeared without a legacy. That's where we created that fund, as well as other things that we can talk about in the in the discussion if you guys want. The last thing, if I'm not running out of time, please let me know, is we made this project, which is a pulse sensing station. So those metal plates that you see there are starting to record my heartbeat, that little light that you see there as my heartbeat. And I'm in El
Paso in this film. And at the same time, on the other side of the border, in the Mexican side, there is a station that is identical. And I'm waiting for someone on the Mexican side to touch the same interface. So as soon as that person puts their hands on their sensor, we see that little light that second light lights up. And then we see their heartbeat beating in that second light.
But what's important is that the plates themselves have a vibrator underneath. So you're actually feeling the heartbeat of the person on the other side of the border. So despite the fact that the bridges of light were very successful, this project seemed to touch people very much because it felt like you were sharing a humanity, you're basically putting your, your hands right on their chest. And so we saw a lot of, of, of impact from this symbolic artwork, you
don't know who's on the other side, you just know and feel what their heartbeat is like this artwork, we donated it, and it will be installed permanently in a bathroom quarters so that at any given time you can go to the plaza and feel the heartbeat of somebody on the other side. So this is called remote pulse. And that's that's it for my presentation. I don't know how Thank you. That was wonderful to see that crossing the border and that that connection, I think the your your work is going to push our conversation to keep thinking about how is it not just voices but also participation, you've given a structure for participant participating.
And I think that that's an increasingly important thing as we bring documentary and narrative to place that people want to do. To Shey's work as well when we turn to you, Shey and hear a little bit about some of the projects you've been working on. Yes, thank you. Well, so inspiring. Everyone's so inspiring. This is amazing work. Yeah, again, Shey Rivera Ríos, they/them pronouns, based in
Narragansett and Wampanoag land, but I'm originally Taíno Boricua mixed person from the island, Puerto Rico/Borinquen. And, you know, a lot of my work has been very local in Providence, especially recently, and I wanted to share this particular project that I'm in relationship with many other artists realized isn't realizing this vision for our city Providence as a place where we can rethink public safety, especially through the lens of public health. So let me share here. All right. Can you see my screen? Oh, good. Yeah, perfect. So this is Moral Docs. It's a transmedia story, that reimagines public safety as a public
health issue. And I just wanted to share a few pieces of this work. It is a body of work that my colleague, Vivek khumba, is the lead writer, he's co director with myself and this project. And we really started envisioning this work last year, it really came out of our own community organizing in our neighborhoods, to really respond to the murder of black people in this country, and also the call to defund police and to nourish and replenish and reinvest in our communities. So really, around this issue, we did around six large community forums, where we spoke about, you know, just getting people to feel comfortable to rethink there are some beautiful possibilities of we rethink the allocations of city budgets into community resourcing. And we did this in
collaboration with City Council people, other organizations and grassroots folks. So yeah, the moral documents or moral docs is a transmedia project and investigates these issues, public safety and public health. This is the team of artists, you can talk about this kind of work without putting faces of the people involved. We have everything from health justice consultant, community organizers, actors, poets, visionary filmmakers, sound folks, musicians, animators, just about 20 people came together to work on this with Vatican AI and give it life. So why
moral docs really, that idea came out evatik and baddeck was channeling This quote is attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King. And this idea that a budget is a moral document. So the ways in which we acquire, invest and use our resources is a question of moral significance. It's a moral statement of priorities, whether it's a budget that we create as an individual, as a family, or as a city or as a nation. So it really says a lot about what we care about in our city.
And this project, what we wanted to do, there are so many ideas and so many stories that the community was sharing with us and incredible work that grassroots ORS have been doing in Providence for years that we wanted to use art as the catalyst to highlight this really in connection with some of the things that Lafayette shared about can we really think beyond the problem and envision what it would be to have a radical beautiful future where our communities are nourished. So we started from that point on. And this is some of the works. This is a small, this is a digital altar that oz artists we created when we were engaging in the work, because it's not, I'm a firm believer that the work is not just what you put out there with the community. It's an internal container building of creating healthy and beautiful relationships, where you have the support you need in order to carry community stories with trust and respect. Um, so yeah, you know, like James Baldwin said, history is not the past, that is the present, we carry our history with us, we are our history. That's why it resonates so much with the projects that we're showing here. Because we are time bending, we are bending elements, we're bending time
we are avatars, right? Everything exists together. And we're connecting with our ancestors in our past and trying to embody our present so we can digest and make sense of everything so we can create futures together. So you know, this project, it really makes a case of public safety as a public health issue, because the what we've been trying to speak to is how our cells and our systems and our bodies really are impacted by racism, you know, and that this is a very real issue in the society. It's not just defunding the police. It's not just rethinking public services in that way. But that really has a very direct impact on people of color on black and indigenous folks, and especially black women, and There's scientific, there's so much data that supports that it is real. So why can't we use that to reinvest and reimagine the ways that we build our cities, our rural lands, and our community, our communities. So the the change starts at a cellular level. And we're playing with
those thoughts, you know, local artists, Julio Wairoa, Dominican, crafted these really beautiful, this is our time machine. So you get into this car that takes you into a vision of Providence and 2040. These are some of the images we wanted to really show it's like working class car covered with flora and fauna, Jurassic Park style, like we're gonna be, it's a gift from our descendants in the future, to help us get to that feature and see what they've created. So the project starts with the car, the time machine and the moon and the galaxy, you get in, and you listen to the music created by local artists. And then this time chariot, travels the galaxies and gets to Earth to the temple of music. So the temple of music is a structure here in Roger Williams Park
and Providence, where there's a lot of community gatherings, a lot of celebrations, a lot of plays. And we picked that as the stage because it felt, you know, a dilek and celebratory. So these are some of the images of the filming. It's a VR film. So the story is that there's this new generation of health justice cadets that are graduating into the first class of health justice. So we were living in a city where we no longer have oppressive
systems from a city level. We're now looking for health justice and more community care, resourcing and departments. So these cadets are all part of different departments that we designed specular, speculatively, particularly vatic and Victoria are health justice consultant. And yeah, these are incredible actors and actresses, from our local community, Jackie Davis, Becky boss, Chef Nonny Toro, yeah, some of the photos of us having fun on Temple of music, really bringing this vision together, it was hard, but it was so wonderful to be in this ritual space, something that I wanted to uplift is that, you know, the transcending mediums, you know, an art as a catalyst for this change. You know, it, I believe that art is a container for healing and for ritual. And that, you know, when we're talking about all these hard things, especially looking at hard data that's been obscured and made inaccessible, on purpose to keep our communities away from having voice and resources, just how art can be the vessel to speak to this in a different way, connect emotionally to people, like fires work, like such beautiful work as well like connecting through the heart. And that's what we hope to do. Like, I
don't believe at this point, I've been an artist for a long time. And I think people of color are just born artists. But you know, it's like, I, my hope for all of us is to always do work with intention. Because if you don't craft that intentionality, then you can become and your work can become co opted to work toward other agendas that are doing the opposite of what you want to achieve. So and then, you know, resonates so deeply with Carlos work
with the young people, like it's so important to create these art spaces of intergenerational connection. So we're hoping to do that. We added animation. So it's like have a bunch of like, really cool. They jump into the cadets jump into their their simulation. So they put their glasses on, and we see animations of them. There's also two key community stories. One of them is based on a fire house fire incident, one of our community members, we interviewed them and like use their story with their consent and their guidance to build the story about how the house was on fire and how the fire department responded, but it was actually the community who supported them. So we did that. And then
a second, oh, Maria Fong did all these incredible paper, sculpture, animation stop motion, and then I did some of the digital work. So we've been all collaborating and pitching in. Yeah, we also have been involved with the city of Providence, this project as part of a multi tier strategy of the city. So they commissioned and contracted financial strategist to analyze the public safety budget. So we've been using we the artists have been using some of that data with our advisors, especially the Providence student, the Providence student youth movement, who have been doing a lot of this work for a long time. And taking a lot of the data and also visualizing it. So within the
story, there's an AI that speaks the main characters Viola Viola has Gladys who is the AI interface and Gladys pops up all these imagery of what was the data like in Providence? How was the police actually using their time, like what you know, that kind of stuff to like, showcase and make data accessible. And yeah, these are our partners. So again, we were, the city saw the amazing work that artists have been doing for a while in response and holding space for our community. And the Department of Art, Culture and Tourism and healthy communities office approached us, myself and baddeck khumba to lead like a second phase of it, and really turn it into an arts facilitation process. And so that I want to say there's a, you know, a burgeoning arts facilitation movement, because people are understanding the role and the importance that artists have in holding community and civic space, especially in urban planning, as we saw fit, all your work is embedded with art, because you're an artist too. And you know, vatic vatukoula is truly one of the leaders, I would say, in Providence of really shaping what art facilitation looks like. And really,
just, you know, we're all doing amazing work, because we love our city, and we love our people. And we know there are resources out there and they should be using, we should be using them to craft the futures that we need, and that we want. So for me, wonderful, thank you so much, that you've raised such a number of great provocations, that will, I think, be coming back to you, including this notion of arts as facilitation, which implies this kind of ongoing process for the community. I think that to kind of come back across projects and open up the conversation I'd be, I think maybe we should try and define this term community a little bit more. Some, in some ways, terms like community can be great, because lots of people mean different things by it, and it can let them talk about what they mean by community. On the other hand, it can also be kind of a cover, where people say, I'm doing work with the community, which community are you talking about? And do they do they actually have not just individual voices? But is there a collective voice of the community that can push back? What's a strong community? So I'd like to just open it up to our panelists to reflect a little on when you think about community, what's your emphasis? We don't need like academic definitions. We don't need to
define community in the perfect way. But a kind of tension or relationship, for example, do you use community as a way to think about your audience? Is that is that community as audience is this community? as input? Is it community as So? So give us a sense of, of how you think about community with that as our focus? Anyone want to jump in? community to you? I can I take a stab at a question that I've been, I think, especially in the midst of the pandemic, wrestling with and I feel like it is communities, it's like weird tension between like people and places and things and proximity, but then also in affinity and like, collective narrative. And because so many people have a bunch of different community narratives and identity narratives, it's just a constantly changing. It is a tension as because I, as an urban planner, everything I do tend to be placed base or like, is often place based, but also identity based. And so it is not physical. And I don't know if that's there's not an answer that is more this is just what I've been ruminating. It's like how do you hold the tension of the physical and the ideological and community of choice, versus like community and like geography and biology and whatnot. Great.
Is to piggyback off on what Lafayette was saying a lot of times when I'm trying to figure out which communities I want to help document their stories. I'll go from back to you know, segregation, where these communities where black people are the majority, but now those are changing so much families are migrating people are moving away. So that sense of using like a geographic location for community I've had to expand because still want to include stories of people who have moved to California but maybe were raised in a certain neighborhood. So over time, I've learned to explain that the general definition to go just beyond geographic borders, and is so expansive especially now like you're saying during COVID is now that virtual community that I'm finding as well.
Yeah, I think it's super important is something that in my work is very, very, very present. Like I mean, I've been doing socially engaged, work. I didn't have the language for that. But I think probably we, you know, many of us have been doing that work for a long time. And it's cool that there's a name for it now. But you can't say community without a power analysis of what you really mean, you know, and most of that becomes clearer when you're in civic spaces, right? Because when you you want there, depending on the project that you're crafting, your goal is to support and uplift a certain group of people, you define that group of people, they define you maybe, you know, maybe they're the ones telling you. And it's like, usually, for me residents and residents
of color or low income communities, working class folks. And I've definitely had experiences where, you know, people are throwing around the word community. But so in order to force myself or my colleagues to include real estate developers, corporations, like people with power, you know, and it's like, well, they have access and, and tons of ways that's the problem. So when I use the term community, I define it locally, residents like black and brown indigenous folks, queer trans people, like I think naming is super important.
And you know, not that I hate the word, I hate the word, the word is great, and as useful for grounding, but it's also helpful to define really clearly, because it keeps the goals of what you're doing. Clear, and it helps you keep accountable because like, ultimately, with socially engaged projects, you know, the hope is that we're doing this work in service to community, not for ourselves, not to extract and replicate, you know, systems of oppression. And I think that's one of the most powerful tools that art can bring, like, there's a lot of perceptions of art being a little elitist. Absolutely, it has been and it can be, and it can be oppressive, but it can also be sold transformational, and so beautiful, and so intimate, and how wonderful to be able to use it that way. I feel like we'll come back to this question of defining community. And in some ways, each project might do some of that defining on its own share, I love what you're saying about the defining is actually part of the process. Similarly,
Carla mentioned, the part of her process includes some of this design thinking, which comes I think a little bit more historically, from designing things or designing services, even the notion of design versus filmmaking is an interesting kind of tension. Urban designers, urban planners, also the what's the object that we're that we're making here, and I think there was such a richness in different objects that were made, but also, again, structures of participation. Another way to train to find community, which I wanted to ask as a question is some of the what are indicators of a stronger community? And this could be after you your project is done? Can you point to some way in which the community is stronger as a community? Did anyone want to jump in on that? indicators for you, especially tied to your projects? I can just mention a couple of things about the word community. I think working in the Borderlands, the word community some sometimes seems a little bit limited, right? Because you're dealing with extremely complex migrations, policing, geopolitics. I mean, it really is the future of the world is represented right in those tensions of that as symmetry to power. But what I have noticed is is not easy to define what the community is, but you can see it emerge. So one of the things that we noticed in in in the project is
that you needed to make an effort to ensure that this was representative of that cross section of different people who live in the border lands. And you can't make assumptions. You can't make generalizations. Sometimes the word community especially when applied to the Borderlands is a simplification that tries to you know, sort of continue domination that takes place alongside this, this division. The moment that you that you make it complex, and people feel that they can embody that complexity. That's super powerful, because then the connectivity can happen a little bit more effectively. I think
that in the end, the legacy of a project like what we did, is that those dialogues established relationships between people and call me naive, but I think that those relationships are what make you know, it's, it's, it's why the word community is the big enemy of capitalism, for example, because you know, once you have people talking to each other, they empower them. They step out of the narratives, the fear that keeps us in, in a situation of domination. So I want to say that these projects, for me, the most important thing is that they're out of control that there is nothing that I'm saying censoring, moderating, or controlling. Because as an as an artist who lives in a privilege, I arrived at the area to listen and to learn. And that's what the project was, is a platform for people to self represent, and forever, for whatever is going to happen to happen. And I think that that's an important thing, especially with relation to which Jay was saying about, you know, that the the sort of art so elitism, a lot of people show up to speak for the community. So the Borderlands and usually those people come to speak, are
people in privilege LED such as myself, a lot of artists come in, they take a photo, and then they leave. But I think that the most important thing is just to make sure that this is a book or a platform that is open for others to take over. And I think that that's one way to approach legacy, make sure that they take ownership of it, and that they see themselves represented in the project, it's activated by them. The notion of taking over and kind of having other people have voice or be empowered is so quickly invoked. And all of us, I think, have struggled with the
challenge of making that real and feasible. Maybe one way to bring it back to our the projects we've been talking about is that all of the opportunities to engage are mediated by technology in some way, or we've often been bringing technologies in in some way. Even thinking of paper as a kind of technology and medium. When you put up a poster, let alone lights in the sky that are coordinated when they when they touch and open channels of communication. So I guess a question for you all as we want. Often, there's a
goal to be more participatory and open participation. But at the same time, it's not just that we want to give voice to everyone. We've heard different. I've heard different constraints of that kind of hidden. And that's an interesting
kind of tension we don't want to talk about as exclusion. Exactly. But Rafael, you mentioned, for example, funding that wasn't government funding, as your tone implied that might be a good thing. In terms of creating some of the space and voice. We've heard Shay, talk a little about the we don't necessarily need to
be amplifying the real estate developers voices even further. So I guess the question is, as you're thinking about inviting participation and voice, how have you helped focus that experience? Or constrain that in some way? Can anyone talk about a design decision that you've made in terms of that debt participation? I can speak to that real quick. And we'll combine it to with the other question. So in terms of impact, totally agree with refi. Like, it's really about relationship building, like that's really the key and the whole even goal of any project. And that people feel like they've contributed to something that is benefiting their community, again, going to the role of facilitator. And then I use design justice as my framework to practice very much. So the
other piece around it as make paying really close attention to accessibility, which I think is something Carla has brought up a few times in our combos, too. Um, but yes, so I will give a clear example, I am part of this other organization called once for world and they focus on building climate policy and doing Skype stakeholder engagement processes. Also, with my colleague, Vivek, and one very specific decision we made that was a city contracted project. And once that very specific decision we made was to hold our processes only with residents, and when the city asked, but we also have this other layer of stakeholders, and I'm like, okay, but that requires a different conversation. Like you can hold an open house with them, and, you know, speak to them and also bring what was what has come out of the residents need, but, you know, a project that is, it's just like if people talk about equity and inclusion and all these things, but they don't really know how to do it, you know, and it's like, equity inclusion is not just giving folks the floor and the microphone. It's like, will you actually honor what they're saying? Like, well,
they were will their lived experiences be included in decision making? So I I'm a believer that it's good to have spaces of mixed on cross sector for sure when you're building projects. But there's also spaces that need to be more intentionally crafted. So people feel, you know, safe and trusted, you know, and that you, I don't know, like, you can just create, yeah, create a space that is genuine with folks and really tell them like, this is how the project works like transparently like, the other piece of that is you have to be transparent with people, because also residents and community members, everyone and their mom comes over to folks in the neighborhood to ask them their opinion and ask them to do this, ask them to do that. But they have jobs, they have families, and they also probably have given their opinion a few times, and nothing has happened. So I think you know, to, to kind of like
close the loop on that there's a level of accountability that you have to the communities with which you're working, you know, or that you're a part of, it's like, in my case, I live on the south side of Providence major Latino place. And I'm like living here with my folks with my community. So I walk around build community, people know me. So if I, you know, it's also i'm not
parachuting in. So that's a different context to for folks who are working in different locations. But you know, basically, the trust and the relationship is super important. And really, really understanding that if people give you trust, you're accountable that to hold that trust with care.
And if I can piggyback off that, I think also, often, so like with our salon series, we intentionally made it planners, and architects, like people of color, black indigenous people of color, because we were like, often these conversations become very vague, very multiracial, we don't know actually know what that means. And oftentimes, these sorts of discussions are still framed in response to white supremacy. And we want to have a space where it's like, what does our identity mean, in our collective and individual identity mean, after white supremacy? What happened? What does it mean for us to be in community and be in conversation after anti blackness after homophobia after transphobia? in those sorts of discussions, have to be intimate, they have to be careful, they have to be safe to imagine to dictate to feel hurt. But at the same time, it is fully aware that like other conversations will happen. And like not, not every space has to be open to everyone. I think there's one of
the things we realized, like there was an issue with boundaries, and like not being comfortable with boundaries, and there's nothing like there's nothing wrong with. But like being more clear, and being more articulate, being more respectful. And being like, this is not my space. ends, okay, there'll be another space in which I can be involved in this. And I think the issue
especially because our work is so collaborative, we, in this country, in particular do not have, like our functional democracy does not create enough spaces for for different organizations effects. And so oftentimes, when there is an intentional space, it feels jarring, when really, there should be a bunch of different spaces for different contexts for different amount of people for different level intimacy for development, candor. And at first a very uncomfortable saying that by trying to get more comfortable, like no, we need, we are meant to have different spaces in different conversations, and be okay with the idea of having multiple spaces that are separate, I think, is also different than how we've talked about documentary and film, where we say, oh, there are multiple audiences by which we might even mean, in the theater, there are people of different backgrounds at the same time, which is more like, we'll put them all in together. And I feel like what you're talking about left is
actually almost more of this rotating across different spaces. And I feel like we've heard that in a number of the different projects that they there are multiple spaces that are they're actually pretty different, different conversations that are happening. So so different, coherent audiences, to me is a little similar to pivot from where everything's going to be interdisciplinary to, we want to be a little bit selective and multidisciplinary. We want to respect each thing that's happening on its own. But But carve out a little of that space. There have been a question a couple questions coming in on the chat on on technology. And I feel like I'm really glad that our conversation is focused a little bit more on the people in conversation at the beginning and not not to immediately and to technology and an app stores and what you're using for your your servo motor controllers, but, but those things matter also. So I feel like let's let's try to talk a little
about that as we're thinking about maybe different conversations in different places. How have people thought about technology? Does your technology also change for your different places? How have How have folks thought about that connecting technology choices to different audiences or sub places or sub communities. One thing that I find, especially working with augmented reality is that the technology is constantly changing, you may find an app that works great for a year and then the next year is defunct, or, you know, they they're sold to another company are no longer operational. So trying to almost like racing to find that next technology. And also, just working with a lot of
developers to create my own technology has been a big part of my work. But what I really focused on now is that accessibility, so whatever I make, whether it's an interactive project, or VR, AR, I try to have a web based application as well. So someone would just type on the internet and pull it up on their home computer for someone who may be more just less tech savvy. I've had a lot of apprehension, especially dealing with like elders in the communities who don't want to, you know, use a cell phone and you know, the AR app and things like that. So just having multiple platforms for a variety of users has been a way that I'm attacking that problem. trying to think what else?
Yeah, I just thought like, I'm constantly racing to keep up to date with the latest technologies. But it's a fun challenge. And working with young people absolutely helped cut a lot of times they know, they're born with the technology. So it's great when you have that intergenerational approach to collaborate with? Yeah. Yeah, I would say that the choice of certain interfaces is critical. So a lot of the complexity of media art is an alienation for many different types of communities, we tried to create something for border tuner that was very intuitive that had to do with tuning, you could see the results right away. And critically, that in this particular piece, that that technology use, which is the search lights that typically you know, can be associated with fascist spectacles of power, say, of other spare, or in the region, more importantly, is the helicopter is looking for migrants at the border, these are not friendly lights, these are lights of intimidation, th