Let’s talk about community-based art, its pitfalls and its significance. Should we bring a project like this to Racine and Kenosha?

I’ve been following Faith Purvey’s Refoundation project in Milwaukee for two summers. Purvey works with kids three days a week in a  park (it’s really a pretty desolate strip of dry grass) in a poor, urban neighborhood at Melvina and 29th. She shows up with supplies and ideas and together she and the kids figure out what they are making.  The results were unveiled last Saturday  at a cook out and as usual, they are pretty impressive. Community-based work like Refoundation can have a transformative impact for the people who make it, but how do we evaluate it?  When do you know it is a success?  How can we make it more meaningful?   I think this work is meaningful and inspirational but I wonder how to support it. Do you out there–dear readers–think that Racine or Kenosha could  support a project like Refoundation? 

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Purvey writes:

The project serves as a ‘temporary school’ leading towards the construction of a ‘city’ installation, whose process is emphasized more than the product. Young people drop in and work on sculpture, conduct interviews with elder neighbors, share stories, and talk about what home means. I am working with an amazing local intern, Brandin Thomas, to serve art in the immediate vicinity. Franklin Heights is an area that is significantly below poverty level and has an interesting history with the demise of the AO Smith auto plant, and is going through phases of regeneration.

I am thinking of this work [and others that  I have produced] as tactile and functional ‘Oases’ in urban, poor, media-bent, and corporate deserts. In this case, at its inception, paint and water jugs are the blood and 2 trailers are the body : wholistic educational and connective experiences grow via free-form building process, with material and form to bind a social potential.

What do you think? How could a project like this work in our community? Where?  Which organization? Why?

BTW: Purvey will be reinstalling this project at Riverwest’s Jazz Gallery on August 18 from 5-8:00. All are welcome. There should be some activities going with the kids too–button making I think–and all are welcome. IT IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT THAT art viewers serve as audience for work of this kind–we need to support and attend to these kids and community! I will be there with a few friends for sure.

About Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is the director of galleries and curator of exhibitions at Jamestown Community College in Western New York. She writes the blog "Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes" about visual art in her community.

5 Responses to Let’s talk about community-based art, its pitfalls and its significance. Should we bring a project like this to Racine and Kenosha?

  1. Kate Proeber Peterson says:

    It’s a great idea! What about a group of artists who might want to do something like this. What about a community group or church group, not necessarily an art group. Groups like that could support artists who are interested. There are also many art groups and galleries that might want to take this on. Art is so important for a community. Being exposed to the making of art and learning to express ones self through art is the thing. Do we have to worry at this point about evaluating the resulting art? Evaluating the experiences of the participants might be more important in the beginning.

    • I am with you Kate but which local organizations could collaborate on it? Who would we staff it. It actually involves creating a sustained connection between a leading artist and interns over at least a few weeks or more. I would promote the idea of a residency at Parkside but only if I have community organizations involved in a substantial way. Any ideas?

      • Peg Fisher says:

        How about asking local community centers in Racine, e.g., John Bryant, if they might be interested and may even be able to recruit volunteers to help get things organized, to promote it to the neighborhoood, and so on. These centers are often bustling with activity, are well known, appear to have some permanent staff, a gym, etc. Not all have outdoor space available but many do. Just a thought.

      • I like the way you are thinking. Got to collaborate with folks linked with the communities that might benefit. Do you have specific institutions in mind?

    • Also, please send this link out Kate to others you think might want to participate in discussion. THey can subscribe to my blog really easily and participate! Let’s make a functioning community here online with conversations and planning that happen in this forum!

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