Who should guide listening?

Image by Maureen Kavanaugh (stltourguide.wordpress.com)

Image by Maureen Kavanaugh (stltourguide.wordpress.com)

Because Aki and I are working with a partner who is not based in Boston, geography will determine the listening practices we will be able to employ. We’re trying to be creative – what listening practices can we employ when we are not on the ground with our partner? For our work we are hoping to learn more about some of Lois’s (our main representative from the partner institution) processes around fundraising and audience outreach, as well as determine more information about her network as it relates to fundraising, new audiences, and the two new developments that are slated for The Griot’s neighborhood.

Similar to Aki, believe that an activity analysis will be particularly important to dig deeper into Lois’ processes. She is nearly a one-woman shop who covers most of the tasks related to the museum. Similarly, focusing on flow analysis will also allow us to pin down how Lois’ activities connect, and may reveal opportunities within her processes. Some of these processes will give us better insight into what Lois has already tried, as well as roadblocks and areas less traveled.

For some elements of our initial co-research, I think it will be helpful to envision what future activities could look like–a realistic future with all of its potential snags, as well as an ideal future in which The Griot and Lois are thriving in the manner they would like. For this type of research I think the listening practice of journey mapping and role playing could be interesting, and I think both can be done over the phone/video chat. Journey mapping may be a helpful next step to activity and flow analyses and allow Lois and our design team to imagine more ideal processes. Role playing could allow for us to better understand how other key stakeholders, partners or users might engage with some of our design ideas, but also how Lois might disrupt processes that she is currently a part of and wants to change.

This week, because Aki and I were both out of the country, we completed a set of follow-up questions over email with Lois. The week prior we drafted a set of questions we wanted ask Lois. We began the conversation sharing a little about who Aki & I both are and what we are hoping to get out of the partnership. I think this set an honest and personable foundation for the codesign relationship. We sorted our interview questions for Lois into categories with sub-questions. We then traded off asking questions and then taking notes while on the call to make sure Lois understands that Aki and I are in true partnership, even though my relationship with her preceded the project.

I have been thinking the breadth of epistemologies and methods of communication that can be present in this partnership, and wondering if in listening practices are best selected to honor the subjects at hand, the preferences of the co designing partner, the preferences of the designer, or some sort of calculation of all of the above. At present, I believe Aki and I are navigating with the subjects as our guiding force. For example, if we need to learn more about how Lois fundraisers, we will undergo an activity analysis; however, perhaps later in the process as we begin to understand our partner more and vice versa, perhaps our listening strategies would evolve instead of meet the needs of our partners preferred ways of knowing or methods of communication.

Lastly, an additional part of our listening practice will be listening to what stories and voices haven’t we heard from, and who can help to build our richer understanding of the issues Lois wants to address through our partnership.

From the sidelines to the streets

I worked on part of a project in Nashville with main partners Conexión Américas (CA) and the Nashville Civic Design Center, an organization supporting development of the latino community in middle Tennessee. The project focused on the Nolensville Pike, which runs as an autocentric corridor through the South Nashville, a region where many immigrants have settled. In this area that has a large population of immigrants, many Latin Americans, a large Kurdish population in the U.S., and many immigrants from south and east Asia. The population of this area, just outside of the urban core, is growing quickly, but continues to maintain very typical suburban infrastructure. This means that the area is sprawling and not built for people but rather cars. Along the Pike speed limits are high, roads are wide, sidewalks crumbling, crosswalks few, (but growing number of) bikelanes sparse and it is just plain challenging to navigate these streets as a human and not an automobile. Auto-related injuries and deaths of pedestrians along the Pike are higher here than anywhere else in Nashville.

Despite the infrastructure, this neighborhood is thriving culturally and commercially. Casa Azafrán is a very active community center run by the beloved Conexión Américas; the Pike is home to a popular mosque; and many immigrant-run businesses dot the corridor. For economic and socio-cultural reasons, many residents in this area walk. Many rely on public transit, and walk from home to community centers, businesses, schools.

My team at Transportation for America & Nashville Civic Design Center worked with the latino community of Conexión Américas to address safety issues as they pertain to transportation infrastructure. With CA we held a workshop bringing together a wide variety of community members (members that CA typically engages with) to talk through some of the most pressing transportation-related challenges. Through these workshops, we identified that there was a divide between the older and younger generations about how they thought about transportation as well as the future of the area. To address this generational divide, we (the three organizations) facilitated a radio workshop in which the youth interviewed older residents about their experiences with transportation and hopes for the future and vice versa.

 conexion 1

Through this arts-based research we collectively learned that there is no safe way for residents to cross the busy street to get to the very active Casa Azafrán building. The groups also identified language barriers in signage that was only in English. Many older residents aren’t bilingual and can’t read all signs. The group proposed a bilingual crosswalk in front of CA as a solution. This crosswalk would be the first of its kind in Tennessee!

conexion 2

The design justice principles which I believe this project implemented was that the process helped sustain and empower the participants and users. Through the workshops, participants began to understand their creative agency and learned a bit about how to work with the city and advocate for community needs. The effort was largely focused on centering the voices of the people who use this infrastructure to learn what is working for them and what isn’t. We also had to slow down our process and add in a new step of the radio interviews, acknowledging that design is an ‘emergent’ process. We collaborated with a design firm and my team’s role was more of facilitator. The design team, however, participated as well as facilitator. I think we could have spent more time learning more about what is already happening in the community to address transportation and linguistic challenges.


Searching for the Seeds of the Seeds



Lately I’ve been contending with what feels like two different sides of my practice. Wait, scratch that.

Contending with what other people frame as the two sides of my practice. I’m either the silly, crazy public artist whose work delights, unites and ameliorates–or the social justice warrior who dares to confront the public with challenging issues. Justice and joy are not different sensibilities. They emerge similarly from a longing for liberatory internal and external space. Liberation leads to justice and to joy.


I am an entrepreneurial civic artist, cultural producer, writer, communications strategist and public space lover passionate about engagement that dissolves barriers. My work reimagines public spaces to enact social change. I currently serve as the Arts & Culture Fellow at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council of Boston while I pursue my Masters of Design in Art, Design & the Public Domain at Harvard University. Previous to relocating to Cambridge, I served as the inaugural Arts & Culture Outreach Associate at Transportation for America where I co-wrote a national field scan on arts, culture and transportation commissioned by ArtPlace America. From 2011 through 2016, I lived and worked in St. Louis, MO as a social practice artist and creative community organizer, and have had the joy of working all throughout the nation, as well as El Salvador, Spain and Berlin.

I serve as the Founding Director of STL Improv Anywhere, a guerrilla performance collective disrupting public spaces with joy and mischief. I am also Co-Creator of Building as Body, The Poetree Project, #ChalkedUnarmed, and produce annual city-wide events–like the No Pants Metrolink Ride and International Pillow Fight Day. I sit on the board of the Midwest Artist Projects Services. My work has been supported by the Regional Arts Commission, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, Marfa Dialogues, the City of St. Louis, and more. As a writer, I have published in Hyperallergic, Temporary Art Review, Public Art Review, Surface Design Journal, Art Animal Magazine, Riverfront Times, The Mantle, FEAST Magazine, Alive Magazine and more. I serve as a member of the national Placemaking Leadership Council for Projects for Public Spaces, and formerly served on the Next City Advisory Committee. I speak regularly on the topics of public art, social practice and social justice.


This semester I plan to work with my fellowship team at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the community of Natick, Massachusetts, led by Natick Center Associates. MAPC has been tasked with supporting the town of Natick as they think through the redevelopment of their city center. I’d like to try to encourage the stakeholders in Natick to really dig in and use art and culture not just to be the cherry on top, but to help confront and address ongoing challenges in their region. Also involved in this project are partners Americans for the Arts (AFTA) and the American Planning Association (APA), who will be providing support and evaluation recommendations. APA hopes to learn from this process to be able to begin to build a model for replicated curriculum and processes.


I this class, I’d like to work on uniting administrative and creative practices into one muscle. I am frequently asked to do or be just one or the other, but I think the binary is destructive, so I’d love to practice inhabiting it all at once in this class.

Another learning goal includes gaining better insight into how to leverage technology and media in my practice. Next I’d like to gain more fluency in these technologies and media to be able to incorporate them into my practice without necessarily needing a collaborating. These media include video, code, projection, apps, and whatever else makes sense for these emergent contexts.

I’d also like to spend more time thinking about the nucleus from where justice/joy emerge and how to bring people into that space through my practice.