Over my thirty years as an artist, I have developed an approach to making art that increasingly merges my studio practice with facilitating community engagement. Individual and collective art-making develops a sense of community and, when harnessed to explore and understand a shared social and/or environmental history, it instills pride and empowers ownership as well as motivating action and stewardship. A culminating artwork that incorporates the many voices of such a community experience is a wonderful vehicle for broader exchange and a continual provocation of collective civic action.
Since moving to Rhode Island in 1998, I have come to believe more and more that reexamination of place-based histories and environmental legacies play an important role in social understanding and social justice. My projects are designed to promote awareness of a site’s history and environmental health, as well as residents’ and visitors’ current and future impact. My projects include hands-on workshops with affected and interested groups and collaboration is key. I often invite other artists as well as scholars and technicians to share in the planning and presentation of workshops or final exhibits. Projects are comprehensive and layered, using materials that reinforce the content. Experts in the fields of historical land use and environmental impact present material which is subject matter for artwork and, in turn, the art work is a vehicle and document of exploration, brainstorming and new understanding. It can be used in the final installation or stand alone as its own presentation. The culminating installation incorporates a visual structure of my design with participants’ voices in the form of audio, visual and/or performance. All projects are first shown near the site explored and then can travel to other venues to educate and inspire others.
Drawing on my experience working with diverse groups and situations, projects are designed to meet the interests and needs of a specific site and community; small intimate handmade books were made as gifts to family members in Soul Liberty, an inter-generational exchange project with Cambodian families; a life-sized “book” with suspended pages for one to walk through while hearing recorded memories enabled the viewer of Languages of the Land to imagine the layered history of a waterfront park; and a celebratory procession with street bands, silk-screened posters and children in fish costumes raised residents’ awareness about a local pond’s poor health. Digital designs I created, based on the children’s posters, provided the RI Department of Transportation with more universal designs for new signage around the pond.
I have worked with a range of groups including, pre-K through twelfth grade students from urban schools, teachers at Bank Street College of Education in NYC, families in the Providence Cambodian community, teens and mentors at New Urban Arts, and children and adults in Pawtuxet Village, RI.