Cardboard Castles and Other Amenities...

I am really interested in using different forms of cultural action to help build better communities. Communities are a vital social model, allowing us to tackle problems beyond the ability of individuals with the focus of a defined (usually relatively small) group of people. How do the arts and cultural work in general help communities grow more sustainable futures? If you have a cool website or project or your own ideas on these subjects please let me know.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Peoples' stories = communities' stories.

The Autobiography Project is an interesting community expression project taking place in Philadelphia right now. Over six weeks this spring the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary and One Book, One Philadelphia sought out 300 word autobiographies from the city’s residents. They received over 340 entries. From these admissions, 20 were selected by a panel of local writers to be published on posters and put up in bus stops.

There are several aspects of this project with exciting implications. First off, any effective community envisioning project must contain an understanding of the communities past. Not only are important lessons to be learned from one’s history, but also most communities have a desire to retain something of their “historic” selves. Now, 20 autobiographies hardly constitute a complete history, but they do point out that personal stories in combination with avenues for public expression (in this case public space) can be used to tell a communities story.

The second interesting aspect of the Autobiography Project as Geoff Manaugh of points out how it has briefly reclaimed a handful of Philadelphia's bus shelters and transport routes in the name of public life and personal narrative. De-commercializing each bus stop, in other words, the Project has replaced ads for new films, hair products, and athletic gear, turning Philadelphia's bus routes into a narrative experience.

As our public spaces become more and more privatized and commercialized, cultural actions that work against this trend take on greater importance as means of securing spaces for public expression.

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