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Residency Notes #1 – Transitory Encounters

– Written by Benjamin Thorp –

Transitory Encounters is a series of actions designed to develop platforms and infrastructure necessary for public discourse involving those most impacted by the effects of the Strategic Investment Plan (S.I.A.) in Charlottesville. For those of us who haven’t heard of the SIA, the basic facts are this: there is an area of land south of the downtown pedestrian mall that the city and a group of investors have decided should be developed to create an expanded area of commerce and mixed use properties. Before I continue on let me say that I do feel development is good! It’s great to have more culture, jobs and spaces for people to take part in and inhabit. The problem is that the area slated for (re)development has already been developed. The SIA’s boundaries encompass the largest concentration of Public Housing and Section 8 housing in the Charlottesville area. In order for the development plan to move forward many of the residents in this neighborhood will have to be relocated.

So what can we do? What questions should we be asking? What actions can we take to address the messiness of the situation and how can we make sure that we are taking into consideration all perspectives of the many issues at hand?

These are the issues that The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative (The Bridge) embracing head on. The Bridge is one of those unique organizations that is committed to developing frameworks to facilitate discourse through artist directed interventions and community focused conversations. In order to help support these types of projects the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded The Bridge an “Our Town Grant” which allocates financial assistance for programs they are developing within the SIA. One of the projects that The Bridge has enacted, and that I am part of, is Public Artists.

As an artist and educator it has been my experience that when people are given the opportunity to articulate their thoughts with the knowledge that their voice will be heard and considered, they are excited to do just that. Now, we all fall into the pit of talking without all the details of what we’re talking about, this is simply unfamiliarity with the topics and the only way to overcome this is to be informed. The good news is that getting information is easy and so overcoming this lack of knowledge is a pretty simple task! The hard part is taking the massive amount of data available to us and presenting it in a way that is understandable.

In order to help collect and parse the necessary data I’ve developed plans for a series of actions with The Bridge and two community partners: The Renaissance School and Computers4Kids. Through a series of workshops we will be researching the history and geography of Charlottesville through sound, physical explorations of the city and relationship building. Audio and text collected and generated over the coming months will be formed to create responsive sound sculptures housed in objects and sites around the city. These sculptures will function as platforms for public discourse and highlight the conversations happening in and around the SIA. We start our first workshops this coming Wednesday and will be regularly adding to this blog as the projects develop. I look forward to hearing from you and hope to meet you soon.