Ana and Chris

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Chris Conroy SP
Ana-Miren San Millan SP
Social Practices in Art Fall 11

Projects

Original Brainstorming

An Audience of One

Bennington Youth

A 14 year old boy who I met a few months ago and have had a few conversations with, and also interviewed for the “What kind of person is this? / What do you think of Bennington College students?” collaboration.

Goals:
1. Provide a need to this local Bennington teenager.
2. Change his predominantly negative judgments and assumptions of the college population by initiating a direct relationship between us and him, and an indirect relationship between the college and the community.

So what does he need? Or what might he want?

  • A backpack. His peers make fun of him for not having one.
  • A bike. He showed interest in mine and I’m sure would love having one of his own. He is also too young to drive and doesn’t like being stuck in one place.
  • Fishing pole/tack box. He loves to fish at Lake Paran, but does not have either one of these things.
  • He enjoys looking for lost animals, often skipping school to do so. There is great potential here for a structure. We were thinking about creating a hide and seek/scavenger hunt to find one or more of these things that he can then keep. Maybe post flyers around town (where does he go?) that read something like “Lost Backpack. Reward: One Backpack.” We like this idea because if he skips school to look for a backpack, he is then encouraged to feel more comfortable going back to school. (Is this too supportive of playing hookey? There’s no way to know if he will skip school or not.)


Bennington College Housekeeping Staff

(Backup/Another option)

Goals:
1. Students of Bennington College to appreciate their housekeepers more by gaining understanding of what their jobs are actually like. What other/how many other houses do they clean? How long is a work day? What benefits do they have? What benefits don’t they have?
2. Housekeepers to feel appreciated by the students they clean up after.
3. Establish a relationship that could lead to further conversation by opening the lines of communication.

What:
Share a work day with the housekeeper from your campus house. Shadow and help them with whatever cleaning duties they have.

Questions:

  • Just us or more? Maybe just the two of us will share work days with our housekeepers. We may not be able to include more students.
  • Work hour instead of work day? This could function as either an audience of one or an audience of more than one.
  • What are the housekeepers uncomfortable with? What is an okay discomfort to push up against?
  • Is sharing the day (or an hour) with them enough? We thought about just doing their job for a day instead of sharing, but this is not sufficient because the interaction/ conversation between the student and staff is just as important as the act of helping.


An Audience of More than One

Our practical, fundamental goal is to provide coats (and blankets and towels) to the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless. Winter is on its way, and there is a very specific and pressing need. The Coalition houses the old and young, parents and children alike. On a broader, more overarching level, we also want to use this project as an opportunity to educate or at least foster a greater awareness within the Bennington College community of people with a need (or needs) in the community that we are part of, but sometimes forget to acknowledge. We want to acknowledge that community, and we want that community to feel as though they are acknowledged. These are the bare essentials required of a functioning relationship.

And who knows: perhaps this sense of support and inclusion, with such a basic need no longer a pressing concern, will encourage movement (however minimal) in positive directions.

Kirk Jackson for Coats

This is a model for a fundraising event, and Kirk Jackson is just an example, chosen for the fact that he is a pretty cool dude with a name that makes the heading sound nice.

The activity would take the form of a raffle. Participants can purchase tickets for something like $3 a ticket, or donate a coat (in working condition, obviously) and receive something like 5 tickets (worth $15). The winner of the raffle would get the great pleasure, and terrific honor, of spending an afternoon, evening, or even a morning with a participating faculty/staff member (e.g. Kirk Jackson). Of course the faculty/staff member would stipulate what they feel comfortable with, and we didn't put night in the morning, afternoon, evening pool for a reason. Examples might be: bowling and a movie, an evening catered in the student center, an afternoon picnic and a snowball fight in the mile around woods--funded by a portion of the money we raise.

We would have a campaign of posters leading up to the event: "Want to get a beer with Kirk Jackson? Coat drive fundraiser and Raffle, this time at this place!" Each would have a heading modeled after the one above; "Karen Gover for Coats", "Sherry Kramer for Coats", "Robert Ransick for Coats", eh, eh?

Caroling for Coats

We would gather a group of carolers (because Ana and I think we have neither the vocal capabilities nor endurance) to go door to door through the town of Bennington, singing (ideally) an adaptation of some warm-hearted, festive jingle, changing the lyrics into a request for coats or monetary donations toward coating the down on their luck. We would probably have them carry an explanatory sign, and have a separate individual/representative speak to the home owners after the tune is done. If they donated a coat or money, we would also like to have another song thanking them for their donation, and maybe even a bonus song just in case.

Cook Out for Coats

We would set up and host a cook out, advertising it as titled above--a cook out and coat drive. Whether we would do it on campus or in town, and whether we would invite the members of one of those communities or both is yet-to-be-determined. But there would be an optional (or suggested) donation, and a big box to collect coats. We would have activities (pin the hood on the jacket? kick ball or some other sporting event? trivia?), some form(s) of entertainment (band? literary readings?), and obviously food.

Demographic/ Intentions

AUDIENCE OF ONE Underprivileged Bennington teenager: When talking with this fourteen year old, I learned quickly that his assumptions of the Bennington College students were predominantly negative. He also has negative experiences in middle school. We want to address these views and perceptions of college and education in general to encourage school as a possibility for his future. Being a young resident of the town, and coming from a low income family, lacking in education and resources, he is a target audience with potential in more than just one of these directions.

Bennington College Housekeeping Staff: We feel like we owe something to them. It is a matter of proximity: we see them everyday and rarely interact with them beyond a brief greeting. Though there may be other relevant/important issues (teen pregnancy, poverty, etc.) it feels natural to start with the everyday, and more importantly, it would feel hypocritical to try and fix something so prominent without addressing the needs within your immediate realm. Also, it can be a way to show that the college’s voice isn’t our own with regard to the recent change in health care, and that they probably feel under-appreciated.

MORE THAN ONE Underprivileged residents of the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless: Less than a mile from campus, the coalition has specific needs and provides a valuable service. Working with the coalition would not only provide an opportunity to make a tangible difference, while forging (or strengthening) connections between the college and the community, but (again) it seems almost neglectful and hypocritical to ignore.

Why art

Aside from the fact that we say it is…

AUDIENCE OF ONE Bennington youth: This teenager is very familiar with social work and the way those kinds of services operate, lacking in personal connection and creativity. Art would potentially help him to think outside of these boundaries, and form new modes of thinking and problem solving, in a less direct/linear way, but perhaps a more meaningful one. By designing individualized posters and incorporating a reward-based participatory structure (essentially a game), we hope to transform his everyday routine into a transitional experience. We want to make him feel like his world is including him in a way that changes the relationship of self to other. This would occur because, through the anonymity of the poster, no single individuals can be held responsible, and thus all individuals would become suspect.

Housekeeping Staff: There are no concrete social or political outcomes intended. The dialogue and, ideally, the empathy and understanding that we hope to generate with this project are not typically found in activism or social work. Again, we hope to upset the balance of self and other, showing students and housekeepers to be more alike than different. It will also break the routines of both parties involved, and perhaps dig up and sort through some discomfort. The dialogue will be intentional—insofar as we will be instigating it, and likely starting from scripts—but the outcome will not.

MORE THAN ONE Coalition for the Homeless: We will be fulfilling a very specific need through (more or less) unusual methods. By acting outside the box, we hope to move those involved outside of their comfort zones and daily schemas, while increasing the attention our activity gets, as well as its success. The interactions that will take place in any of the three versions of the project we have brainstormed are familiar in structure, but strange in context. By doing so, the methods of interaction are immediate, but the particulars are not.

History/Inspiration

AUDIENCE OF ONE Youth: Based in gaming structures like the Quest to Learn schools/projects. Ellsworth’s notions of experiential pedagogy and transitional learning. Our own experience at Fallapalooza.

Staff: Suzanne Lacy’s “The Roof is on Fire”.

MORE THAN ONE Coalition—Wochenklausur because they address and fulfill specific needs through collaborative/interactive art projects. Karaoke Ice insofar as it provides a playful yet profound (perhaps sublime) experience through a familiar and intuitive interface/medium.

Brainstorming Revisited

Audience of One

  • Tours of town/tours of campus with Bennington youth?
This is more of an audience of many project, no? Robert_Ransick 17:32, 11 November 2011 (UTC)
  • John Umphlett teach Bennington youth how to make a fishing pole?
  • Switch days with two dining hall employees—Chris Conroy and Chris (employee), Ana and ?(I forget her name, another employee)—Chris Conroy works shift in dining hall, Chris (employee) goes to class.
    • Maybe a weekend day/night switching activities.
    • Videotape a conversation with each pair afterward reflecting our experiences (or a write up).
    • Our main concern with this idea is about the level of discomfort we expect to see--from both ends. Should it be just a daytime/afternoon experience? Or would we then be avoiding the most dynamic and important part of the work? Should we find other people who we think would be more willing to participate? Or is this tension a good thing?
There are some very interesting ideas beginning here, but I want to encourage you to identify your audience of one and then create something based on your dialogues with them--don't speculate on what they want, base a simple project on specifically what they share with you. Robert_Ransick 17:32, 11 November 2011 (UTC)

Possible people to ask about being involved (or if they know others who might be interested):
Ben (Master’s in Teaching student at Bennington, lives in town)
Emily Reid (knows people in town)
Young couple Fei talked to in the bookstore
Caley (South Street)

Audience of Many

  • A journal displayed to an audience documenting/recording a week in the lives of 1-5 local youth population, our peers.

CCV, town, SVC, Bennington. (Or just Bennington town and Bennington College)

    • Journal could take the form of written word, photographs, video, any documentation preferred.
    • Possible venues for display: VAPA, President’s Gallery, and maybe an online version; Facebook group? Twitter? Tumblr group? Maybe have it shown at CCV and SVC also, if those students are included.
  • A sort of confessional/story share booth for Bennington residents
    • Goal: To dig up/make public the intimate unknown connections the town has to the people who live and work in it. To dispel both our own and the residents of towns’ views of the town being "boring" or "lacking" in some way.
    • Set up a booth with a camera on the street (or in an empty storefront), inviting people to come in and share a story of an event or experience when the town profoundly affected them, and the location that it occurred. It can be provocative, interesting, funny, positive, or negative. By recording and sharing these stories (release it to a few places in town, distribute it, screen it on campus), we could reconstruct this emotional landscape of Bennington, and open up perspectives and allowing residents to see/perceive places that may seem dry--architecture, banks, empty parks--in a new way.
    • Basically using past individual experiences to create one new shared experience
    • Maybe just record audio, then make a video of the places.
    • Talk to matt scott about setting up a booth. Where does the school rent their tents?
I want to encourage you to create an opportunity for active dialogue and exchange. Can you clearly define the goals you have for the "local youth population"? If it is to "dispel both our own and the residents of towns' view of the town being boring or lacking in some way", how will a journal/confessional/story booth do this? Maybe your town/campus tours idea from above could be developed here. Robert_Ransick 17:44, 11 November 2011 (UTC)

Brainstorming Attempt 3

An Audience of One: Kathy (Perkins Housekeeper)

The Goal: We are trying to push the boundaries of our respective roles in the community (housekeeper and student) by engaging in an exchange of knowledge that leads toward a collaborative effort.

The Method: Chris will approach Kathy, and explain to her the nature of the class and our interest in the roles we each play and the space we both share. I will ask her if I can help out with the cleaning of our house one day this week—tell her that I want to experience some time in her shoes, learn a thing or two about effective cleaning strategies (because with all the puke and general messiness popping up every Friday, it would be useful information), and most importantly learn about her and her coworkers. Who she is, who they are, what they do, why they do it, how they view themselves and their role, as well as us and ours.

The act of cleaning will function on a practical level as a way to interact that is respectful of her time, and on a more abstract level as a metaphor for the dialogue that we want to occur—a constructive dialogue founded in collaboration and exchange, and established on the grounds of mutual respect.

Chris will explain to Kathy the nature of social practice in a fashion relative to her level of curiosity. Ideally, from her own views and interests, and with additional communication as needed through the coming weeks, we will work with her to develop a practice (for an audience of many) that effects those largely of her choosing in a way she sees fit and we find value in. This will be a way to approach issues relevant to maintenance in the face of the recent cuts, without prescribing anything as an outsider, or forcing anything onto a body that doesn’t want it.

Why it is Art: It upsets order and challenges social restraints in a creative, constructive, and collaborative way.

Criticisms and Concerns: Be careful not to make assumptions (or condescend) in dialogue or in practice. The activity might be more effective if it was something off campus or new to the audience. Our response: yeah to the first--we will have to be careful. To the second--we see the validity and potential in doing something off campus, but part of what we want to get at is the subversion and channeling of the context and discomfort (particularly poignant at this moment) that arises on campus, in house. Taking it off campus may, however, be a direction to think in the audience of many. It might be especially powerful to, after emphasizing the boundaries in house, completely leave them behind and work in a neutral zone with few preexisting structure.

Results

I worked with Kathy (and Jen) this morning. I was very upfront with them about what I was doing and where my interests reside. I told them that it was easy for me to come in and prescribe something, but that I really wanted it to come from them because they know the community and know the campus, and have insights and knowledge that I can only assume. They were really positive and excited, particularly Katy. She loves kids and helping people. The woman is practically a saint. Anyway, here were some of the ideas we generated together.

Children's Books Kathy apparently loves to write children's books and is a naturally talented illustrator, though as she got older and took on more responsibility, she couldn't help but let it fall to the wayside. She has several manuscripts in her basement that have collected mold, but dreams of one day submitting them for publication and delivering them to sick or handicapped children in hospitals across the state, and farther, if she can.

In this case, we would work with her to restore/transcribe the manuscripts, and create a limited run of hand-bound books, which we could (with her) personally distribute to children in the local hospital. As a bonus, Kathy could potentially use a few as samples to submit for publication.

Contacts for venues to hold a reading? Kevin Robinson, Communications Director of Southern Vermont Medical Center, (802) 447-5003 Lynne Teker, Family Services Manager, North Bennington Head start (802) 442-3686 x224 Faith Griffiths? That publisher Rainer mentioned? Libraries? Who did Corinne mention again?

Stuffed Animals Kathy's husband was apparently a collector of stuffed animals, and has quite a few (hundreds?) in storage. Kathy and her husband were looking for a way to donate them to children who will not have a Christmas this year.

I suggested that we might be able to get double mileage out of them by setting up some sort of Christmas display--like the smaller stuffed animals hanging like ornaments from a tree, with the bigger ones propped up around it--in a storefront or other indoor space. It would be a food/nonperishable drive in which people would come and exchange as much as they were willing for a bear. This the bears would go to children who want them(or even need them--insofar as one can ever need a stuffed animal--even if they don't have the money to afford it), while at the same time providing food for children who might not have it(which is another major concern they share, which I will get to soon).

Kathy even talked about loading something like that into the back of her truck and going around town distributing and collecting donations.

Thanksgiving Dinner Another issue was the fact that many children apparently only eat while they are at school. Their families do not provide them an adequate meal, or a meal at all, in their home. Apparently while the strike was going on, bagged meals full of nutritious food were distributed by the fire department to help combat some of the hunger issues.

Also, Kathy and Jen both felt that the area was not as safe as it once was. You have to lock your door now, and keep valuables well-hidden. This has not always been the case, and Kathy misses the days where she could just invite anyone in need over for a Thanksgiving dinner. People you don't know and might not normally talk to, or might not normally talk to each other.

We discussed the possibility of arranging some sort of meal with people who wouldn't normally get together (and possibly with youth who don't normally get a big dinner) and developing a dialogue about issues of hunger, safety, and community.

Student Center ...And prices on campus. Though this may be the weakest link among potential projects.

They both said that the prices on campus were outrageous, and not only alienating students, but that staff tends to avoid the student center now, whereas they frequented it two or so years ago. It is impractical, and she seemed to suggest frowned on, if not against the rules, to eat in the dining hall. They are also told it is best not to eat in the same place that they work (as in the house--Perkins). Kathy suggested that we do something with other colleges in the area to compare food prices.

I think this is also interesting because it seems to be segregating an area that otherwise provided a space where students could mingle with staff on equal terms.

Also, on a similar note, they discussed the need for some sort of outdoor seating near the houses, where students and staff could sit and eat, and most importantly for them, do so together.

Audience of One: Chris Porter(Dining Hall employee, age 21)

The Goal: (Similar to the housekeeper audience of one stated above) Push the boundaries between student and staff on the Bennington College campus by initiating an ongoing dialogue, or series of conversations, that lead toward a collaboratively planned project.

Method: Ana will start conversing with Chris. Ask him some questions about his opinions and views on the student population, working in the dining hall, what it's like to be (roughly) the same age as the students, and the possibility of participating in a cooperative effort to plan some sort of experience for a small group of people that not only gets at some of these divisions of self and other, student and staff, student and resident, but also the issues and points of interest raised by our dialogue. I will suggest possible ideas (including some floating around on this wiki), but want to develop new ideas and methods as a product of the collaboration.

Criticisms and concerns are again shared with the first audience of one, because the nature of the projects are pretty similar, if not fundamentally the same. In addition, be upfront and direct with the goals of the project, the context of social practice, and our class. We want to avoid any misunderstanding or confusion that may or may not surface due to being of opposite sex and the same age. We are not anticipating this, but would still like to ensure clarity of purpose with our audience.

First conversation update

Chris agreed to participate in the project, but we have yet to actually sit down and talk about the issues and ideas. We are currently communicating via email. I have described the nature of the project and the collaboration, and we are in the process of finding a time to meet in person.

Update as of 11/20/11

Set to meet on Tuesday morning at 10 with Chris (staff). Ana will have at hand the following questions:

  • What do you think about the Bennington College students? What is your relationship with the students like/What are your day-to-day interactions like?
  • What is it like to work with students?
  • What is your job like?
  • What is your life like?
  • Did you grow up in this area? If so, what has that been like? If not, what was it like where you grew up and how is it similar or different from Bennington?
  • Suggest possible ways to go forward with this project, if needed:
    • Tours of town/tours of campus
    • Switch/share a day
    • Thanksgiving dinner with strangers: who would be interested in participating in these conversations?


Conversation 1 Results:

Our conversation started with describing the nature of the project and the goals I had in mind. We talked about what Chris (Conroy) is working on with the housekeeper Kathy, and I mentioned a little about other students’ work. He is interested in the topic and expressed his support for the idea; he believes the relationships could be much stronger between student and staff here.

We talked briefly about his “life story”—lived in Bennington since 2 years old, and is dying to get out. Chris went to school for two years studying engineering, but wasn’t very interested in it, so decided to take time off and make money so he has more schooling options later. Currently, he is planning on going to UVM next fall.

Chris has worked at the college for 1 year. When school is in session, he works in the Dining Hall for 40-50 hours a week. During the summer and winter, he cleans the dorms. He brought up voluntarily that he hasn’t seen a lot of the other buildings beside the houses, and especially wants to explore VAPA more before he leaves in June. (He said he would be willing to do the tour trade.)

Chris generally feels pretty good about his experience here, although there are some things that bother him. He acknowledges that there is a big division between the interests (and looks) of residents and students, and that the students are “a whole different breed.” He appreciates that students are usually very nice and outgoing around him, with a good handful of us appearing genuinely interested in how he’s doing. Because he’s the same age as the students, he enjoys being able to talk with us about common interests. He admits that while some students are indifferent, none are deliberately rude, but “there are people like that everywhere,” and besides, he’s “usually just swiping cards.”

As soon as I asked him about what he does in his free time, the conversation really picked up. He goes dirtbiking and hangs out downtown in some of the bars, his favorite of which is JC’s because they have volleyball courts in the back, and have tournaments and pick-up games in the warmer months. He likes hiking, and wishes he had more daylight to do it. He gave me some suggestions on where to go—Tubs on Mt. Anthony, the White Rocks (3 hour hike but worth it), and a wooded path behind SVC with great views and connection to the Long Trail. He said he wants to learn how to snowboard this winter, and also would love to go skydiving.

We concluded the conversation looking at the Spring curriculum, because Chris is offered a free class, and is going to take advantage of that. He was looking for some advice on classes and faculty, but he’s a science/math brain, so I’m referring him to someone I know that may be able to help him more than I can.

This will take some time to sift through, but I think the potential areas to explore are:

  • Tours
  • Volleyball
  • Hikes
  • Snowboarding lessons?
  • Talking to more students about classes here