Notes from the Department of Local Affairs
August 27, 2014
Artist Assistant Tyler Thomas reports from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where she’s been supporting artist-in-residence Chloë Bass’ project, the Department of Local Affairs:
The things I learned whilst handing out flyers in Brooklyn…
It would appear that on Saturdays, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn is on and poppin’. Everyone and their mothers seemed to be out having a good time and—at least in the area I was in—I couldn’t walk a few blocks without hearing the sound of music blaring down the streets. l say all of this quite joyfully, as it only added to what was already an exceedingly pleasant experience. Moreover, I definitely think returning on a Saturday would be a good idea and that reaching people through block parties—a natural congregation of the “users” of the neighborhood—could be very effective! Plus, a good way to jam out to 90’s R&B classics while eating some barbecue.
When it comes to language barriers, the struggle is very much real. Our chosen laundromat, Mei Tai Laundromat, is owned by an Asian family with whom I had had two brief encounters prior to this particular check-in. As the parents don’t speak much English, their son is our primary translator. Even with his help, I received little confirmation beyond a head nod and a “yes” that I was actually being understood. In the beginning, this left me a little uneasy as to whether my efforts would actually yield the desired result. The issue of “Am I being understood?” was repeated a few more times as I stopped by a couple other places along DeKalb that, too, were owned by non-native English speakers. Many spoke Spanish, so fortunately I was able to speak with them for the most part, but not all. However, as time went on, I did notice that my confidence grew and my “spiel” grew tighter and clearer. This definitely made for better communication.
I should have brought tape. More times than I would have liked, I left an establishment wondering if the flyers I had handed out would ever see the light of day, let alone the eyes of a potentially interested participant. The female owner of the hair salon allowed me to put one up in their bathroom on my own (they provided the tape) and I think that many other places would have let me do something similar had I brought tape myself. That’s one way I think I can be more assertive the next time around. Perhaps that means opening with “Hi, could I put up these flyers for an art project I’m working on?” before introducing or explaining the project itself? Just things to think about.
Word of mouth might be more powerful. Throughout the experience, I increasingly felt more and more encouraged by the power of individual conversations to help spread the word about our project. During my 90 minute tour of the neighborhood, there were block parties galore—I stumbled across at least 3—and on more than one occasion, I was able to have a fruitful conversation with a stranger, explaining to them the plans and goals of our project. They were fruitful in the sense that I received nearly all positive feedback and felt a genuine sense of interest, on their parts, in the aspirations of the project itself. This isn’t to discount the use of hanging flyers, but it is to say that perhaps handing them out to individuals—an action which typically brings with it a deeper conversation about the project—may be a secret weapon in our publicizing efforts.