The Artist Good Neighbor Policy
July 22, 2014
Chloë Bass, 2014 Bed-Stuy artist-in-residence, discusses the unintentional and intentional forms of being an artist-neighbor and what led to her LP project The Department of Local Affairs. To meet Chloë and contribute to her “reverse tourism” guidebook, visit us at Field Day in Bed-Stuy on September 21!
Prior to moving to Bed-Stuy and becoming a quiet, private citizen, I spent about five years living and working very publicly in Bushwick. My primary project was Arts in Bushwick, more commonly known as the group that produces the annual Bushwick Open Studios. While I’m proud in many ways of what the organization has become today, I’ve also been shocked and dismayed by some of the unintentional contributions that the festival has made to the neighborhood. I still believe in the visibility of creative community, but I also see how it can be quickly co-opted to terrible effect.
In thinking about creative placemaking as a process, I’m eager to learn from some of my Bushwick lessons. The biggest of these was not to assume that other people want what you want – or that you can convince them over time to want what you want. Particularly within diverse communities, people can have very different immediate goals. Try to make a list of what everyone wants. I called mine the “not going to cry” list: no one’s going to cry if we have more safe green space. No one’s going to cry if we have better schools.
I’m sure there are many things you could put on that list for your own community. But what do these changes mean? Who do they really benefit, and for how long? I think it can be difficult to understand the long-term consequences of even seemingly innocuous improvements to a neighborhood. I know that I personally am incapable of thinking at—or even better ahead of—the speed of developers, much to my frustration and regret.
I think the process of respecting the diversity of a place, therefore, has to come before the desire to make an impact on that place. In Bushwick, especially in 2007, there was a perceived lack of connected creative community. Artists have a bad reputation for being transients (there are many reasons for this). However, whether or not we choose, or are able, to remain in a particular neighborhood, there are positive impacts that we can have even in the short term. These impacts are not actually related to the higher calling of creative practice: just because we are artists does not necessarily mean that we must be respected for that above all else. Most of the positive behaviors I’m thinking about really fall under the category of Being A Good Neighbor: the boring, repetitive tasks of living in a place and actually engaging with it. Shop local. Wash local. Say hi to your neighbors. Be around enough to know what is changing, how it’s changing, and to see whether or not you’ve had a part in it, even if just by accident.
It’s taken me three years of quiet living to begin to approach a public project in Bed-Stuy. I’m still uncertain in a lot of ways, but I think that uncertainty is good. I hope to lead with questions, not solutions, this time around.