Just a couple of more pictures and a another video...

A Week after our workshop, it is finally getting warmer and the plants are starting to catch up....


Reflections on a chilly and constructive weekend (Kathi)

Reflection/Response: Who Goes There? Material Social Practices    (Kathi B.)

One of the main reasons I enjoyed the three day one credit workshop "Who Goes There? Material Social Practices" is because of the individuals in the group. As is the way with most of the InterArts grad students, the group was comprised of active and expressive individuals, all of whom are experienced with and interested in working collaboratively in service to a higher cause.

This course presented some interesting ideas on the rapidly changing landscape of public art and arts activism. The readings referred to a number of projects in the U.S. that created real change in an environment or community. In those instances, the concept of what kind of change was needed was present before any ideas of implementation were in place. This enabled the participants to join in to work for a cause and help in any way they were able to. 

In our case, the course was devised with the main element of implementation in place first: the Papermaker's Garden. Parameters of its current usage were already in place, but on hold due to the season and weather. Future upgrades, uses, and the buildout, were being discussed, and ultimately decided upon, in separate meetings at the college administration level. Our class was on the way to dreaming up many different uses for the garden, as well as explorations of community involvement and sustainability/environmental, but there was no way for us to implement most of the ideas we came up with. 

A few major issues impeded our progress: lack of water and electricity in the space; restricted access to the space and a locked gate on the chain-link fence surrounding the space; lack of implements to work with the existing environment on the first  and second days; the inverted nature of the garden's status in relationship to the course's directive and mission. Ideas of creating projections, using sound and lighting, or making the space more user-friendly (more green space and places to sit) were dismissed by the group once we realized the limitations. The additional late-breaking information about the landscape architectural plans that had already been approved by campus administration put a damper on our group coming up with additional innovative ideas.

Using the second part of the class time to work with the tools, supplies, and environment that was actually available to us was a nice release from the fact-finding and idea-generating activities we had done earlier in the classroom. Although severely restricted in our materials, the group pooled their own personal resources as far as tools, and worked together to decide on small details that contributed much to the cohesiveness of the final installation. Having rocks and gravel as a primary building material was almost ridiculous, but with the group's positive and can-do attitude, the self-styled "Team Gravel" was able to rearrange and sculpt the rocks and gravel into interesting and eye-catching swirls and ribbons. The dendritic growths created by Heather and Jillian, that were made to climb up the reviled chain-link fence were especially effective, and will certainly draw attention to the space ("How did they do that? How did they think of that?!").

I do feel a portion of the brainstorming time could have been directed more into researching one or two of the group's "pie-in-the-sky" ideas, and preparing a proposal report to hand over to the college committee that is directly responsible for the final architectural plans that were recently approve. Examples of this include adding seating areas, devising easy to allow community access and use, and researching how an apiary could be incorporated. Our group also noticed a number of things about the site that did not seem to be reflected in the final plans or renderings. It could be helpful for our observations to be passed along to the powers-that-be. 

~Lack of electricity and water access in the space: How will this affect the plan for increased garden beds and a concert/presentation stage? 
~Constant surrounding noise from the elevated train, hotel HVAC exhaust fans, traffic, etc.: How will possible concerts and presentations on the stage be audible if surrounding noise is overwhelming, as it often is? 
~How will adjacent residential neighbors react to the proximity of a concert/presentation stage?
~The one sign on the property talks about an active composting practice being set up. The committee should actively research how to make this a reality, and not be bogged down by imagined "sanitation problems." The college already has a composting program in effect, and it should be linked to the garden's expansion and use.

Overall I am glad I was part of the short-term activation of this space, making it a bit more interesting, colorful, and presentable for the upcoming Manifest celebration.


Reflections [from Megan]

Reflecting on material social practices  //  Megan

I didn’t see that many of the in progress photos as we were working, but I visited the blog and checked them out before sitting down to reflect in writing.  I’ve decided that the most brilliant result of our work lives in those photos.  In hindsight, I wish we had focused more on the capturing of our presence through a series of still images. 

I mentioned before beginning work on Sunday that the most encouraging aspect of the experience for me up until that point was the cultivating of positive energy into the space.  Sure, we spent lots of time talking about what we would change and discussing what was already planned to change.  Then, we walked away from that line of thinking and set to working in the garden. 

I am biased, because I believe that effort is the greatest gift.  I think putting one’s energy to a thing is a compliment.  I also think it is the best way to feel connected and to learn.  For all of those reasons and more, it was good to just work. 

Unfortunately, there was a disconnect between the amount of time we spent discussing interests, possibilities and goals vs. the amount of time spent implementing those goals.  It would have been more gratifying to work toward something specific (especially since we discussed that idea at length).  In reality, our efforts felt more like a culmination of what was easily possible.  Here, we have these supplies and this amount of time.  We have these restrictions and these skills.  Restriction and ease joined forces and our boundaries were set.  Everyone seemed strangely accepting of the non-plan plan.  It was a docile group.  Again, we were just happy to get our hands dirty.

Now, I’ve had a few days to step away. . . and I see these photos.  In my mind I see more of them.  I want  a series of higher quality shots.  I respond to the color contrast against the grey block urban landscape.  The tape material feels less like plastic in the photos and more like a rupture of the familiar.  The long lines of color elicit questions about depth and distance; familiarity and imaginary.  The shots of space + color tape + people seem strangely out of time.  I imagine more photos of guests invited in for a moment.  There is a video of the fluttering tape and a passing train.  The train could not be better choreographed.  The transient energy, strange ideas and effort enacted. 

PICTURES and then some


Process Photos

Hi all, I thought you might enjoy some snapshots from last weekend's workshop sessions in the field.

Of course, we had some intense classroom sessions too, which included inventing 
new, super-energy-awakening snack inventions, which helped us with the outdoorsy work!
And, it's fun to see the detailed work being done....


As well as the final view from above on Sunday.


Saturday 20 April: deciding on a plan

AM: brainstorm, site visit, commit to a plan
12:30 brown-bag lunch
PM: materials testing & work time
keep working OR go to the use less / do more event

People’s Atlas (Cristina)
geo-caching (Kathi)
Columbia College history, Future Farmers Soil Kitchen, Derive app, Use Less/Do More (Fereshteh)

What we know:

We can keep certain “installations” up until/during/at Manifest - We will need to coordinate with other PG Manifest activity.

Alterations in the PG space are welcome as long as they can be removed after Manifest (leave no trace).

Urban intervention and mark-making without a permit is not condoned by the school.

With all this in mind, what actions do we want to do this weekend?

speculative actions – doing something to challenge assumptions
Create imaginative proposals for possible future uses and activities for the Papermaker’s Garden


pre-emptive actions – doing something to set a positive example
Create temporary interventions and small-scale improvements to demonstrate and communicate needs and desires

“immaterial” performances, walking tours, radio broadcasts, video projection, etc


“material” fence decor, painting rocks, mud graffiti, etc

Writing exercise:

Considering our dialogue up until this moment, what is the one thing it’s important for us to accomplish this weekend?

A list of possiblities brainstormed previously:

bird feeders, bee hives, food market, bat shelters, bee houses,
more stuff like reflectors on fence, benches, hammocks, water fountains, garden gnomes, more trash bins, more signs, vegetable plots, furniture, painting rocks, pulp painted onto rocks, make info fliers to update campus about changes, sign to identify plants, mission statement for garden, more transparency and communication to the students, garden newsletter, clean up days, zen rock garden, composting, mailbox, geocache & letterboxing, wayfinding signs to CTA, event kiosk, chess tables, share more info about plant+paper connection, seed paper strips

lunch break

Identify an issue or question to address through the work. What is the content/subject matter? What do we want to communicate?
The space is used and usable. Has been and will be used.
Sign says so, but the space does not say so. Too much text.
The fence communicates lack of use. A blank space. Communicates waste.
We want to communicate possibility. Agency. Space/place has potential.
Community and sustainability.
How should we best use the space in short-term? How does this translate to other empty space in Chicago? 
Activating a space will inspire other people to do it too.
Invitation to solicit help & volunteers.
Whimsy and joy.

What are we making?
text from gravel
    -tossing rocks
    -wishes on rocks
sound sculpture
fence weaving
[[interactivity]] --  [[ground - horizon - sky]]

Do we work in teams or sub-groups?

What media/materials do we use?
whimsy as a material - not didactic, institutional, or commercial
sign to solicit interested people

What is the goal?

Who is the audience?

How do we expect them to respond?

What is our timeline?

How will we know if we have succeeded?


Friday 19 April: generating questions


Where will the beds go during construction? Find another lot & temporarily move there?
How will the space be managed?

Where is there storage space?

Why aren't there any tables?

Who will get to use it?

When and where can the garden infrastructure accommodate the use of repurposed & reclaimed materials? 
Where is the PG identity in the new plan?
What does the fence communicate?
Why is there a fence?
  • Fear of theft
  • Security concerns
  • Maintaining clean space costs money
  • Prevents loitering  

It would be great to have some ideas to hit the ground running for programs when the garden is finished construction

What is the process to obtain permits for selling food or do public performance, etc?

What does the city's new cultural plan say about this?

How does the energy from one project (like the garden) feed into other projects (like the poetry)? How do the energies inspire and flow?

Do something for Manifest!

Student populations have quick turn-over. How do you pass along the engagement, excitement and knowledge in the space?

Faculty are here longer. Put out a call for proposals to make curriculum to engage the garden.
What about other departments? How can we get to them and ask for their ideas?

R25 politics. Campus spaces are sometimes dominated departmentally - departments are territorial. How do you avoid a power-grab?
Great way to have interdisciplinarity in action! 

Papermaker's Garden proposal was strong because it was tied into curriculum and that it would be inclusive to entire college community.

Plan annual events that people will anticipate.

Create an open house events for people to tour the space and think about how to use this space in their courses.

We need outreach to educate the faculty, staff, students about possibilities in the space

Papermaker’s Garden Club?
Downside of club is lack of continuity.

Arts management students could be engaged to program the space. 

What is campus like in the summer? Who is around?
Is there a potential for year-round use?

What do we do about electricity?
Can we do some alternative energy? Solar panels? Windmills?
Where is funding coming from?

Are there external sources of funding?

Could the college offer internships or college credit to manage this space? Undergraduate Research Initiative (URMI)? Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP)?

How do you get the community involved in Columbia’s aesthetic?

Who is the community?

Why do we need a Wabash Arts Corridor? Who benefits? Who is left out or does not belong (...yet)?

WAC = buy-in from community because it helps clean up the neighborhood

What does politics of belonging mean in a private space? What does that look like? What are good examples?

How can we engage the public in a private, institutional space?

Who are the neighbors and how will they be involved?
What are effective and creative strategies to engage the local community?

What’s the place of the artists’ hand(s) in these community projects? 

How can we have public art as action and still have businesses and institutions like Columbia feel like they get their deliverables?

If this space is permanently temporary, what happens when people grow to like this space and they decide to build the student center? This may be a reason why public input was not solicited - people become attached.


What is the history of Columbia?
History of the neighborhood, of the buildings?

How do we include stories of identity, politics, and history in our art work? Do you agree with Bedoya that it is important to do so? How do we include a sense of belonging through the work we create this weekend, and/or the future of the Papermaker’s Garden?

What is the difference between “placemaking” described in the Bedoya & PPS articles and the “social practice” described in the NYT articles?

What are the similarities & differences between creative placemaking and the changes taking place at Columbia via the Wabash Arts Corridor and the Papermaker’s Garden?


Tending to a Garden within the Pavement

Chris's early thoughts for the Papermaker's Garden

(This is a re-creation of my first blog post that I somehow deleted by accident, hitting "save" now...)

Averaged responses to the Place Game questionnaire, wherein 1 is excellent, 2 is fair, 3 is poor

Comfort & Image= 2.25

Access & Linkages=1.25

Uses & Activities=2.25


More questions....

1. What do you like best about this place?

I like that it exists at all, that someone took the time and energy to create a garden in an empty lot.  I like that Columbia was willing to devote this piece of prime real estate to be a garden.  Although wouldn't have been better for Columbia to sell the land so someone could put up another 7/11, not enough of those around...just kidding of course!  I also like the sheer size of the space, lots of potential for events.

2. List three things that you would do to improve this place that could be done right away and that wouldn’t cost a lot:

take down the fence

more (any) rain barrels

more raised beds

also ...maybe a birdhouse/feeder (maybe one that is too small for pigeons?) beehive, more flowers to feed bees (and bring joy)

maybe take down separator between garden and bike racks (don't people lock up bikes?  why do bike racks need to be fenced in), maybe leave up some of the back fences to expand the photo/art installations

I really like all the busted off bike reflectors on the fences, would like to see that expanded, and broadened to include any number of otherwise non-recyclable but kinda pretty hang-able stuff, like bottle caps, empty cigarette lighters, mardi gras beads, torn cloth, scratched cds....

3. What three changes would you make in the long term that would have the biggest impact?

More benches and poles for hammock installations, maybe a gazebo

Access to running water on site, for thirsty plants and people

dig out some sections of the many feet deep gravel to foster some bigger plants whose roots run deeper

4. Ask someone who is in the “place” what they like about it and what they would do to improve it. Their answer:

Yikes!!  I forgot to ask anyone when I was on-site!  Sorry!!

I did take a bunch of pictures.  I got a lot of dirty/confused looks from folks while doing so, as if they could not imagine why anyone would take pictures of such an unremarkable locale--and so, they seemed to presume that I was taking pictures of them.

Also, there really wasn't anyone "in" this place, only folks walking by it, none of whom seemed remotely curious about the place, despite the fact that it is the only urban garden in the vicinity.

5. What local partnerships or local talent can you identify that could help implement some of your proposed improvements? Please be as specific as possible.

Columbia grounds department, Columbia recycling department, Roots (Columbia student organization focused on gardening), maybe the CTA and whoever they have been partnering with for their public art installations, Chicago Honey Co-op (for bees), rooftop/urban garden experts, the handful of biology/ecology faculty at Columbia, whoever owns the parking lots adjacent to the space,  local mystics who can invite back in, have a special affinity with, ability to communicate with and for, ability to foster mating and reproduction of, and encourage joy (rather than displeasure) amongst whatever local fairies, elves, gnomes, plant devas, and other nature spirits who can enliven this space with the magic of life....

And now for some pictures....

Here we are, we can see the soil, but can't our hands dirty

tiny tulips!  its been a cool spring, so still some time before the blossoms bring joy

a little different angle

northwest (back) corner

north side

from the back, lots of space

photos and reflectors in the adjacent bike rack area

way far southwest corner, so much space!


front view from the street, when plants on the sidewalk leaf out
 the Garden won't be a visible...
a big beautiful sign or mural or mosaic could help....