Dining with Ms. Dorothy
Partners in Housing is a great "not-for-loss" organization in Indianapolis whose focus is to "create or cause to be created permanent, supportive housing for the special needs population." We met yesterday with Partners' president Frank Hagaman, who told us that the company's goal is to eliminate the barriers that special needs population faces with regard to affordable housing. "Special needs" can mean a lot of things: people with HIV/AIDS, chronic mental illness, physical or mental disabilities, the frail elderly, or people recovering from drug or alcohol addictions. Partners in Housing creates these homes by purchasing and renovating dilapidated historic buildings.
The best part of the experience was our brief meeting with Ms. Dorothy, a resident at Colonial Park. As we finished lunch, the 72 year-old newly elected Resident Board President, told us a little about her own life and raved about her experience living at Colonial Park. Ms. Dorothy, who spent several homeless years in Tennessee, cares deeply about the community she and her neighbors have built. The residents watch out for each other, whethere it is keeping an eye out for potential crime or warning someone about ice on the sidewalk.
After a brief tour of Colonial Park and nearby Gladstone, we departed for the IUPUI Herron Art School, where we met with David, the curator for the gallery there.
His talk sparked a lot of discussion today. We passed the afternoon talking semantics, asking ourselves about the meaning of words like "sympathy" and "empathy;" "beauty" and "aesthetics;" "architecture" and "design."
"It's great to be wrong"
Yesterday we spent time listening to guest lecturers Ana De Brea, Tim Gray, and Jason Knapp. They had a lot of thoughts to share with us, particularly concerning our impending gallery installation. Reactions to these speakers, especially Jason, were strong.
Matt was taken by an image during Jason's presentation about his work on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"One of his photographs focuses on a Japanese Torii-gate surrounded by a landscape of rubble," writes Matt. "The gate, a religious and sacred portal, stands resilient against the devastation, almost proud and majestic. As a whole the image chilled me and made me think about its connection to leftover people. I wondered if one person or group of people (symbolized by the Torii-gate) can act as a beacon of hope amidst the forces which try to bring the rest of humanity to ruin. Our 'one small project' seems even more minuscule after hearing stories from the poverty simulation last night and from Jason’s images from Hiroshima. Can we, a group of middle-class white college students, effectively communicate our sympathy in an attempt to identify with leftover people? Is sympathy even the right word to use without sounding condescending? Mr. Knapp admitted that photos, words, and paintings cannot truly express the sense of loss and despair felt by homeless people. It seems that our goal at this point is to look beyond art and architecture and focus on the small encounters we have—the random handshake with a volunteer at Second Helpings, the smile from the man who makes $6,000 a year, that moment in time when we suddenly realize we are all cogs in a giant clock and that one cog will not work without the help of another."
Ana was concerned that we were approaching our installation from the wrong angle, thinking too much about facts and too little about affecting our "hearts and stomachs." She told a story about appreciating different kinds of beauty that I particularly enjoyed. Jason agreed, and shared his own concerns for art he has produced.
It was an eye-opening day, and I love the way Diana put it.
"It's great to be wrong," she said " and know that you've been wrong." Although we seem to agree that there's no "right" answer, I'd say this kind of willingness to change our minds is a step in the right direction.
Last night the college of architecture and planning hosted a lecture by the Lot-ek firm in New York. After an unconventional presentation (that could hardly even be called a lecture) we were fortunate enough to have dinner with the architects, Ada and Giuseppe.
As a group, we agreed that their presentation was especially innovative and captivating. Instead of showing pictures and explaining their design projects, they scrolled quickly through a series of photographs and words that inspired them first, after which Ada took the audience into her design confidence, sharing specs and concepts for their buildings. All of their projects were built out of recycled materials: shipping containers, decommissioned airplane bodies, water towers. Meg made a pointed observation.
"They presentation," she said, "is the theory without the theory." Original. Inspired. Simple.
The lecture and subsequent dinner inspired a lot of discussion among our group this morning. We talked about the public's insistence to link leftover materials to leftover people, why our immediate reaction to "building with shipping containers" is "send them to Africa!"
As Mona asked in her own documentation for the week, "Is there something wrong with branding and commercializing a shipping container home, making it chic and expensive, when the ready availability of the material makes it a good candidate for housing those who can’t afford anything more expensive? Is dumping shipping containers in Lagos a good way to find a use for a leftover material, or an act of unbearable condescension on the part of rich, Western philanthropists? Why do we even assume that leftover materials should be used for leftover people?"
"They are making it hip to live in a glorified trailer," said Bob. Maybe. As one audience member pointed out, living in shipping containers could make people feel like products. Again, maybe, but what about the clothes we wear, or the houses we build around ourselves?
It was a really great intellectual experience for our seminar, leaving me (and some of my peers) a bit unsettled.
Allow me to...