Last summer Nick and I produced an event called Sticks and Stones that has continued to make us question the focus of our work, perception of our community, what to do for our next social art piece. Now that the state of my community (like many others) has been "woke", there's been a lot of connecting and rallying. There was the worldwide women's march, a local peace march on MLK Day, Immigrants' March, gatherings, heart to heart talks, forums, blogs, media, all seemingly moving toward the goal of protecting ourselves and one another, our liberties, rights, privileges, examining injustices, exploration of next steps...not to mention the upcoming International Women's Day / Day Without a Woman this Wednesday, March 8th.
I had even considered the importance of holding a mothers event (and really not just moms but those that support women and families) on Mothers' Day at Edith C. Hefley Park, a small tot lot just north of Recreation Park in the Normal Park neighborhood. I had heard it was underutilized and had some attention on Ypsi Proud Day (the day formerly known as Ypsi P.R.I.D.E Day) but could use some activity. I found this tidbit from the Ypsilanti Gleanings archive: "Ypsilanti Peace Fellowship dedicated the park in 1987 as the Edith C. Hefley Peace Park after the name of a Vietnam Peace Activist who lived in the neighborhood of the park. Since the dedication, the Peace Fellowship has met on Mother's Day to set out plants and to picnic in the park." (author Doris Milliman)
I had envisioned children and adults coming together to meet someone they didn't know before and share in a lesson, teach one another something they're really good at, whether it's a recipe or how they tie their shoes. That made me ponder:
• How will I make sure that everyone finds out about it from all parts of the city?
• Even if we alert the neighbors, will it be disruptive?
• Am I being too presumptuous to think that everyone wants to learn something?
• Will it be impactful enough that this experience will resonate and build more experiences beyond this day?
• Will everyone feel "welcome?"
And that's my biggest quandary. Marches and gatherings are about taking a common space in a public realm. But what does it feel like when you go to a community event very close to other peoples' homes, say a neighborhood tot park, when your street doesn't look or feel the same way, doesn't have the same amenities or privileges (maybe yours has more, maybe yours has less) or cultural practices? When I was out taking photos the other day, the neighbor across the street came out of his house to walk the dogs and was kind enough to tell me that the park is actively used by parents and had even had some additions made to it late in the season which he thinks will bring out even more people this spring. It no longer seemed like the unactivated space I thought it was. Plus, I don't live in Normal Park so that was another consideration for inserting myself into the neighborhood or staking a space. Back to the drawing board.
For all the history and nuanced magic of Ypsilanti, the city is still very divided by history and newness, race, experience, even former school districts (Ypsilanti and Willow Run) and its district lines. I've met many exceptional folks in Ypsi, ready to dive in to social, cultural, educational circles to reach out, help, share. But many of those circles do not intersect broadly beyond age and race, civic versus citizen, privileged versus underserved. And it's no one's fault. How do we step back and see the big picture, all at once?
Because of this, I've given myself a new assignment.
The aim of my next project is to produce a work accessible to as many of the nearly 20,000 citizens of Ypsilanti as possible, affect them in a manner that is positive and create domino opportunities of action from it.