Every time I've executed a successful socially engaged artwork I have also had an intimate connection with the local vicinity, it's people, it's politics, and its geographies both real and imagined. In California, I had the privilege of spending four years getting to know its landscape. Then, I lived in Baltimore for two years, immersing myself in the culture and people of West Baltimore through my work.
My time in Philadelphia prior to the fellowship at Fleisher was much shorter-lived than either Los Angeles/Claremont, California or Baltimore--only six months actually. Yet, the advantage that I had that enabled me to successfully create CONSUMPTION and Kitchen of Corrections with the men at Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, was the two years of local knowledge that Rick Lowe had acquired and subsequently imparted to Aletheia and me. My six months in residence was actually, in a way, two and a half years of work learning about the people and politics of Chinatown North.
In many ways in this residency, time was my main enemy. Aside from the concerns I had developed at the idea of partnering with Aunty Kim and Tweedy's, my ability to only be in Philadelphia for four days a week limited the amount of concentrated time I had to get to know the community, its needs, its wants, and more. Although I was able to build a strong connection with Aunty Kim and Tweedy's, I still don't believe it was strong enough to carry out the project successfully.
To get to know the neighborhood, in the four days of the week that I had, I would try to eat out locally and walk around the neighborhood as much as I could. However, I also tried to split that time in the studio where I either conducted research on nail art, nail salons, and refugee communities or I worked on some studio works that I have been wanting to complete for a while.
Then, when the day was through, I would head out of the neighborhood and up to Old City to the apartment to sleep. With how tough it was to find parking in that area, I often ended up leaving Fleisher for the apartment around six in the evening, which cost me some valuable hours of the day to explore and become more familiar with Southeast Philly.
In the end, I don't think I had an adequate familiarity of the community area where I was working.
That is all to say that moving forward I doubt I will take on a community based project anywhere unless I already have a strong connection to that place or location. Or at least a lot of support to learn about the area and synthesize that knowledge into a project quickly.