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Assembly 2016: Conference of Socially Engaged Art Practices (PART 1)

Last weekend I booked a flight to Portland to attend Assembly, a four-day conference featuring presentations, discussions, interventions and activities that look at topics related to art and social practice.The conference is hosted by Portland State University which has a Master in Fine Arts program dedicated to art and social practice.

Over the next two weeks I’d like to highlight some of the pieces I saw at the conference. These will be posted in two parts. Part two of this blog post will be posted in two weeks.

It was brought to my attention by my Montreal-based colleague and social art practitioner, Vincent Brière, that it’s incredibly difficult to share the experience of social engaged art through 2D images or write-ups when socially engaged art relies heavily on the experience the participants had with one another and the event. So, I will inevitably fail at defining fully each of the following pieces I experienced. But, let’s try!

Williams Ave Mapping Circle

Emma Collburn in collaboration with Project Grow artists

I had just arrived in Portland and my first destination was to North Williams Avenue and Project Grow. Emma Collburn, the lead artist, had produced a series of community mapping exercise over the year in the area associated with North Williams Avenue. What I came to find out was that North Williams Avenue, since the 1980s had seen significant development that caused the demographic of the area to change. Emma Collburn engaged the community in mapping out where there had been significant economic investment put into the area, and where it hadn’t. For her presentation at Assembly, she had the public and artists at Project Grow, whose mission is to provide space for artists with mental and physical disabilities, collectively create a map of North Williams Avenue by attaching fabric to represent different city blocks. The project engaged me on several levels. On one level I was just getting to know Portland and learning about the issues of community development, gentrification and the displacement that I see far too often in the city I live in. It allowed me to learn a specific history of place. On another level it was great to see Emma engaging the artists at Project Grow in the creation of this piece. I got to tour around the facility and was blown away by how much the organization serves it’s community of mental and physically disabled artists, it’s inclusive policies, the urban garden business cycle they also teach their clients and the goat that hangs out by the window.

Click here to learn more about Project Grow http://www.albertinakerr.org/DevelopmentalDisability/CommunityInclusion/PortCity/Programs/ProjectGrow