Saturday Morning

Mon-Valley conference


Tim- introduction.  Today is all about taking a chance.


I don’t know who the community members are who will come to this.  Break up into 3 or 4 groups.  How can we enable their creative voice.  Enable their sense of creative change.  From 9 to 11 we’ll break out into two separate groups.


Based on your work:

  1. how do we influence public places? 

What are the issues.


  1. are there simple evocative ideas for public discussion

to externalize creative authorship


some of the local folks- can you describe some of the issues.

Budget/Race/ Economy/Environmental

Aging population 70%

Flight of youth

Feudalistic foundation

Industrial Degradation

Historical changes in relationship to the river

Mon- Fayette Expressway

Water Quality

Scale of Power (no ability to make decisions on a regional level)


Stephanie-  a list of things we were calling a tool box. (I wasn’t able to get them all)




Paint brushes


Being  blood hound

How to organize across disciplines



Visual representation


Being Collaborative-

Making alliances

Team building

Self- organization

Cheek- carefully


Contesting power structures-

Critical thinking

Risk taking


Humor wit


 local imbedded knowledge

oral history- anecdotal




Respect for other lives in the lan


Break out Session –

Brett Bloom - Temporary Services

Erica Fielder

Stephanie Flom

Reiko Goto

Dan Gretton – PLATFORM

Helen Harrison

Nicola Kirkham

Connie Merriman

Malcolm Miles

Ann Rosenthal


How do we influence public places? (if we speak personally- makes it easier to answer)

Bret- A lot of it is giving yourself permission to act- could be illegal, transgresive. Others can do it, too.

Helen- Others can see you doing it.  What you do is a model.

Bret- Not so much being a model, but there is a fluidity that’s already there.  For me it is not wanting to be a model- an authority.

Helen- What I’ve observed over the years is that when we take permissions, other people learn from that.

Bret- Yeah

Nicola- The conditions of our life and work are linked to certain truths.  What is possible to say that the condition of your life and work can take on significance that they are inseparable.

Reiko- We have to take this to the community.

Malcolm- The moment we compromise the content, we’re lost.  Somehow we have to retain the complexity, but find the language.

ConnieOne of the things I try to do is try to have polarized groups talk to each other with respect, even if there is a big difference of opinions. Curious about civil disobedience.

Bret-  For us it comes from our lives and creating a context for others to work.  It comes from our own needs and capacities. We have a pirate radio station and we don’t hide…more direct, non-commercial, and independent. Civil disobedience means making your own culture.

Stephanie- Can we make a list of concrete ways from your own practice.

Erika- From my own practice I  create a situation to make one to one change.

Stephanie- So you(Erika) make opportunities for one on one. And Bret, you make a radio station.

Erika- And listening (which is different than what you do) is a big part of what I do.

Malcolm- I want to point out that the context is different and powerful in determining what we do.

Nicola- The context is your work.

Ericka- So you create your context.

Nicola- That’s the question.

Dan- What is the context for this meeting this afternoon?  How is it framed?

Stephanie- Tim and Reiko have been organizing around the Mon Valley that includes Homestead, McKeesport, and Braddock.  Many people from this area are familiar with these places.

Nicola- Can I comment?  That the discussion is always framed by the future and the past, not in what happens now.  I suggest we talk in the present tense.


Q- Who sponsors an event? Do you need power?

Helen- probably - we use the museums very often.  Can we use them for public dialogue.  We’ve found that for us, we deal with one hierarchically- one organization with power invites us and them, and let the ngo’s and other organizations organize themselves.  Make a presentation and let it evoke response.  One of the ways we go about it, we talk about a situation that exists and our response to it.  Look a this community and what could happen there. Btw. The possible, probable and the utopic.  Works with hope rather than condemnation

Dan- How does that fit with what Nicola is saying about staying in the present?

Helen- What people respond to us with is- their present. What is wrong and …

Connie- What usually happens is Tim and Reiko usually research the problems before the day, and then they provide the experts who can respond to those problems. And the small groups address little problems.

Reiko- Aren’t these the issues? (Pointing the list of issues about Mon Valley on the white board) Can’t we just go there?

Ann- I don’t think these forums could be used as a sounding board.

Malcolm- very good cartoon… We have to be careful that we’re not a panel of experts.

It’s important to get to the other layer where everyone has creativity.

Reiko- How do we get there?  And a lot of what we hear is about the past.

Dan- This community- if you send out something that says- talk with artists activists and environmentalists.  It’s fine to look at this as a community of interest. (other artists, activists and environmentalists) it’s patronizing- these people are peers.

Stephanie- Can- let us have the courage to speak with our language- lets not put an artificial shared language that would be banal in the extreme.

Reiko- I don’t understand.

Erika- I can share my portfolio briefly. I think we should ask them what they want- until they speak first, even if they fumble around.


Reiko   there is a misunderstanding- but tim is making a powerpoint presentation about each groups work. Secondly,  here in Pittsburgh, when we go to a community meeting about creating a new public art, discussions about what they would like to see.  what they want- they all say they want steel sculpture.

Helen-I would have said we will  present ways in which people have used to do this.   And make it clear we want to hear about them.  Give them an idea that something is possible.

Stephanie- For part two- when we get back together as a group, we have to put those simple evocative ideas on the table.  I think we should go to number two.

Erika- Are we finished with number one?

Nicola- With number one- we will never be done- that there is an infinite number of ideas for influencing public places.

Helen-  The question is how can we increase the quality of life including all life/ nature.

Erica- The eco-system.


Q- How can we increase the quality of life for all living creatures?

Nicola- You’re answering the question- how do you influence public space- you have to rewrite the question.

Dan- Challenging what is regarded as normal and acceptable.

Malcolm-  I’m not sure that public space really exists any more – we have to redefine that- radio, TV, public conversation yes- plazas no.

Bret- We’ve banished that word of public space.  We talk about shared spaces.

Erica- I like that better because it brings in other beings.

Malcolm- It’s like –how do you reoccupy space.  How do you occupy another space besides the domestic?

Bret- Make the shared space visible. It’s not just outside. If it is an indoor space, it should affect outdoor. Focus on abandoned buildings and lots. It could be a storefronts in Homestead. In Geneva Switzerland. Squatting is acceptable. Young people come and make culture. It’s ideas about ownership and property that are in the way.

Helen- In Holland, our project Green Hart of Holland opened up all these unused spaces to artists. Living spaces. \ The other thing I want to talk about it storefronts- the idea we brought up in Baltimore talking about the promanade… how to open that back up.  We showed them how these large buildings with one entrance… but the multi-store fronts are portraits of the people who make their business there.

Nicola- Bret was saying in Geneva, the attitude to real estate was very different, What they are producing is empty storefronts.

Bret- There is a fundamentalism about owning property.  I think we do have to talk about temporary use and relaxing of building codes. How do you prevent someone from coming in and taking over from the artists later on and capitalizing on their success?

Connie- Braddock is a perfect example of that.  The whole town is boarded up.  Hospital and drugs are primary economy of Braddock.

Connie and Stephanie talk about the history of Braddock, and the Carnegie library.

Erika- Are people wanting to celebrate that history? Are they still wanting to recover that industry? We need to get a sense of that feeling from them .

Stephanie- I just want to say that those stories and longing for steel is still really powerful.

Bret- I think you have to confront that.  I don’t like to see myself as a problem solver, but I think we have to address this.

Ann – mentions an artists who works with getting beyond the pain. How do we pass beyond the pain? I think we do need to address the pain by listening.

Dan- You can bury something but it will come back.  If you can combine nostalgia with something that actually exists now, like- formation of unions, like fights today about workers rights, Wall Mart- illegal aliens, combine that story with nostalgia, you’ve got something really alive.

Connie- Many people feel that the unions let them down and betrayed them.

Reiko- Recently 700 city workers were layed-off. After building  the two stadiums.

Connie- It seems like its all so corrupt.

Reiko- Somebody named this place Steel town. Everybody was proud.  The environment is better now, but  people are  not  proud of that.

Dan- I think that what is really needed is another view to see themselves.  You’ve got people who’ve never been here before and use these people who have the new eyes.  If you embed the idea of a green city- then it would be possible to strip mine a city. 

Nicola- They’re seeing the strip mine as an opportunity for jobs.

Connie- They’ll do anything for ten jobs.

Nicola- You don’t need to tell them their town is great.

Helen- We ‘re also seeing these spaces boarded up, but this could be potential.

Bret- there is  tremendous potential- you can never exhaust the space for culture- bingo- whatever.  Oh I think they’re going to be doing this in Copenhagen

Erica- I want to tie a few things together.  If they don’t believe in the unions, then they will have themselves.  Maybe we can stay in the present tense, and talk about the vacant buildings, (and vacant lots) and think bout what people might do if they had access to these buildings.

Connie- Main issue in this town of economy is group parachuting in. We need a new idea of economy for this town. 

Helen- Appropriate spaces need attention. Maybe we could say appropriating spaces.

Erika- I just came from Burlington to find out their remediation projects.  All of these systems require jobs. But in every town there is a needs to switch systems. Grow local food as economic source. We can begin this as a seed.  Starting a local currency.  Green industry creates a bio intensive economy. Ithica's most famous- with own bank.

Connie- Look at why we are doing this. I think this is a special skill of artist to look at things the way they are. This place is about industry, but Whole Foods is big new store here, and people are laying down their money for organic produce.

Helen- Improving health is important.


Stephanie- (looking at what we need to do)

Malcom- What are the categories for?

Steph- For the toolbox.

Reiko- “Change the question”- that was a huge tool for us this morning. There are more tools we found; listen carefully,  give self a permission to act, address present, context determine what we do, and make the shared space visible.

Connie- Sometimes all strategies should be present, but sometimes a certain strategy will work.

Nicola- Are you talking about strategic knowledge?

Malcolm- The steel history was a good industry- it provided many jobs and instilled a sense of pride.  Now it’s gone.  It was a bad industry- it polluted and left little legacy for many people. It is hard to separate good or bad. We must create a new history that  elicits pride in communities.

Dan- I think its important separate the social history from the environmental history.

Bret- There is an amazing European example of reinacting mining strikes around Orgreave.  It (the project) seemed like it was effective for some, and not for others.  The strikes had a huge impact on these places.

Connie- The pump house is considered like a church to unionism.

Helen- I think this is an important thing.  Restoring of the river- say- look we did this- can we gather people to look at the river.  Don’t let your successes go unnoticed.

Erika- I’d like to go over what we’ve discussed.  (then she went over what she was going to talk about- see summary) pre view for getting together with the other group.

Group discussion ensued- my fingers need a little break.

Bret- Bio-intensive urban farming.  Found a way to generate a sustainable amount of income by selling heirloom tomatoes to high-end restaurants. 

Helen- We’ve done fish farming. (she explains a diagram: top figure-food, middle-farming,  bottom-industry) The question is the cost of energy.


Reiko- Can you define what is shared space?

Erika- To me, shared space includes all species.  That the town includes places for the forest to enter the towns. It connects nature and city.

Helen-A shared space is cared for by diverse people.

Bret- The term shared space means a collective understanding insisting that it’s shared: a private house or it can be a crack house, storefront, CSO, polluted rivers, and bus stop.

Helen- Reforesting a hillside affects wildlife and air quality.

Erika- Cheryl seemed to want to manicure her town.  And those gardens require a lot of maintenance.

Helen- I think we should reintroduce the idea of meadows as opposed to lawns.

Reiko- I  would like to hear from Nicola and Dan about shared space.

Nicola- The creative commons, and creating commons.

Dan- Anywhere outside the domestic space- anything outside the private space.

Bret- I think the idea of the commons is just an ideal of public space. And it is problematic.

Nicola- yeah- that’s not what I meant- lawns no, fences no. I’m not meaning the socialist utopia of commons.

Connie- It’s a political term almost.







Tim- I’ve prepared a brief power point.

Discussion of how to organize. 

Tom- is this a democracy?

More discussion of what we’re doing.


Braddock Library

October 25, 2003



Permission to reproduce notes from this meeting has not been obtained by all in attendence