Salon Session

Salon Session #4 - The Session in Review

On Thursday, November 17th, Place Lab hosted the fourth Session of our year-long Ethical Redevelopment Salon. In this entry, Place Lab Operations + Administrative Manager, Naomi Miller, reports on the Session.

This Salon Session, we focused on Principle #4: The Indeterminate—a guiding tenet built on concepts of imagination, intuition, and faith. The Principle encourages an approach to redevelopment work that permits for the suspension of knowing, embracing uncertainty, accepting ambiguity; believe in your project but resist believing there is only one path to achieve it.



In response to the first three Salons, we heard from many members that they wanted more time with each other—more time for unstructured discussion and hanging out. The Indeterminate seemed like a perfect Principle for this to happen. In the early afternoon, members met at the Listening House on Dorchester Avenue for this undirected purpose. After a thorough tour and narrative arc of the Listening House and Archive House  by Place Lab team member Mejay Gula, visiting guest expert, Leslie Koch, talked about the project she had shepherded from idea to implementation for a decade: the redevelopment of Governors Island, in New York, as a dynamic public space. It being a week after the Presidential election, Leslie played a video of the dedication ceremony this past summer, pausing to remark that everything she spoke about feels that much more important.

Formerly a military base in the New York Harbor, Governor’s Island is now a public park operated by the Trust for Governor’s Island and is largely programmed by the public. Salon Members listened as Leslie described how she and her team figured out the project as it evolved and navigated funders and government without a primary vision. Leslie detailed an open submission process for exhibitions, installations, and programs on the Island. Without a formal review process, or a budget, this approach meant people were truly allowed to dictate the type of activities and programs that took place throughout the year. This democratic/anarchic, approach felt like a stark difference between the highly curated and closely considered programming that might take place in other premier public spaces. The assembled group asked questions and shared thoughts as they drank tea and ate snacks. One question probed the importance of context and place in that the project had singular factors—an island in New York, a major city with enormous cultural capital—but could such a project succeed elsewhere?


A sedate Theaster Gates opened the Salon with some thoughts also influenced by the election. He called on members to think about the challenges and complications involved in their projects—how city structures and a lack of courage make things that much more difficult in forging a path for their work. Drawing parallels with the state of the country, Theaster offered that power can be gained from embracing this moment of indeterminacy, that “things that seem symbolically and realistically out of our control—there are still ways to affect change with the people we touch and the people around us.” With Steve Edwards, they agreed to turn towards the adversity, to meet it instead of turning inwards, and to more fully engage networks of people, one of which has been formed through the Salons and is proving to be greater than its grant-based intention.

To flesh out Theaster’s introduction of indeterminacy and the topic for the evening, Steve compared the standard development process with that of Ethical Redevelopment—how the traditional process requires an endgame to satisfy risk-averse investors and to meet the litany of requirements for local and state governments. For Ethical Redevelopment, which prioritizes art and culture to lead interest in disinvested neighborhoods, The Indeterminate plays as much of a role in the process as a determined plan does. It’s an element familiar to artists as they turn an idea into substance—the unknown teaches and leads their practice so that a path is a process of discovery. Ethical Redevelopment leaves room for project iterations—a version, then another, then another—that are refined over time, leveraging serendipity and considering imagination and belief as assets.

What question you ask is probably the most important thing you will do.
— Leslie Koch

With this initial definition in mind, Steve welcomed Leslie for a brief discussion about the initial phases of turning Governor’s Island into a public park that places arts and culture at its core. Leslie revealed that they had a Master Plan but no money in which to carry it out. Instead of clarifying a vision, she took the approach of recognizing that cities are inherently messy, drew a parallel with the artistic process, and went from there. “What question you ask is probably the most important thing you will do,” said Leslie. Her question was “What to do first?” rather than “What will Governor’s Island be?” In working with governments, the question you ask frames (and reveals) the situation even if you don’t know what it is. The language you use is also of utmost import—drop often esoteric field-specific terms and colloquialisms, instead using words and structures that are comprehensible across communities. Clear language allows for clearer, accessible projects. Learn what Governor’s Island has become based on this approach.


Three Salon Members briefly presented about their respective projects, each of which are at different stages and scales, and have different goals. Brent Wesley (aka Wesley of Wesley Bright & the Honeytones) recounted how he created the Akron Honey Company (“It was an accident, really”), and described being convinced by a friend to become a beekeeper and use Brent's newly acquired lot for making honey. Brent figured that not only would he never have to buy honey again, he would also be able fulfill his aim to add value and provide a community-use for the lot. Through a number of iterations, Brent grew the company to a place he never imagined: cosmetics. Along the way, he learned to make and sell microbatched honey, produced a Market Day on a quiet street, and was a contestant (winning and ultimately declining an investment offer) on Cleveland Hustles.

On the other end of the project spectrum was Angela Tillges, who spoke about recently relocating from Chicago to her hometown of St. Paul in order to implement (with one colleague) the Great River Passage (GRP) initiative for the city. The ambitious GRP master plan includes 321 arts-and-culture projects, which Angela is charged with seeing to fruition, in the parks, public space, and natural land along the city’s 17-mile stretch of the Mississippi River. Two months into the project at the time of her Salon presentation, Angela said she’d spent a few days in the office and the rest of the time onsite, observing and talking to people without revealing her job title. Hefting the sizable, weighty publication that is the GRP master plan above her head, Angela pointed out its determinacy while noting that the process of enacting its prescribed steps and number of projects is anything but. She thought of the projects as seeds: some will fail, others will become something else, some will bear fruit—and she will be an attentive gardener.

Somewhere in between the self-starting Akron Honey Company and a city-directed initiative lies the efforts of Keir Johnston and Ernel Martinez of AMBER Art & Design, an artists’ collective in Philadelphia. AMBER is working with the Fairmount Park Conservancy (FPC) to repurpose one of the park’s disused mansions in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood and activate it as a museum that preserves the cultural identity of the neighborhood as it changes. Keir and Ernel described the history of the ethnic and cultural makeup of the neighborhood, which began as a WASP-y summer retreat, changed to a mixed-income community populated by Jewish people, then to a disinvested neighborhood almost exclusively populated by African Americans. Ernel and Keir said they are in the process of talking with the existing coalitions and networks in the community. By creating partnerships, securing the structure, and gaining the residents’ investment, they said they hoped to make an institution that they can hand to the residents for self-stewardship.


During the discussion with the panel and the following conversation with Steve, Theaster, and Leslie, we mined the concepts that underlie The Indeterminate—imagination, intuition, and faith—finding links and new aspects. One of them was credibility. In order to create believers in your project, you need to build credibility. This can happen through people who already know you, which is how Brent received early support—through his family, friends, and neighbors. Leslie approached it from the opposite side: she was the government and needed win the trust of the tax-payers. She built credibility through being consistent in her messaging of what she was going to do and then actually doing what she said: transparency, narrative, and being clear and consistent. Theaster needed to build credibility early on with the city before they would fund him because he didn’t have a track record, a place many people find themselves at the beginning of their work. Sometimes meeting the interests of a city first builds the credibility, which allows for flexibility further down the line. Trust, faith, and belief are highly valued foundations of any neighborhood-based, multi-partnered project and a lot of work goes into establishing them.

Theaster discovered that methods of iteration work well for building credibility. He observed: “Indeterminacy is closely related to iteration.” An iterative process allows a version to follow another, changing each time in response to feedback on the previous one. But iterations are often superseded by the hype around master plans, which is determinacy defined. Much of the discussion volleyed back and forth between these two ideas, noting the nuances of each. For example, master plans are often best used for discussions with funders and government—people who feel reassured that some sort of map and end game exists. It’s another piece of the credibility puzzle. But master plans are often of little to no interest to the public; as Leslie noted, “Humans don’t relate to master plans.” They’re exhaustive, exhausting, and exist next to reality instead of in it. Some members pointed out that master plans have been used as tools to deny access for a project. Theaster commented that there might be a way for them to be turned into a tool that works for you—make it a document that actually communicates and connects instead of being an unrealistic explosion of imagination and excitement. 

Our discussion exploring the tension between master plans and iterations also highlighted the tensions between the priorities of different groups of people involved in a project's process. Developers, funders, neighborhood members, and artists each have different relationships to risk, and can easily and often find themselves in opposition. While funders and investors work to lower the unknowns and manage fear, artists inherently embrace risk by taking leaps of faith in order to bring something new to light. Suggestions were made about how to work around these conflicts. Artists could work with their social and cultural capital (and what exists with neighborhoods and partners) before even broaching economics—they might be surprised how far this goes. Another approach underlined the usefulness of iteration for several groups: they can show investors that there are people who will use the space, and the neighborhood sees that the space is for them. In general, members agreed that it’s easier to begin at a low-cost basis, or as Leslie phrased it, “Think big, act small.”

Leslie also emphasized the importance of narrative, language, and framing. She encouraged members to use real language and to be honest with all individuals on the power spectrum. You need to be clear on what you are about and why you are different. Shaking her head, she described some of the language she used in her narrative early on because it acted more like filters and veiled messages rather than stating clearly what was going on. And it’s important to know when you’ve run ahead of your own narrative—assess when it needs to be revisited and revised. Theaster nodded in agreement that language can work against you later in the process: “Don’t box yourself in by using a certain kind of specificity when no one’s asking for it.” Leave space for change.

Space is also needed for inefficiency, a point Theaster made by saying “Iteration makes room for inefficiency.” He underlined that inefficiencies are a part of the process, and need to have a meaning and carry a value—if they are perceived as a waste, then people become fearful of iteration. What if the government valued The Indeterminate as much as any other box to check off in their process? Room for error, for iteration, for learning and living is needed. This musing lead to another one by a member who asked how we could include developers in these conversations, how to show them the pros and cons of ambiguity versus results. It’s assumed that only artists are skilled with working with the indefinite when city planners, programmers, and project implementers work very much in the same way.

Part V

Salon Session 4 Takeaways

  1. The role of curiosity—ask questions, listen, learn, pursue your interests
  2. Master planning works for funders and government, not as effective for residents
  3. Build room in a master plan for The Indeterminate
  4. Use iteration to begin at a low-cost basis, build credibility, allow for efficiencies, and minimize risk
  5. Be intentional and consistent with narrative, language, and framing
  6. Ask the right question for the project
  7. Use social and cultural capital for buy in
  8. Risk means different things to different people
  9. To build credibility, be honest, clear, and transparent
  10. Leave room for the project to evolve and be discovered

Part VI

At the close of these various threads of conversation, Steve invited members to talk to each other, tell each other stories about the work they do, and generally socialize. Again, we wanted to make sure the members had time to connect and have casual, intimate conversations. We also set up a Confessional Couch where members could tell a story about their project in front of a video camera. Videos will be made available at a later date on our website and Ethical Redevelopment group page on Facebook. Feel free to join the group and learn more about the projects our members are doing around the US and engage in discussion.


Pedagogy. Place. Liberation.

D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, S uper Space Riff: An Ode to Octavia Butler and Mae Jamison in VIII Stanzas . Photo: Matt "Motep" Woods

D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, Super Space Riff: An Ode to Octavia Butler and Mae Jamison in VIII Stanzas. Photo: Matt "Motep" Woods

D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem is an Afro-Futurist space sculptor, performance artist, designer, writer, and educator. For the last 15 years, her award-winning work has bridged the disciplines of interior design, site-specific sculpture, public art practice, and science fiction. Duyst-Akpem is the founder of Denenge Design+Studio Verto which offers specialized, holistic design services and site-specific sculpture for residential and commercial clients. 

In this guest blog, Duyst-Akpem reflects on the methodology of liberation.

As a scholar and practitioner, I utilize the teaching of Afro-Futurism as a methodology of (Black) liberation. The foundation of this is exercising the visionary and imagination muscles in sculpting new futures that affirm the present and are rooted in the past.

Afro-Futurism is more than a desire to take a ride on a spaceship—though, of course, I would welcome the chance for an orbiting spa vacation or a lunar exploration—rather, it is about possibility and learning to activate that in a concrete, effective ways. In this, the connections with Place Lab and Principle #3: Pedagogical Moments are in concert.

In my courses on Afro-Futurism, we cover a range of texts and practitioners to gain the broadest vision of this genre, beginning with Sun Ra’s iconic film Space Is The Place. Other works which address issues of place and space, of community and individual agency, include: W.E.B. DuBois’s The Comet; Paul Miller’s Rhythm Nation and Book of Ice; and Wanuri Kahiu’s award-winning short film Pumzi which presents a post-water wars settlement in what is present-day Kenya and merges environmental consciousness with representations of science, technology, archiving, and costume beyond the usual Euro-Western frame.

By centering and studying in earnest the creative representations of place and community in African Diasporic and Indigenous works, we move past ingrained Eurocentric notions of how things “should” be or how things are, and open space to imagine ourselves in the future which brings students back to the present, to their own agency as they see themselves reflected. I emphasize through the curation of the syllabus students’ ability to shape experience and movement through the world. Space becomes malleable; time can be spiral; and underground digital pathways are sites of radical re-envisioning of self and community.

Still from  Pumzi  (Wanuri Kahiu, South Africa, 2009, 23 min)

Still from Pumzi (Wanuri Kahiu, South Africa, 2009, 23 min)

It is about exercising that visionary muscle. I watch the development of students over the course of four months, entering the study of Afro-Futurism with careful interest, excitement, curiosity, wondering how the concepts may apply to their work. As Stevie Wonder sings in “A Seed’s A Star/Tree Medley” from the iconic Secret Life of Plants in reference to Po Tolo in Dogon cosmology, the seeds grow to sturdy young plants over the course of the semester. Students who may not have found space to express their voices or who have never been centered before find fertile ground here. I present Afro-Futurism through a lens of liberatory practice, an Africanist foundation that honors infinite ways of being; through art historical study and embodied ritual—recognizing the body as a space also that can be activated through location with location and sculptural objects—students find their own power and radiate the outward into their relationships, their communities, and their work as artists and conscious cultural producers.

This year, the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California, in collaboration with Radio Imagination has hosted a monthly series of events, film screenings, and commissioned works by practitioners such as Mendi + Keith Obadike whose sound works reconfigure how we understand memory, history, space, and time. As Butler wrote her future into being, we learn to manifest our own futures, declaring as she did “So be it!  See to it!”

A hopeful and inspiring development in this vision of Afro-Futurism as a pathway and methodology of liberation was last week’s final Afro-Futurism course media presentations at School of the Art Institute Chicago (SAIC). Of particular interest to the Place Lab discussions, one student chose to contextualize newly elected Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx as an example of Afro-Futurism in action through her commitment to seeking justice for the disenfranchised and using her position to fight the prison industrial complex. Additionally, students also presented on the intersectional art of Juliana Huxtable as representative of Afro-Futurism’s shape-shifting qualities and on Theaster Gates’s projects that seek to reshape space and our understanding of community engagement. We had a lively discussion of Place Lab and its role in Chicago and beyond.

Recommended Reading

Rockeymoore, Mark. What is Afrofuturism?

Hairston, Andrea. Octavia Butler—Praise Song for a Prophetic Artist

Nelson, Alondra. Afrofuturism: Past-Future Visions

For further information, and please feel free to contact me at or Visit and I’d be happy to discuss this topic and its relationship to Ethical Redevelopment further at any of our future Salons.

Salon Session #3 - The Session in Review

On Wednesday, October 19th, Place Lab hosted the third Session of our year-long Ethical Redevelopment Salon. In this entry, Place Lab Operations + Administrative Manager, Naomi Miller, reports on the Session.

This Salon Session, we focused on Principle #3: Pedagogical Moments—opportunities for knowledge transfer that can happen at any stage of work and where the roles of teacher and student continuously shift. The Principle advises that when involved in mindful neighborhood-, community-, and city-building, we must practice a consciousness of these moments or anticipate how these moments can be structured as part of the development process. It is our social responsibility to bring people along for the ride.


To show a nontraditional model of pedagogy, we visited Chicago’s Iron Street Farm, which is part of Growing Power’s urban agricultural community food system. Utilizing a 7-acre abandoned food hub, Erika Allen and her staff oversee year-round food production, vermicompost, mushroom production, an apiary, and urban pygmy goats. Salon members were given a tour by a staff member who once was a part of the organization’s program that trains and employs over 300 city youth annually, teaching them about these systems, methods, and production. By demonstrating and educating about equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food, Growing Power’s achieves its mission to grow minds and to grow community. 

Isis Ferguson, Place Lab’s Associate Director of City and Community Strategy, visited Growing Power prior to the Session; you can read about her visit here. Recently, Growing Power added a CTA bus to the Fresh Moves program, a mobile produce market that serves disinvested local neighborhoods.

The next site visit was to the University of Chicago’s Arts Incubator, operated by Arts + Public Life (APL) and the home of Place Lab’s offices. At the Incubator, the education department team asked us about an instructive moment or person in our lives, a question that elicited stories about family members, epiphanies, and time-delayed realizations.

APL staff members Marya Spont-Lemus, Quenna Barrett, and Gabe Moreno run a number of teen programs, including APL’s Design Apprenticeship Program, Teen Arts Council, and Community Actors Program, engaging teens in design/build, performance, and arts and culture administration, among other activities. These programs not only educate but employ teens, who learn essential job-related skills, leadership, and social development in addition to cultivating their creativity. A number of neighborhood teens have participated in the education offerings at APL, which have assumed a graduated structure to accommodate higher levels of engagement as the students master skills and look for more responsibility. The programs also maintain a level of flexibility to accommodate interests of the participants. For example, this past summer after redesigning and building new planters for our neighbor Chicago Youth Programs, the teens considered the play area and decided to build a new playhouse.


Over the course of Salon Session #3, many issues we’ve explored in the first two Sessions came up, including the intricate web of questions and ideas around community engagement and engaged participation. While it felt like we were at risk of repeating the conversations previously had, what emerged over the course of discussion were sincere efforts to talk about how complicated the issues are and dig deeper into them, unpacking and looking more closely.

To open this third Session, Place Lab screened a short highlights video from the first two that demonstrated pedagogical moments within the Salon. 

Many of the issues raised in the previous Session were revisited throughout the night, such as the double standard that requires nonprofits to offer transparency and be mission-driven while traditional developers do not. Discussion also centered on the “triple tax” of doing neighborhood-based development projects—the extra costs associated with ethical and inclusive work. Ethical Redevelopment demands greater effort, which goes into listening, teaching, and working through layers of oppression in order to move projects forward. This triple tax often becomes a barrier to scaling up, while in traditional models of development efficiency is prioritized and projects become disconnected from the communities that are purportedly being represented. 

In Ethical Redevelopment, it is not for you to become a better colonizer.
— David Stovall

David Stovall, professor at the University of Illinois Chicago and high school teacher, took the mic and gave a stirring talk about pedagogy itself. Pedagogy is not just a theory of teaching, but also a method of inquiry on the very practice of teaching and the comparative value of instructional design models. 

David gave an example from his own classroom. Speaking specifically of his high school students, David shared a question that he proposes to them: “What does a pedagogical practice look like using a racial justice frame?” The question is meant to get the students to address the underlying barriers to knowledge acquisition. In this instance, students are prompted to identify and examine structural racism, colonialism, isolationism, and marginalization. David acknowledged that he also gains valuable insight from the process, learning from his students even as he teaches. This is the heart of a pedagogical practice: it is liberating knowledge acquisition from the rigid model of instructor/student, compelling both sides to deepen inquiry and thereby strengthening the quality of understanding.

Through the pedagogical principle, David explained, redevelopers remain constantly aware that they are also part of the community they seek to serve, a driver and a beneficiary of the project. Instead of the singular question “How do I make my project work?,” the inquiry is multifaceted and the questions become: “Who has been excluded and under what terms? What is the redress for what has been taken? How do we reclaim agency?” From this deep, constant process of checking-in, a new framework emerges: “How do we make our project work?”

As David summarized it: “In Ethical Redevelopment, it is not for you to become a better colonizer.”

Following this academic discussion about pedagogy, Sam Darrigrand provided an example of direct application. Darrigrand, Workforce Development Manager at Rebuild Foundation, defined the program he manages as a business model with a community purpose: what can be learned while being on payroll? The program employs individuals who were formerly incarcerated and who are often deemed “unemployable.” Sam described meeting people where they’re at, finding opportunities for soft-skill development, and unpacking moments of conflict to see what’s behind them. The Workforce Development Program is being incorporated into a number of upcoming projects led by Theaster Gates, including Kenwood Gardens where participants will acquire skills in construction, landscaping, design, and related trades. 

For the night’s final presentation, artist Carol Zou spoke about the project Trans.lation and her role as its project manager in the Vickery Meadows neighborhood of Dallas, Texas. Trans.lation began as a monthly series of pop-up markets by artist Rick Lowe and the Nasher Museum of Art in a mixed neighborhood of immigrants and refugees from 120 countries as well as American minorities. Today, the project is an arts and cultural platform used for resident-led councils, resident-taught workshops, professional development, and pop-up exhibitions, and asks “How do we build cross-cultural learning platforms in order to develop community capacity and leadership?” 

The project employs art as a cross-culture translation mechanism, but over time it has, by necessity, had to evolve to meet the “ordinary” needs of its community. Carol shared some of these needs, such as how the offering of Arabic language class becomes far more complex when participants are facing barriers like inconvenient or broken transportation systems. Carol also expanded on how teaching often becomes an opportunity for learning in Trans.lation, such as when the organizers of a general American Sign Language class discovered from participants that their language-learning concerns were specifically tied to helping them study for their citizenship exams.

Carol emphasized the importance of language justice, and holding space for everyone’s preferred mode of communication. As Trans.lation has grown, Carol has had to realign expectations for the project's outcomes, and has established success measures that are neither sexy nor grand, but are authentically centered on the experiences and knowledge of the people in Trans.lation’s communities. 

This idea of relinquishing power to a community and facilitating self-determination is a theme that reverberated through the night and in past Sessions.


Following the presentations and panel discussion, members broke out into groups to discuss the following questions:

  1. What responsibilities do we have to the people and places in which we work?
  2. How can city-building prioritize community knowledge and build on its foundation?
  3. How do we recognize and interrogate our own skills or talents? How do we unlock our work so that teaching/learning can happen?
  4. Moments of learning and teaching can unfold in all aspects of work and across relationships. Give us an example of when you’ve seen the paradigm of education and knowledge-sharing enhanced, disrupted, or changed.

After a short break to mingle and refuel, the group reconvened. Most groups chose to discuss the second question, which resonated deeply with members. The discussion centered around assumptions, structural faults, and knowledge gaps that lie beneath the surface of determining a community, working with it, and making sure that its needs and opinions are heard and prioritized—or whether these concerns are even considered at all.

Efficiency is inversely related to inclusion.

Members pointed out that the structures created to engage a community often end up excluding them. For example, meetings are scheduled according to a 9–5 work schedule, but not everyone keeps those hours; this is particularly true in low-income areas where residents often work unpredictable shift jobs or multiple jobs.

“Community knowledge” was grappled with as an inherently complex term. Communities are not monolithic, and carry a diversity of experiences and opinions that require time to understand. Certain kinds of knowledge become prioritized over others, such as quantitative data that influences decisions and often disregards qualitative research. Salon members reiterated that traditional developers should take the time to recognize that the people in the community have a "Neighborhood PhD." The community development train moves quickly, and developers who disregard or fail to seek out what the community knows, risk undermining their own work. As it was phrased: “efficiency is inversely related to inclusion.”

A thought that emerged later on the topic of inclusion asked how both developers and community members can share in the benefits. As a member posed it: "How do I [a developer] become a target demographic and not just a fringe beneficiary?”

Justice should never be determined by those who wrote a false history.
— David Stovall

Salon members also pointed out that when members of a neighborhood have found the time and the place to express their opinion, these members are often the most vocal individuals in the community and tend to monopolize conversation, leaving little to no room for the inclusion of other voices. It is also possible that these strong voices are not representative of the disinvested communities where so many of the members are doing work. As one member observed: "A grassroots organization could be a group of well-organized, rich white folks." Some members brought to discussion the fact that what we talk about at the Salon Sessions never makes it into “the room where it happens," and speculated what Ethical Redevelopment could really mean when the most impacted have no agency in the decision-making process.

I wasn’t taught how to win at capitalism.

One member reflected on the gaps in his own knowledge: “I wasn’t taught how to win at capitalism,” he said, and went on to explain that he had to learn a great deal about existing systems before he could even consider how to change them. It is not possible, the group agreed, to propose an alternative model to a system of which you are either unaware or do not understand. This ultimately raised an even tougher issue: that the “community” can become an obstacle to a project’s completion. Members suggested that this obstacle could be eased or overcome if developers took the time to ensure that knowledge flowed both ways.


Salon Session 3 Takeaways

  1. Seek out and listen to black youth, as they are often not in the room.
  2. The engagement spectrum runs from efficiency to efficacy, depending on the factor of time.
  3. Be authentic in the way that you are, more so than the way you are doing.
  4. Teaching while working requires investments of time and patience.
  5. Learn both the history and the context of a place.
  6. Expose and examine the “bootstrap” cliché.
  7. Complicate expertise.
  8. Always think in layers.
  9. Be mindful of how inclusivity is utilized.
  10. Immutable policy prevents/is an obstacle to change.
  11. There is a triple tax in the extra work it takes to combat structural racism and oppression.
  12. Build coalitions together—look at past models, like Italian and Irish immigrants.
  13. Recognize the multiple sources of knowledge within a community.
  14. Ask yourself if community development efforts support people's right not only to self-determination, but to defining for themselves what that means and looks like.


After this rigorous discussion, Salon Members were invited to a performance staged in the foyer outside of the the Arts Bank's Johnson Publishing collection. 

Three members of Honey Pot Performance—Abra, Joe De, and Meida (who is a Salon Member)—staged what they defined as a simulated rehearsal, an open showing of how they workshop ideas and movements. A long poem, read in alternating stanzas by each of the three performers, morphed into movement exercises that prompted Salon Members to call out a relationship between Meida and Abra. As Media and Abra entwined and broke apart, embracing and letting go, Joe De deejayed a cycle of evocative music ranging from jazz to R&B to blues.

Honey Pot Performance draws on ethnography, sociology, and fieldwork data to feed experimentation with methodologies of moving through space and exploring relationships. Honey Pot participated in the 2015 Crossing Boundaries residency at Arts + Public Life, and describes itself as “an Afro-diasporic creative collaborative community centered on feminist and fringe sensibilities.”

After applause and appreciation for the performance, Salon Members socialized freely in the Arts Bank, extending thoughts from the evening and sharing their own experiences. As one member gleefully called out, "Let's keep exchanging knowledge, people!"

Salon Session #2 - The Session in Review

On Thursday, September 8th, Place Lab hosted the second Session of our year-long Ethical Redevelopment Salon. In this entry, Place Lab Operations + Administrative Manager, Naomi Miller, reports on the Session.


Before each Session, Place Lab offers opportunities for visiting and local Salon members to explore community and redevelopment projects happening in Chicago as well as projects overseen by Theaster Gates. Both projects correspond to the Principle on which that month's Session is focusing.

For the September Session, which focused on Principle #2: Engaged Participation, members visited the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum as the organization was making preparations to celebrate the social reformer’s 146th birthday. Located on the edge of the University of Illinois Chicago campus, Hull-House is a historical marker of the 19th-century social settlement movement and highlights the significant public policy advocacy work done by Addams, her colleagues, and residents. 

Members also toured the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative (DA+HC), which is a part of the projects portfolio of Gates’s Rebuild Foundation. As described by Rebuild, DA+HC is “a rehabilitated public housing project that offers an art-centered residential community.” DA+HC consists of a block of 32 townhomes that provide housing for artists and community members, with the intent of fostering dialogue and collaboration between both groups. The DA+HC is mixed-income housing and features an even distribution of artist, public, affordable rate, and market-rate housing.


For the second Salon, members dug into the Principle of Engaged Participation, a subject that came up frequently during the first Salon as many practitioners considered its meaning and relationship to their projects, and how best to implement it. To frame our exploration of the meaning of Engaged Participation, Theaster posed a question that became a refrain throughout the Session—“How do we listen?”—using listening as a place to begin. 

We listened to the experience that guest expert Camille Odeh shared about her work with the Southwest Youth Collaborative of Chicago (SWYC), the former comprehensive, coordinated system of neighborhood-based youth services. Camille currently teaches in the School of Social Work at Chicago State University, and previously was the executive director of SWYC. In describing how the organization put the Principle of Engaged Participation into practice, Camille said they learned that the community needed to be literally inscribed into its infrastructure.

Various kinds of groups in the neighborhoods were identified—by ethnicity, age, race, geography, etc.—and the organizers made sure these populations were written into the by-laws and represented on the board of directors. Only by this purposeful structure building would SWYC have a chance at reaching community consensus. From this foundation, a wide variety of projects, programs, and partnerships evolved that truly served the residents and the neighborhoods in which they were based.

When asked by co-facilitator Steve Edwards about the challenges of building consensus within SWYC, including differing values and limited resources, Camille said that by establishing a basis of inclusion, everyone had access to existing resources, trust was created, and they could work towards consensus.

It’s a process of time, it’s a process of transformation, it’s a process of building, and it’s also a process of having a vision, a vision for a future in which the quality of life will be improved for everybody. I mean, that’s what this work is about. So that we can all have a good quality of life so that there can be justice for everybody. That should be the focus of our consensus.
— Camille Odeh

Keeping in mind Camille’s insightful approach to Engaged Participation, Steve then gave the mic to Demecina Beehn, Outreach and Engagement Manager at Rebuild Foundation, to talk about the DA+HC. Demecina shared DA+HC’s method of embedding artists in the community and its programming, which creates a cultural shift in the neighborhood. DA+HC worked with neighbors early on, discussing access to amenities—like laundry facilities—and general improvement in the quality of living, and giving artists who are qualified applicants preferential treatment.

When you add an artist to the mix and they show everyone a different world view, it opens their minds. And then they can begin to explore.
— Demecina Beehn

The value of creative programming being built into the reimagining of a neighborhood was echoed by Salon Member Alysia Osborne, who shared what she’s learned as the Director of Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP) Historic West End initiative. The area is home to the oldest surviving middle-class African-American neighborhood in the North Carolina city. CCCP received an actual invitation by the residents (which Alysia noted isn’t always extended in redevelopment work) to develop economic vitality in the Historic West End.

She talked about her own version of the 9 Principles—with titles like Lose the Cape, Learn the Landscape; Be the Host, Not the Producer; and Party with a Purpose—that are predicated on the pillar of building trust. She’s helped the residents understand more about how to make change in communities, that it “actually starts before you see anything, before you start to see a building, before you start to see grating, anything—it starts with a policy.” As she’s walked residents through the process of interpreting and changing policy, they’ve identified the small-scale events and interventions they could undertake in the interim and have begun to think of a phasic approach to their work.

Alysia encouraged her fellow Salon Members to practice patience and be creative, de-emphasize ego, and focus on the people and the lives they lead in their neighborhoods.


After Alysia’s presentation, members broke out into small groups to discuss the challenges of engendering trust in city-building and to identify other pillars of the Principle. Certain themes surfaced when everyone reconvened and shared, including awareness of communication methods and learning a neighborhood’s cultural language, identifying the subjects and what their level of agency is, who does or doesn’t have power and how to create equity, what balance to strike between communities’ needs and one person’s vision, the complicated ecosystem of a community, unpacking values and access, and scaling Engaged Participation up and down to even one-on-one interactions at different stages, for various contexts and purposes. 

Based on what was discussed, Steve culled a list of pillars of Engaged Participation:

  • Build the Structure
  • Build Trust
  • Collectivize Efforts
  • Respect, Inclusivity, Communication
  • Shared Values and Process
  • Understanding History
  • Adaptive Patience
  • Listening

Each of these pillars was given an early definition that Place Lab will work to flesh out and share.

Before the session ended, Steve and Theaster teased out an important thought: For those involved in city building, residents and developers alike, Engaged Participation needs to be an ongoing process that begins with the project’s organizational foundations and is managed through construction and beyond with the production of cultural activities for people in the spaces throughout the lifespan of the project. It’s a new definition of development that takes into consideration moments in which power is relinquished or transferred, how the role of gender influences the process (Theaster wondered: “What’s the gender dynamic of women being developers?....Is there some queering that needs to happen in the conventional structures of development that would help us listen better?”), and rethinks the methodology and structure of not only development, but of all the organizations involved in the project. 

While the close of the discussion felt like it came too soon, the precepts that were laid out are a beginning framework for engendering deep relationships among the people and organizations working towards dignity and equity as a standard of living in our cities. 


The event—what is happening—is beside the point. The point is that folks are meeting, exchanging, and learning. Create intentional hang time. It builds bonds, which build community.
— Principle #9 - Platforms

As discussed in the recap of Session #1, "hang time" is an integral component of each Session. These times provide members with the opportunity to socialize and build their networks and connections alongside enjoyment of a cultural offering. 

For Salon Session #2, we co-hosted with Rebuild Foundation an after-party called Collision on the Dance Floor. Following the close of the Session, members joined invited guests in the exhibition hall at the Stony Island Arts Bank to mingle, chat, and dance to the beats of DJ Sean Owens.

Salon Session #3 was held in October. Stay tuned for the recap!

Bring your voice to the conversation. During the session, member James Feagin asked “What does a successful mixed neighborhood look like?” He’s looking for answers because it feels like an elusive, temporary stage that developing neighborhoods pass through on their way from one end of the investment spectrum to another. Share your thoughts and examples on the forum.