Were we the ghosts? • Charming Disaster

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MORRIS JUMEL HOUSE

July 10th • WASHINGTON HEIGHTS

The Morris Jumel Mansion is the oldest house in Manhattan, so it’s had some time to gain itself a reputation.

The Morris Jumel Mansion is unique in that it holds a piece of American history (it’s where Washington was stationed for a time during the revolutionary war. As the second highest point in Manhattan, he had a singular vantage to look out over the terrain to watch the movements of incoming hostilities), has a reputation as haunted house (it’s been known to have abnormally high paranormal activity, attracting thousands of people annually), and it’s one of the only 18th century stand alone houses built in Manhattan that still exist, giving visitors a colonial taste right there in the heart of Washington Heights.

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Charming Disaster is a gothic folk duo made up of Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris, that’s known for sweetly singing into the darker realms. Their new album Spells + Rituals, solidifies this Addams Familyesque warm morbid aesthetic. It helps that Jeff and Ellia are extraorindarily nice. Even the ghosts can’t complain sharing the space with them. The Morris Jumel house was actually their idea, so give credit where its due– sometimes our hand is heavy in curation, and sometimes it’s just connecting two things that were destined to go together. Here are Charming Disaster’s thoughts from their time:

Our 360 minute residency at the historic Morris-Jumel Mansion was such a gift; New York City is hectic and Morris Jumel is a quiet refuge, another world in another time. We feel such gratitude for being able to hunker down in this beautiful space and work in a focused way. We were able to accomplish a great deal in a relatively short period of time, inspired in part by the stately calm of the surroundings. We were able to dig in and work uninterrupted for six hours straight, although we took advantage of our breaks to explore the house. We felt as if we were part visitor, part exhibit -- while we were working in the mostly empty front room of this (haunted) mansion, once in a while a visitor would peek in and quietly observe us in the throes of our creative process (singing or playing a part over and over; typing; staring at the laptop screen), then walk on. Were we the ghosts? Vinny, Chris, and the rest of the staff were helpful and supportive, yet left us on own during our time there. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience and we are pleased to report we have a new song very close to completion.

Listen to a sneak peak of the new song HERE.

Afterthoughts:

Ghosts come in many forms. Some of them are history’s shadows– things we as a culture have not put to rest, acknowledged, digested. Others are just eccentric spirits who aren’t quite done with this realm. Morris Jumel Mansion seems to have a bit of both.

One of the best parts of our job as curators is finding the creative lining in all the upholstery.

Vinny Carbone, the program manager at Morris Jumel House, doesn’t come from a historical restoration or Colonial period background, like you might expect. He’s a theater guy who stumbled upon Morris Jumel while doing a Ghost Hunt and working with them to create a haunted house experience. It just goes to show you that most people in most jobs have some passion, some creative underlining that drives them. How amazing to have a moment to celebrate it in every unassuming person doing their job to get by, pay the bills, hustle their flow. Sometimes it’s just about giving it a little time, space or acknowledgement. On that note: same goes for how to deal with the ghosts.

"A real place." • Yvonne Brown

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ABBOTT HOUSE

June 27th • Irvington, NY

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Housed in an old hospital that specialized in children, Abbott House sits on a hill up the road from Madam C. J. Walker’s old estate and less than 20 miles from midtown Manhattan. Abbott House is a non-profit supporting children and families with complex needs. Historically opened as a place to support and house children in the foster system, Abbott House evolved to also provide a continuum of services for those foster children with developmental disabilities as they grew past their foster years and yet still need services and community. Since the migrant crisis, Abbott House has welcomed over 900 children, in conditions far different than the ones currently making headlines. Here children have beds, clothes, activities, medical care, school, emotional support and the dedication of staff working to support them as they await being reunited with their families. The heart of Abbott House’s work is about helping human beings recover from trauma or preventing it from happening in the first place.

We met Yvonne Brown at a writing retreat we were hosting a few years ago led by Garrard Conley. She was working on her novel, based on her life, as “an homage” to her late mother. Since then, she’s published her book Crying Girl, and is looking at the next chapter about her experience of becoming a foster child with an African American mother-figure and a ward of the state of Maryland until the age of 21.

We arrived and were greeted by Lauren Candela-Katz, Chief Development Officer, who gave us a tour and filled us in on the history and evolution of the Abbott House. When she offered space in the brightly colored and cheery art room for Yvonne to work, Yvonne asked if she could spend her time in the main house, “a real place.” Where she could feel the walls. This was personal to Yvonne and she was there to be with all of it. Lauren got it. Here are some of Yvonne’s reflections and pictures.

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"Foster Parents… Answering the Call" the wall plaque reads. The building----which once was a hospital in 1938 for typhoid fever and also found the cure is where I sit at the head of the board room of the largest board room table I've ever seen comprised of a total of 8 wooden folding event tables making one large table surrounded by twenty black leather high-back chairs. The grand set up of the table and chair arrangement gives the feel that serious meetings take place here. Supporting this thought are the plaques on the wall which serve as a back drop of the meeting room as if to call its members to remember or serve as reminders of their overall purpose when burnout strikes. Two floors above me was a make-shift child morgue and Martin Luther King once visited to give a speech about the significance of helping. Now the building beckons the attention of volunteers to cut the ivy sprawling through the concrete siding, painting the basket ball court, digging holes for a new playground and the children, the foster children----the children from the border, that I've heard so much about…

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Afterthoughts:

Sometimes we think we know something because we read about it, we see a film, hear a story. It’s different to step into a place. Put your hands to it. Feel it from the inside out.

The migrant crisis is not something that is just a momentary newsflash, nor is it just on the border. As we have seen in recent weeks, the crisis is growing and the conditions in which kids are being detained and treated is often unconscionable, often worse than prison conditions. Supported by federal funds, many foster homes that have taken in migrant children are in the tricky position of caring for what the government considers “detainees,” becoming responsible for children whose parents sent them here out of desperation and hope they would be safe and have a better life, but without being able to change the policies that bring them these kids.

Abbott House is just one of the facilities housing unaccompanied migrant children in NY state. But a home that has a history of supporting children who need support is very different than a prison. True to their long history, while the circumstances that bring them the kids are often awful, Abbott House is doing what it can to create the best environment. No one wants to leave their home unless they have to.

Abbott House is known for being a place for children who have no other place to go. For most of the last 50 years, that meant homeless, neglected, or traumatized boys from often lower income communities. These are the kids that much of society was already writing off, setting up to be locked up and out from the rest of their communities. It’s easy to critique something once it exists. That’s why most people don’t even try. No place is perfect but Abbott House is doing some of the most important work out there. Giving a place, a real place, that someone can call home. To children especially. Yvonne knows what that means.

You can learn about and support the Abbott House here.
More about Yvonne’s work here.

Without the pressure of deadline and expectations... • Alanna Blair

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ROUGH TRADE NYC

June12th • Williamsburg, BK

Started in 1978 in the heart and heyday of punk, Rough Trade began as a record shop in London and soon began recording artists under its independent label. Rough Trade NYC, its flagship US presence, is a sprawling independent record store and event space in Williamsburg, located next to the boutique hotels that have popped up in the last few years like unreal mushrooms on the forest floor. Where did that come from? How did that grow so fast? Rough Trade feels more like a fern, unfurling and signaling the health of the surroundings. Despite the difficulties, independent music is still surviving, in NYC of all places.

A giant space with high concrete beams, a listening studio, art installations, coffee shop, full music venue, Melville book annex, and various nooks to listen or read, it doesn’t quite resemble the cozy crammed record shop of its older British siblings- but it’s an amazing place to find new and used vinyl, books, and even CDs- one of the only spots not relegating them to the stoops and thrift shops.

Alanna Blair is a working DJ and recording artist/producer as well as actor and writer. While recently moving somewhere where she could finally set-up her own studio, Alanna still was missing having time and uncluttered space for creativity. Rough Trade felt like a perfect, albeit obvious, choice. Like so many New York artists and creatives, Alanna is currently weighing if the city continues to be worth its burden of cost, hustle and relentlessness. Having six hours to create, away from a gig or job suddenly felt like a lot longer than just a micro-moment. Rough Trade generously placed Alanna in the Sonos studio for the residency, giving her a chance have a designated secluded space, while still being able to walk the stacks and be immersed in the hum of the store. Here are her reflections:

I definitely experienced a recalibration of direction and expectations, reminding myself that there's no need to create a finished product in the given time. Without the pressure of deadlines and expectations, I found myself following random impulses when collecting found sound in Rough Trade via field mic, selecting and stitching the beats together using a pre-recorded conversation as backdrop and metronome, and adding a bassline with my Fender 4-string. I ended the residency with a rough draft unlike what I'd planned, and I'm excited about it!

FIfth Ave Record shop, park slope

FIfth Ave Record shop, park slope

Afterthoughts: When we met Alanna at Rough Trade, she had just been in a conversation with her friend, in from England, of the shared difficulties of being a working artist and the very real differences. London and NYC are both notoriously expensive, but having access to state health care and other services makes a huge difference for how sustaining one can make a life making music. As an organization continually concerned with more time and space for creativity, especially without the pressures of producing for deadlines or as a commodity, we find dilemmas like Alanna’s more and more common and spaces that support independent expression and production, like Rough Trade, all the more important. Yet they are dwindling at a rapid rate in this city. In the last 15 years, we’ve seen hundreds of independent record-shops shutter, and even beloved spots like Kim’s Video, CBGB’s and St Mark's Bookshop fold, despite tremendous public support. Even the small Fifth Avenue Record Shop in Park Slope that has been there for almost 50 years is closing this month. Change is inevitable, but when the places that give NYC its culture, its flavor, it iconic stories and grit disappear, and artists and poet philosophers leave for other shores for fear of drowning, what remains of this city we love?

‘Experiences aren't free’• Emily Garfield

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NYC FERRY SYSTEM

May 29th • NYC COASTLINE

New Yorkers love to complain about transit. The packed subway cars, the late subway cars, the rising expense, the need to give yourself an hour to get anywhere… It’s our duty and privilege, like children who can be picky about what they eat, to complain even as NYC has the largest transit system in the world with nearly 6 million people riding it every single day. Still, it’s a novel idea for most New Yorkers to think of utilizing the growing NYC Ferry system as their main commute. NYC Ferry system, run by Hornblower has 6 lines to 4 boroughs (the Staten Island Ferry is separate). You can get to the Rockaways from Lower Manhattan in under an hour at the same cost as the subway, with concessions onboard, a view of the water and a seat. Trying doing that on the A train.

Emily Garfield is an artist who specializes in imaginary maps through watercolor and ink. We decided to put her on the NYC Ferries for the day, with an ambitious itinerary, to see what would happen being in locomotion along the constructed coastlines for her cartographic brain. It turns out it was quite an adventure, much to do with the logistical rigmarole of transfers and getting on and off. Here are some of her reflections:

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This day was entirely about chains of experiences.

ferry life • emily garfield

ferry life • emily garfield

When I got back on the Astoria ferry I made my way back to the crewman who’d just told me off for not understanding anything about transfers and terminal stops, and explained that really I wouldn’t have minded being kicked off “because today is all about having experiences”. His friend, sitting with him in their brief downtime by the concessions stand, laughed that “experiences aren’t free, though”, so I reminded them “except for the Staten Island Ferry!”

Emotion map of the journey • Emily Garfield

Emotion map of the journey • Emily Garfield

After laughing with me, he said “if you’re an artist, can you draw me a globe tattoo?” I drew the design, which involved copying by sight some hastily-pulled-up globe imagery—  which gave me enough practice copying designs that I decided to copy the ferry-provided route map— which developed into a drawing that was then complimented by a little girl at the Dumbo pier who was alone after being told off by her overwhelmed tourist dad— and also noticed by the survey-taker on the next ferry, who’d probably never read about a ferry day quite like mine. 

See more of Emily Garfield’s work HERE.

 
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Afterthoughts: When Emily Garfield applied to be a 360 resident, with her work “drawing imaginary maps using mental “rules” informed by subconscious applications of geographic experience as well as the connections between maps and biological systems,” we knew we wanted something with enough locomotion and manmade/natural geometric skyline to inspire her hand. So we took a risk and put her on the NYC Ferry system, traipsing all over NYC for the 360 minutes.

The trip gave a lot in terms of experiences but not as much time for the creating, especially in the imaginary realm. Like many parts of this program, by trying non-traditional residency spaces, you get non-traditional results. Emily was the perfect resident to flow with current and the residency introduced us to a whole other way of transit in NYC- we just might not ask anyone else to be on one (or 5) in 6 hours.

Suminagashi in the garden - "a labyrinthine dream." • Linh Truong

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9th Street Community Garden

May 25th • EAST VILLAGE

Sign by Laurie Olinder, 9th Street Community Garden member.

Sign by Laurie Olinder, 9th Street Community Garden member.

The 9th street Community Garden is one of the more magical green spaces in NYC. With multiple nooks, canopies, pathways and natural arbors, there are many places to be and sit and talk and eat even if you are not a plot-bearing member. Encompassing an acre on the corner of 9th st and Ave C, the garden is iconically warm and welcoming, where its easy to forget you are a few blocks from the FDR and the urban din. But like most gardens, it began as a vacant lot, a dumping ground for a city that had abandoned it. It earned and continues to earn its beautiful ease with constant work, community decision-making and the transformative power of growing things.

Linh Truong is a textile artist who we originally met through the Textile Arts Center. Among many things, Linh practices the art of Suminagashi, a Japanese marbling technique, with the process projected onto surfaces through an overhead projector or transferred onto fabric and paper in a water bath. Linh was open and excited for public interaction with her practice and we thought it would be wonderful to place her in a natural space with an active public that was non-transactional, out in the open and with all the natural variables of an outdoor space (sun, wind, clouds, falling petals).

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Here’s Linh’s reflection from her time at 9th Street Community Garden:

Walking into the 9th Street Community Garden was like a labyrinthine dream filled with unique objects tenderly placed around friendly tree trunk faces. Peonies and roses in bloom, the smell of Spring and the sound of Spanish wafting by you. We were greeted by Maria, a community garden member for decades. She told me about how the garden was founded over 40 years ago and once was an empty lot with empty syringes, now transformed into a well-loved city oasis through years of hard work and devotion. Throughout the day, I marbled on paper and silk, gaining assistance from any passersby who were curious enough to try. Maria came up later and told me about her mother in Brazil who was a natural dyer and used to make all her own clothes. Engaging with people about making art can bring up all sorts of interesting associations and stories worth reflecting on. After being inspired by the resourcefulness of the garden members, I am now flooded with ideas of guerrilla marbling projection and creating a solar-powered outlet to aid in portability and unpredictability. The immediate feedback from the process of suminagashi was not only overwhelmingly positive but also challenging to my own perception, making me eager to continue the conversation in the future.

See more of Linh Truong’s work here.
Go visit the garden, lend a hand for a few hours and remember what can be transformed:
9th Street Community Garden. 9th Street and Ave C. Open Saturdays and Sundays 12-5p April-October.

Afterthoughts:
Walking in East Village today, with its thriving abundance of community gardens teeming with flowers, kids and passer-bys taking refuge in the shade, it can be easy to forget the recent history (and even continuing threat) that most gardens faced in the early 2000s.

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New York City has over 600 Community Gardens, and many were started with the vision of transforming the blight of vacant lots after the city went bankrupt in the 70s. Buildings were abandoned, foreclosed, torched by landlords for insurance, while heroin and crack flooded in, and with it crime, especially in the lower East side and East Village. Community Gardens are not just spaces made in communal public places, It was literally the community that birthed them, transforming the often dangerous and toxic vacant lots with their own hands and resources, into green spaces where the community could gather, grow food and have a refuge. In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, gardens popped up all over NYC, but especially in the areas hardest hit by neighborhood blight. Yet by the late 1990s, the gardens were at the apex of a fight over neighborhood rights all over the city. After years transforming the neighborhoods, suddenly those once vacant lots were seen as hot commodities for a gentrifying neighborhood and rising real estate market. Because the city still officially owned them, the administration felt that those plots were theirs to take, even though it was the community that had done the work to transform the neighborhood. With grassroots activism and the forming of many coalitions (More Gardens!, New York Restoration Project, LUNGS, GrowNYC, GreenThumb), gardens are continuing to thrive.

Community gardens are democratizing spaces– a place for youth and elders to gather, cooler in the hot summer months, growing flowers and food and some of the only spaces left in the NYC that is non-transactional. They are bedrocks of the community.

For many years 9th St Garden had a large willow tree, evidence of an underground stream. Whenever you see a willow, you know there has to be significant water in the ground. A great place for a garden, not as great place to build a building. Over 40% of new development is being built in flood zones, over former wetlands or water logged areas. In an ever-changing climate, these gardens remind us how to engage with our natural systems.

The large willow had to be cut down but from its stump is growing the next generation,
evidence of resilience and will of the neighborhood. Shout out to the East Village.

How do you describe what you expect to always be there? • Su-Yee Lin

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FRESHKILLS PARK

MAY 15th • STATEN ISLAND

On Wednesday May 15th, we picked Su-Yee up from the Ferry Terminal in Staten Island on one of the few perfect days we’ve seen this spring. Blue sky, bright sun, with clouds like paintings and just enough of a forceful breeze to keep us moving.

Su-Yee is a writer currently working on a bird-centered narrative drawing from mythology while simultaneously placed in the speculative future of climate change. Freshkills Park, once the largest landfill in the world and now the largest NYC green space endeavor in over 100 years is a testament to transformation. It was an immediate choice for matching Su-Yee’s work with a natural landscape.

We were met by Mariel Villeré, the Arts and Program manager at Freshkills Park, outside the park and escorted in. After being introduced to the amazing vantage from North Park we left Su-Yee to her time and Mariel’s balanced hosting. Here’s are some of Su-Yee’s reflections during her residency.

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Coming here to Freshkills, there's a lot to take in. The transformation of the park from landfill to nature preserve, the resiliency of nature (the deer that swim across the river, the volunteer trees on the mounds, planted by seeds dropped by birds and other animals), the effect on the local economy, the understanding that this is a project that takes years and years and years. In the here and now, so much has returned—there's fish in the creeks and osprey in the trees, and a quiet that signifies space to breathe and to think.

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Because there are so many birds in my story and here in Freshkills Park, I'm thinking a lot about sound and how to capture it on paper. The mechanical whirr and twang of the red-winged blackbird, the strident calls of gulls signaling a bird of prey overhead. The soft chirps of sparrows and the familiar warbling song of the robin. Killdeer, nothing as imposing as its name suggests, call with their high-pitched cries—what I'd thought somewhat like a gull's, and the sound they're named after. A high chipping call of another bird I cannot identify and a high-pitched whistle like the intake of a breath. How to bring sound into a story: here, the wind rustling new leaves, the hum of an airplane overhead, those various birdcalls that are both familiar and unfamiliar. Just a part of the landscape but such an important part: how do you describe what you expect to always be there? What happens once it's gone?

Read more of Su-Yee’s work at https://suyeelin.com.

Afterthoughts: Su-Yee Lin was our first 360 applicant and Freshkills Park was the first space we contacted as a match. If it was a portend of things to come, we were off to a good start. Driving into Freshkills park is a stunning kaleidoscope mixing past with future- the return of birds and grasses to the once thriving marsh wetlands feels prehistoric and simultaneously hopeful towards the possibility of transformation. Sometimes we find we need to make something new, and sometimes we find we need to recognize and nurture what already existed before we made the wall in the first place.

Mariel Villeré, the manager of Programs, Arts and Grants at Freshkills Park, keeps up a stream of creative curation in both the arts and sciences, giving the public access into the not entirely open/finished park. We were grateful for her immediately getting why we would go through all this process to match an artist in a space for just 360 minutes.

Just like our actions, our former trash and future remediations, the ripples will last way beyond one day’s clock.
Thank you Freshkills Park.

"Make it real, make it plain, and tell the whole story." Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons

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HOUSING WORKS

MAY 4th • MANHATTAN

We met our first resident writer Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on a rainy saturday morning at the iconic Housing Works Bookstore. All of us needed a cup of coffee. Luckily, they have a cafe, and a great one at that– all volunteer run. Located right below busy Houston street in the strangely liminal area between the East Village and Soho, the expansive location transforms used and donated books into one of the more organized and pleasing bookstores in the city. We placed Kelly Jean in the upstairs where there is a vantage of both the street and the bustling bookmongers below. When we realized they couldn’t provide electricity, Kelly Jean improvised beautifully. She is working on a memoir “My Prom was Better Than/Worse Than Yours.” Here are some of her impressions:

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"Make it real, make it plain, and tell the whole story."

Congressman John Lewis presented this as the mission statement for March a graphic novel trilogy that brought the civil rights movement and Lewis's own incredible story to life. When I arrived at Housing Works Bookstore and discovered that my writing perch wasn't within reach of an electrical outlet (the horror... the horror...), I found this March journal in the "For Sale" stacks near the register. What a treasure! I loved sharing the graphic novel with my students and waiting for me in this writing space provided by the 360 residency was a journal that invited me to dream, plan, and fight. I've struggled for years to tell the story of my prom both verbally and on the page. I've quit more times than I like to think about, and I have a lot of work ahead to bring the story of that night into the world. But, now, I have a mantra to silence the siren song of insecurity: make it real. make it plain. tell the whole story! 

Read and out more about her work at http://www.kellyjeanfitzsimmons.com/ 

"There are many ways to be an american." Jhon Sanchez. American Legion Post 1291

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AMERICAN LEGION

MAY 4th • CHINATOWN MANHATTAN

We met Jhon in Columbus Park among the older Chinese men and women playing cards and Mah Jong despite the drizzly weather. A writer, Jhon was going to be working on new material. We encouraged him first to take a walk for an hour throughout Chinatown to take in his context before meeting us at the American Legion on Canal St.

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We were warmly greeted by Gabe and Shawn at the Legion post, who showed us around and whisked us a few blocks away through the rain to the Sons of the Legion group, huddled under a tent giving out American flags. Gabe was concerned there wasn’t going to be enough going on at the Legion, but we assured him just the space itself, imbued with all it is, can be the perfect thing for a writer. Here’s Jhon’s post:


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There are many ways to be an American.

I’m writing from the American Legion in Chinatown.  I usually take naps while writing, but here they keep me up. A Chinese woman showed me where the coffee was every time she saw me dozing off. I guess I had to be always ready in the American Legion. I’m very thankful for their hospitality.


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Post Script: A reflection on the flag. This American Legion post was created after WWI like many other American Legions, built after the World Wars. This post, unlike most yet not singularly, holds the rare position of holding space for a legacy of war time veterans once excluded from the very shores it fought for.  A series of acts and treaties were on the books starting in 1882. Colloquially known as the Chinese Exclusion act, each one pertaining to the ethnic exclusion of Chinese laborers and people.  Not until December of ‘43 were 105 Chinese people allowed to enter per year– opening the door for Chinese male immigrants, if they made it in, to fight baring stripes and stars. Not until the abolishment of direct racial barriers (Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952), and later the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, was the National Origins Formula abolished and with it Chinese exclusion.

And if you have not read up on your ninth grade history (or maybe Zinn) in a while, I recommend reading up on this one: the National Origins Formula was an American system of immigration quotas, used between 1921 and 1965, which restricted immigration on the basis of existing proportions of the population. It aimed to reduce the overall number of unskilled immigrants (especially from Southern Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia), to allow families to re-unite, and to prevent immigration from changing the ethnic distribution of the largely Protestant Northwestern European-descended United States population. (Thanks Wikipedia)

Sound Familiar?  1965 was not that long ago.  For me, my parents generation; for many, your own. 

This group holding the American flag… waving a particular pride.  One that I relate to with a different charm– one that bares equally, if not more, a pride of belonging, of being allowed to belong.
- Julia

360 Minutes. One turn of the wheel. The One Day Residency Experiment.

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This is an experiment of time & space. How creativity ripples in the ordinary and how sometimes we just need to have an appointment to show up for ourselves and do the work.

Each month, we’ll have a number of creative residents who we matched with spaces around the city for just 360 minutes. A small container but also a surprisingly generous time to focus.

There are no requirements save one during the time — a post about the process, place or one’s own work. Here is a continuing blog of these reflections, along with some info about the spaces and some of our thoughts. Maybe you’ll be inspired to apply to be a 360 resident yourself or just go somewhere new and set up shop for a day. (If you’d like our little card: “do not disturb. resident in progress.” email us!)

Dhira & Julia
Holes in the Wall Collective