‘In Our Backyard’ Event Activates Community Conversation on Homelessness
Every month, GTCF talks with organizers of events posted on our Community Calendar to find out what happened and what they learned. In this edition, Roni Chelben – City of Tacoma Artist in Residence shares her experience putting together In Our Backyard, a traveling series of community events that uses various arts and participatory experiences to bring people together for a conversation about homelessness.
July 25, 2018 (Additional dates for this event will take place through August 16. See schedule below)
Roni Chelben: “In Our Backyard is a series of traveling community events that brings people together for a conversation about homelessness, its causes, challenges, and possible approaches. Each event features a participatory performance created and performed by individuals experiencing homelessness in Tacoma, as well as a video art installation presenting conversations between housed and homeless residents, filmed in each other’s backyards. The project brings the experience of homelessness to the forefront, with the goal of sparking conversation and public awareness around the challenges of homelessness and the social responsibility of the community at large towards its homeless residents.”
What were you hoping to accomplish?
Roni Chelben: “My focus was to create a project that would engage different parts of the community to educate people around the issue of homelessness to get a larger understanding of it as a systematic issue, and how can we work together to address it. It was also a goal to address stereotypes and preconceptions by having people experiencing homelessness tell their own stories. Their stories are usually being told by others. The participants in this event are a group of smart amazing human beings and this is the first thing you see so that’s a big part of it.”
How did it go?
Roni Chelben: “The first event was at the Rescue Mission on June 25th. We had about 150 people, so it was a good turnout. We started with games to get everyone involved and ready to be participants, not just viewers. This models how we want everyone in the community to be involved and think about what they can do. In the event itself everyone was really engaged and actively participating during all the elements. The actors did an amazing job, and the group conversation was really powerful as well.”
What were some of the highlights?
Roni Chelben: “It was really exciting to see how eager people in the audience were to talk to each other and how many people were willing to make comments and express their feelings and opinions.
“The response of the audience to the actors and performers was great. There was a lot of laugher, which I was really happy about because there was humor in it, but when we did get to the part with personal text by the actors there was a lot of empathy. I was glad to see a mix between empathy and emotional responses, but also great conversation about important issues and solutions.
“Another highlight for me were the masks the actors wore during the play. The story, Room For Rent, by an Israeli author called Leah Goldberg is an allegory where all the characters are animals, so all the actors wore these oversized animal masks that were created by UW- Tacoma’s Reconstructing Self in Art class led by Prof Tyler Budge.”
What did you learn that would help other individuals or organizations trying to do community events?
Roni Chelben: “Something that I’ve learned is to accept and work with the unexpected, changing nature of community. The nature of the community you work with will dictate the form and the aspects of what you do, and that’s a good thing. Trust the process and don’t expect it to be something else, just let it be what it is and that will make it really represent the community.”
What’s next? Will you be doing more events like this in the future?
Roni Chelben: “There are still a few more opportunities for people to come out and participate in one of the events at locations across the city. Toward the end of the month we will also be sharing the videos on the In Our Backyard page on the City of Tacoma website.”
Upcoming In Our Backyard Events
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
6 – 8 PM
Tacoma Community College, 6501 South 19th Street, at tennis courts off of parking lot L, east of building 2
Sunday, August 12, 2018
1 – 3 PM
Portland Avenue Community Center, 3513 Portland Avenue East
Downtown – culminating event as part of Tacoma’s Third Thursday Art Walk
Thursday, August 16, 2018
5:30 PM performance at Tollefson Plaza, 17th & Pacific Avenue
6:30 PM artist talk at Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Avenue
9 PM video projection on exterior of Tacoma Art Museum, facing Pacific Avenue