Transpedagogy in the ephemeral
Design Thinking through Socially Engaged Art for Community Mobilization
Note: A full book documentation with theories and research is located online here.
The graduate thesis project explores how design thinking through socially engaged art might support the development of community agency for a Jornalero community in Queens, NY that has been targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Also known as “Day Laborers,” have to address their most pressing problems of wage theft, unjust labor practices, job security and complexities of transnational polarities confronting their humanity. The project evolved into a ten-week pilot program running under the theory that design is postcolonial due to the impacts of systemic designs such as US segregation and mass incarceration. A second theory was to use an art form called, socially engaged art (SEA), as a way to ground and translate the process. The third theory was the practice of Ubuntu from South African cultures to support the building of community. The program accomplished an outcome geared towards human liberation, project proposals, and democratization of work.
What is a "Jornalero"?
The Spanish language word is translated as "Day Laborer." The community of people exemplify a genuine character of resiliency and buoyancy. Additional characteristics of the community identity is an undocumented adult immigrant living on day-to-day income. Each NY borough has a group of Jornaleros seeking employment at street corner intersections. According to primary and secondary research findings, members from the Jornalero community often make as low as $450/month working in New York. The Jornaleros exist throughout the US, but the project study focuses on the Corona/Elmhurst neighborhood in Queens, NY. A location with the largest immigrant population, and Hispanics accounting for 54%, according to NYC Planning, 2015.
Scope of Project
The project objective is to 1) design the infrastructure of the workshops in relationship to the project goals. 2) Translate design thinking by using a pedagogical facilitation approach with the Jornalero community. 3) Utilize my studio art background to curate culturally relevant art-making practices to activate collective dialogue, collective memory dialogue, and enter a space of collective responsibility and critical thinking.
The project purpose is to 1) introduce design thinking through an engaged learning process. The approach is to use art as the vehicle for understanding and delivering a message; for art is a way to understand the world. 2) Access community strengths. 3) Celebrate art and culture. 4) Practice capacity-building. 5) Lastly, work towards developing a collective responsibility.
The project is not about communities creating art, more specifically, from a fine arts perspective. The production of art-making by individuals and as a collective may be interpreted as art forms, but the art-making is what will ground the project and the transaction for building a collective responsibility. That is why the approach is called Socially Engaged Art. Through the conceptual process of generating art, the process of creating allows for members to enter a space of flow. Therapeutic interpretation and the development of emotional intelligence naturally emerges.
The project goals are to 1) exercise and harness modes of expressive thinking to activate critical thinking. 2) Practice community building principles to enable collective responsibility. 3) Deconstruct the design process towards a decolonized process. The method is to prevent oppressive forms of facilitating and introducing design thinking.
The framework below is the designed process of the pilot program. The bottom portion labeled "Infrastructure" is the transdisciplinary application in the design. The "User Experience" is the exchange between students and educator. In a human-centered approach, the community involved is leading and helping educate me how to design and facilitate. The framework was drafted and then updated as each workshop progressed, to be able to capture the process and feedback updates of the work co-created.
Workshop 1 (W-1) - Getting to Know Each Other
W-1: Documentation of the Experience
I often celebrate the coming together of people with food. I kicked off the workshop series with music and food, and it was well received. The exercise was a quick five second sensorial sprints by drawing familiar animals. It served as a warm-up to practice working with constraints and quick thinking. As for the activity “Dichos y Refranes,” or also known as proverbs, was developed from my ethnographic research. The purpose was to activate dialogue for collective stories through proverbs. Latinx communities use proverbs across generations as a way to communicate ideas, learnings, and thoughts. The first part of the activity, participants wrote their favorite proverbs to share stories of the first time the proverb was introduced to them. The second part was to break the proverbs apart like a dice game, similar to the Cuban game cubilete. The game was aimed to consider new narratives for their future through writing and drawing.
The feedback I quickly received was that the exercise is “just what the doctor ordered.” A comment referencing the state of flow participants agree they entered. As for the activity, the community rallied around the concept; there seemed to be potential to expand on this activity.
Workshop 2 (W-2) - System Mapping
W-2: Documentation of the Experience
With so much excitement from the previous workshop, I was hoping to accomplish many activities, but time went by too quickly. I was not able to carry out the homework assignment. Only a few participants were able to complete the assignment. The two tasks I was able to accomplish was system mapping and introducing the class to my transdisciplinary colleague Oliver Arellano’s project about mobile phone journaling for immigrants.
For the system map activity, participants were asked to write on stickies the agencies, organizations, or individuals that impact them routinely. On a 2x2 grid, we were able to document what was useful and accessible. The process required exposure of their personal life, and it caused some people to leave from the workshop. After some resistance of participating, physical spaces to the development of the maps and the addition allowed for a more natural take to the activity. After identifying the spaces, members were asked to create abstract origami figures to complement their categories.
As for Arellano’s project, he presented a project proposal to the participants regarding the documentation of an immigrant’s journey. One without surveillance, but would be accessible to family in case of emergency. The project prompted an uncomfortable, yet needed, conversation about immigrant’s life after they pass away. What happens to the digital narrative they have developed on social media? Who can continue to access the information? Living far from their native land, what happens to their belongings if no one is there to respond to them?
I had a visceral experience of people telling me no with their eyes when it came to this system mapping activity. It was then, when I realized the lack of transparency I was showing. Exposing people’s independent life to contribute to a collective, was potentially hindering the trust that I was building. A week later, a few participants that initiated the cohort let me know they would no longer be part of the workshops without explanation. In turn, those that did stay for the entire workshop understood that artists could bring in the much-needed conversations about politics and complex issues. It was a moment of building trust with some and breaking trust with others.
Visual Mapping results
W-2: Development of Project Proposals
The fluidness and busy demand of late night thinking began to ignite the outcomes of the thesis project. Synthesizing the map, I was able to conclude the main direction the Jornalero's were navigating towards were places of liberation. I thought the map would supply a pattern of information to support the collective, but instead, the map reflected nodes of self-actualization.
More Members of the community approached me about their independent initiatives. They had projects on hold that needed direction and they felt I was able to support the development of their process. The projects they proposed had a profound relationship the problems of the Latinx diaspora. The specific issues they wanted to address were 1) teen pregnancy among immigrants living in Latinx communities in Brooklyn, NY; 2) collaborative community contingency plans in response to ice raids 3) community support post family separations due to ICE raids; 4) addressing domestic violence by empowering women, and 5) information clinic to report the grim disappearance of immigrants to their families. Each issue Jornalero's wanted to address, came with project proposals that hinted a design intervention. I helped them initiate them, but I didn’t not continue developing them with them. Instead, I turned to my transdisciplinary colleague Amanda Astorga to help continue the conversations associated with sex and health.
Workshop 3 (W-3) - Game Playing & Problem Solving
W-3: Documentation of the Experience
In the third workshop, Yadira de la Riva visited the community to introduce a part of her craft. Her art is in theatre performance and developed a workshop that integrated youthful playing and problem-solving. The community exercised and performed activities centered around culture and labor. The community and I are in debt for her contribution. Everyone left smiling and exhausted in the work they co-created.
“¿Que es la imagen que representa al trabajador como la persona mas importante de nuestra sociedad?”
Yadira de la Riva
The embodied experience was much needed. One of the members said, “I didn’t want to be here at first. I was tired. I’m glad I came. I can’t stop smiling.” It was true. I witnessed participant’s attitudes transform throughout the workshop into a positive fun experience. It was a pivot point in my thesis project because I abandoned what I had planned for the entire workshop to support the work of de la Riva.
Workshop 4 & 5 (W-4+)- Production
W-4+: Documentation of the Experience
The initial plan of the fourth workshop was to put into production an idea stemmed from the original defined problem. By now, I had already lost the defined problem and had abandoned or left out many activities. I considered facilitating a prototype activity, but the Jornalero community had different interests. They reminded me that there pressing issues were in regards to wage theft and labor rights. The annual May Day event was coming, and the Jornalero's wanted to represent themselves at the protest rally at Washington Square Park as one voice. Therefore, we turned our momentum into two more workshops than previously anticipated. The Jornalero community requested to screen print shirts with the NICE logo and develop a painted banner to celebrate the lives of the people who have recently passed as day laborers.
The fourth workshop was an important one. The purpose of the pilot program was called to question. The community reminded me what the real purpose and message was behind the practice art-making. The community voiced that art was essential to their work to communicate their unified voice. Members expressed their concern about nonrelated initiatives being a distraction to the work they have been doing. They requested to be supported with the momentum they had already created. It was difficult to talk about the future of the pilot program until the needs of the community were met. Well, May Day came, and the Jornalero’s were able to represent themselves as one voice.
Path to Measuring Impact
The task is to not only to teach design thinking to a resilient community but to acknowledge the various ways a project like this can create an impact in their ecosystem and beyond. The Theory of Change model is a path to measuring impact. The left side of the diagram shows what currently has transpired from the workshops. The right side of the diagram is the larger scale goal. Impact is a potential way to measure impact for the program and more iterations of the program. Continuing to practice projects like this allows for the democratization of work and the support of the collective.
Replication of Elements
The most critical question I was asked from mentors was the replication of process. How might this project continue with or without me? My first step will be to deliver a document to NICE and the Jornalero community that tells the story of our work together. In the document will be the methods used during the workshops. What I found most important was who will continue to facilitate workshop with the Jornalero communities if it is not I? During my process, I was able to identify key elements that are suggested to place into practice towards a decolonized design process when working with communities. The model, Replication of Elements, identifies nine elements. The model was further developed by inputs from transdisciplinary colleagues, Parsons’ faculty, and a workshop at DreamYard. The workshop at DreamYard focused on “Decolonizing the Maker.” The workshop took diverse creative disciplines and evaluated the oppressive elements in their own processes when working with communities. The workshop concluded by further supporting the current version of the model.