Stories from the Inside

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Engaging the Community

Gallery 400's Community Outreach and Public Programming intern reflects on her experiences organizing for Garden for a Changing Climate, a community-driven participatory public art project created by artist Jenny Kendler. Garden for a Changing Climate uses a traveling garden of local plants to give Chicagoans a dynamic and tangible experience of the effects of climate change.

Hi! I’m Cassie Harbeck, the Community Outreach and Public Programming intern at Gallery 400. When I first applied for this position, I did so because of my desire to gain public programming experience in museums, galleries, and other similar institutions. I’ve found that as my time at Gallery 400 has progressed, however, I have gained experience with so much more than just programming. While I have done some things I expected, like giving tours and compiling outreach lists within academic institutions, I’ve also worked on administrative tasks and community research.

As an anthropology major, I love doing research, but I’ve never done research on communities quite like the research I’ve done through this internship. Researching a community can be weird—I wasn’t looking for community history, fun facts, or population size; rather I was looking for things that tie the community together. In researching the way the community lives and breathes, I learned how it organizes, how it comes together, what it organizes around, what resources are available for its inhabitants, what its residents do when off work, and what activities are available for its kids and teenagers.

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Earth Day Sustainability Fair with Garden for a Changing Climate on April 23.

I looked primarily at three communities: Albany Park, Washington Park, and Garfield Park. All three neighborhoods are connected to Gallery 400 through Garden for a Changing Climate, which is being hosted at the American Indian Center, SweetWater Foundation, and 360 Nation, respectively. These spaces are where the installation will live and where the community can interact with it in any way they so choose. We wanted to take Garden for a Changing Climate a step further, however, and invite members of the community—through its organizations—to use the installation and interact with it, to make it part of their community, to use it as a tool to open dialogue in an organic, grassroots way.

When I was doing this research, some types of organizations I looked for were youth camps, community centers, senior centers, libraries, and community gardens. I didn’t use the resources I’m familiar with to find what I was looking for—there are very few articles about current community organizations on JSTOR! So I turned to Google, which helped me a great deal in getting started. After I found some basic information from Google and Google Maps about what facilities and programs were close to the Garden for a Changing Climate locations, I did more in-depth research using Facebook (seriously—a lot of organizations use Facebook as their primary platform for sharing information with the public!), as well as the Park District website, Yelp (mostly for summer camps), and the Chicago Public Library website.

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UIC Greenhouse plant giveaway at the Earth Day Sustainability Fair with Garden for a Changing Climate on April 23.

I paid special attention to any organization I could find that was involved in environmental justice or education. I wanted to find organizations that would be able to use the program as a way to enrich their own purposes and goals. The tangible nature of the installation facilitates understanding of the direct effect climate change will have on individuals and communities, which is often an abstract and impalpable idea,.The physical presence of the planters compels viewers to overcome their blindness to nature, acknowledge and understand the landscape and environment in which they stand, and confront the corporeality of nature. The goals of the project include not only this understanding of the direct effects of climate change, but of ways that we can adapt and move forward together. This is why I think understanding the project is augmented by viewing the installation with other people who share community experience, especially with organizations that are already doing work for their communities. The interdisciplinary, cross-contextual nature of this project demonstrates the ability and potential of different moving parts to come together and create change. I think it is easy to get overwhelmed by the inevitability and immediacy of climate change, but being surrounded by a community who can understand the unique ways in which climate change has affected and will continue to affect their specific experience can provide comfort as well as a sense of initiative. 

Cassie Harbeck was Gallery 400’s Community Outreach and Public Programming intern in the Spring 2018 semester. She is a 2018 graduate of DePaul University, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology.