In urbanized areas the world over, public spaces are the new classrooms and self directed learning is the new school rule. In the wake of recent mass media events we are reminded of our core work in the preservation of cultural landscapes-in-action by the strengthening of relationships between ‘history’ and the people that call those spaces home today.
Historic Germantown, just north of the World Heritage City of Philadelphia, is a 331-year-old ethnic enclave of indigenous artists as well as entrepreneurs invested in holding space for themselves in the settler-state narrative of freedom. For many families the future of the ‘public education’ of indigenous youth requires having the freedom to explore new terrain and engage in public discourse that, in the words of University of Pennsylvania philosopher Dr. William Fontaine, “[concentrates on] complete development of every individual instead of deliberate retardation designed to retain leadership of caste.”
Today’s new moon has us thinking about the smells, sights and sounds of spring. This time last year we were working with our neighbor and friend, photographer Steven C.W. Taylor, capturing street life, architecture and landscapes that give context to the many narratives that come together in Historic Germantown. In the spirit of reclaiming at least some of that story we would walk the avenue together, allowing for the natural terrain and architectural diversity to guide an interwoven story that spans as far back as the tales of Lenapehoking.
As we tend to engage the City of Philadelphia’s youth employment program each year, this year (2019) we would commit to investing in three amazing young Philadelphians; their only charge was to take care of the camera, watch out for one another and capture elements of Germantown that spoke to them as young creators and surveyors of space.
As day’s turned into weeks and weeks to months, we would watch young strangers grow to be friends and friends bloom into co-curators of an exhibit, called Germantown in Black and White, at Germantown Historical Society. Our work, to engage our residential as well as our business community in a deep and meaningful way, helped broker a collaborative exercise in public space documentation that had grown wings; we created the space for time to be the superior investment that produced archive quality prints as well as works of art for sale. The young documentary photographers were supported by the community in their efforts and compensated both for their time spent with us and for the photographs that sold.
The start of 2020 has been a course in United States Civics for a generation of indigenous youth that will only know of the American settler state through music, stage plays, poetry, film, books, oral accounts of history and photo documentation (like our 2019 work with the local community). The urban environment, flaws and all, has always been the safest space for ‘public education,’ or education in the public; we must now design urban environments with trauma, human psychology, cultural history and education impact in mind.
Locally, it seems that families are warming up to the idea of taking education into their own hands with the support of community. In the coming months Sally Blagg, through opening an office here, will create a safe space for families, independent educators and learners of all ages to convene around the exchange of knowledge without consequence. #staytuned