‘Welcome to the NeighborHOOD’

by La Constance “Connie” Shahid

BVHP-Third-St.-No-government-money-...-by-LEJ-web1, 'Welcome to the NeighborHOOD', Culture Currents A glimpse is a short look, a glance. How do you take a glimpse of an entire neighborhood? It would be hard to take in the whole aspect of a community in a short look. In a glimpse we sometime miss the things that matter.

People take glimpses of Bayview and form their own opinion of our community. Without looking at the real Bayview, our community is written off as just another low-income community of color taken over by gang violence and drugs.

The youth of “Welcome to the NeighborHOOD” have set out to show their take on our community. With the help of several artists, we’ve created an interactive art piece that has the potential to keep growing. It all started with a walk.

On the walk we took the time to learn about our community – a brief history, the environment surrounding the community and its people. When we all sat down and began to brainstorm what we would like to include in the project, the topics, out of many, were decided to be gentrification and displacement, the opposing forces of man vs. nature, art as activism and the positive people and influences in the community.

The first session was with Robert Larson, who introduced the youth to working with objects we scavenged on the street as art materials. Each youth had the chance to create our own 12×12 panel to be combined as a larger scale piece of art. Each one of us had a specific view on what we wanted on our panels. “I would like to convey that Bayview Hunters Point are not just bad places, that they can be good places. This is what I want to convey with my art,” 16-year-old Royale Eubanks said of his artwork.

The next artist the youth worked with was the project’s creator, Wendy Testu. We had the chance to create a seven-minute film. We used cameras to show positive, influential and historic places in Bayview. Andrew B. Smith, 13, one of the participating youth, customized the film with an original song, “We Rock.”

Then the youth worked with the artist Eve S. Mosher in creating a piece to display how we see our community and what needs to change. We visited S.C.R.A.P. (The Scroungers Center for Reusable Art Parts) in the neighborhood to find materials and created a 360-degree photograph of a basketball court in the neighborhood, arranged the photos and incorporated things and changes we’d like to see.

Taylor Neaman-Goudey was the next artist we worked with. We designed logos that would be printed on T-shirts and various articles of scavenged clothing, to show the opposition of man vs. nature. The logo “Power to the Plant,” a print of a flower growing through a gate in the shadow of the former Hunters Point PG&E Power Plant, was born in one of our planning meetings.

The final artist we worked with was San Francisco’s own Keba Armand Konte. After visiting Keba’s exhibit of “888 Pieces of We,” the youth were inspired to learn how to transfer a photo onto practically anything. We transferred photos we felt represented the gentrification of the community and entitled the piece “A Stroll Down Gentrification Lane.”

Now after a year of working together, we are sharing our work not only with our community, but also the Fillmore community. The excitement that was achieved during the creation process has carried over to the installation process. Each day that we spend in the gallery, we get closer and closer to opening night. It’s like when putting on a play production. The build-up is stressful, exciting and gratifying all at once.

Each piece was worked on separately, and to see them all in a room together is amazing. Each topic so different from the former, and yet they all tie into each other. For example, a sculpture entitled “The Mother” was a piece of scavenged art during artist Rob’s sessions but ties in perfectly with artist Keba’s section of the exhibit. Although we’ve worked with some of the pieces before, there are new pieces as well and there’s still a chance of exploring new options – playing with it, as we’ve called it.

We’ve all come together to make this exhibit a successful recreation of the inspiration we found in our community, and in the community we’ve created within our project. We could not have been as successful working separately. United we’ve created something that will inspire the next generation of youth when it is installed at Zeum, San Francisco’s Children’s Museum downtown and The Eco Center in Bayview next year. On Nov. 12, at the opening of the exhibition in the Sargent Johnson Gallery, we hope that all our families, friends and guests will see what we saw, and not just be satisfied with the glimpses from others.

The exhibit and events

These are FREE and public events. The “Welcome to the NeighborHOOD” exhibition runs from Oct. 21, 2009, to Jan. 10, 2010, at the African American Arts and Culture Complex Sargent Johnson Gallery, 762 Fulton St. at Webster, San Francisco, (415) 922-2049. Park free in the lot.

Visitor participation days Nov. 5, 4-6 p.m., and Nov. 7, 1-3 p.m.: Prior to the opening event, the gallery will be used as a working artist studio. Visitors are invited to take part in the installation process, working collaboratively with the youth and artists in the gallery. School age youth are encouraged to come and participate with their families.

Opening reception Nov. 12, 6-8 p.m.: Enjoy food, music, “live” screen-printing, youth lead docent tours and the documentary photo book and film.

To learn more, visit www.welcometotheneighborhood.us, www.aaacc.org, http://www.lejyouth.org/, http://www.blurb.com/my/book/detail/909438 for the book preview, and http://vimeo.com/4893713 and http://vimeo.com/4321903 for the documentary film preview.

La Constance “Connie” Shahid is youth program coordinator and participant at Literacy for Environmental Justice. Contact her at info@lejyouth.org.