The Rainbow Connection Project/The Steps We Take – 2019

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Project Conceptual Design

The Steps We Take: Fineview – The Rainbow Connection Project

Gene Thompson

 

Creative Project Description

City Steps are a defining piece of infrastructure unique to our landscape in Pittsburgh. They have created a culture of walking the steps mixed with other forms of transportation in order for us all to live on these hills. As we see the deterioration of this valuable asset in our city, it is extremely important that we hold the city accountable for fixing these hillside walkways used by all. In many cases, some of these stairs are one of only two ways in and out of a street, neighborhood or someone’s home. The city steps are both poetic and create powerful imagery; they are a piece of infrastructure that many of us walk in our everyday lives as a method of transit between communities.

Artist H. Gene Thompson is building a series of interactive performative works which will be performed at a pair of events that will span two days (Oct. 11-12) and will involve the coming together of many artists and performers. These local artists will facilitate local community members in the performance of a series of seven separate wearable interactive fabric sculptures designed by Thompson. Facilitators will guide the audience in the activation and performance of the sculptures. The sculptures are joyful and contemplative, in the interest of creating a sense of togetherness and unity. Through socially engaged performance, I’m hoping to use the city steps as a vehicle to bridge gaps between people and across communities.

Leading up to the event, there will be two workshops held in September. H. Gene Thompson will work with Northside Afterschool Programs at The Pittsburgh Project to develop segments of choreography with youth. These segments will be taught to the performers for the final performance of the work – the artists will use them in their performance and facilitation.

The first night of performances will take place at the Henderson and Carrie Street steps. The second night will take place at the steps connecting Fountain, Graib, and Henderson streets below Henderson. Both nights will feature the same set of sculptures and performances, but each will be uniquely informed by the cityscape in that location and interpreted through the different lenses of the community participants that show up for each event. A program with a written description of the goals and ideas behind the sculptures will be distributed at the events.

This event and its curation of art, performing artists, and creative facilitators, is aimed at finding unity by using a series of soft sculptures facilitated and co-performed by the audience to create a visual language of inclusion and human connection. The facilitators will be holding space for people to dive into creative decision-making with their movement and their interactions with the fabric sculptures. With this work, the artist would like to ask about the ways we move our bodies through the world. This work hopes to challenge the audience to consider how can we create a present moment of more sincere connection with our neighbors and the people around us.

 

Strategy

I’m using a series of facilitated soft sculptures that are co-performed by the audience to create a visual language of inclusion and human connection. The facilitators will be holding space for people to dive into creative decision-making with their movement and their interactions with the fabric sculptures.

Working titles for the seven sculptures that will be performed are Standing Portals, Connecting Pieces, Rainbow Connection,  Bridge the Gaps, Hanging Portal, and Explorator Portals for Play (several individual-sized sculptures).

The sculpture Rainbow Connection uses the imagery of harmonious color as well as a contrasting black tulle fabric to reference the image of Pittsburgh city steps and how they are an important form of transit, which is free to the people. The black tulle references some of the ways in which the city steps are not being valued by the city which has been neglecting them. The artist is excited to see this work come alive through the audience and the community who will activate it with the help of facilitating movement artists.

Portals deals with the feeling of isolation in the world that we might hold on an individual level, and how we break that down to empower one another. This sculpture encourages human connection, emphasizing that our actions will affect others and we can use that as a form of empowerment. Connecting Pieces is a sculpture that creates a passageway for performers to transform from the Portals sculpture to the Rainbow Connection

In Bridge the Gaps, the audience is between two performers who are reacting to the audience and their movement. There will be a sound design to which the audience is invited to react, creating a feedback loop. 

Self Healing features two separate one-person chambers in which audience members can retreat into an experience of contemplation and spend time alone, with limited stimulation and a calming and meditative interactive sound and light environment. Sensors will translate the movement of the viewer into subtle changes in sound and lighting. The night will be very active, with a packed schedule of performances to watch, sculptures to get into, and live movement facilitation. As a compliment, audience members will be able to experience these contemplative spaces to connect internally.

The work Explorator Suits for Play seeks to create a space where young people can experiment with the limitations of space, and their relationship to one another as they are connected through fabric sculpture. I hope youth will ask self-reflective questions about how their actions might affect those around them. The facilitator who is working with this sculpture will prompt them to consider these ideas.

In the second week of August 2019, I will be connecting this project with a summer workshop I’m teaching for youth at the Mattress Factory. We will be exploring test performances with prototype materials for Rainbow Connection and Portals. I will work with the group and choreograph movements with this piece that will both inform the final production, and introduce the workshop participants to the project.

 

Locations:

Event 1: Henderson and Carrie Street steps (Friday, October 11, 2019, 4 pm – 7 pm)

Event 2: Fountain, Graib, Below Henderson (Saturday, October 12, 2019, 3 pm – 6 pm) 

The hand-silkscreened fliers will include, as part of their design, a treasure hunt-style map that indicates how to find each event.

There will be two workshops held in partnership with The Pittsburgh Project, Urban Impact, and the Northside Partnership Project.

 

Collaborators 

Conceptual Development: 

  • H. Gene Thompson
  • The following Members of the Fineview Citizens Council: Joanna Deming, Christine Whispell, Sandy Kessler, and Terra Ferderber

Event Performers/Facilitators:

  • R.M. Guido
  • Kelsey Robinson
  • Gunner LaBluff
  • Stephanie Dax
  • Trevor C. Miles
  • Peter Redgrave
  • Nikki Dana
  • Simon Philips 
  • Julian Harris

Creative Technologists:

  • Arvid Tomayko

Event Documentation:

  • Kitoko Chargois
  • Arvid Tomayko 
  • Darnell of Flower House

 

Future of Project:

My goal is to challenge the format in which we see art with this piece. I’m hoping to contribute to shifting the narrative of art-making in this city towards live public performances or interactive work that can be more accessible to people who are less acquainted with the arts. I hope that significant bonds are established through this weekend-long event that will interlock with the Steps Challenge and will spark new growth of communities connecting moving forward. I hope that the relationships formed through the workshops and performances can continue and that there will be a prolonged engagement stretching over a span of time.

The sculptures created for these events will continue to be performed at public events within the city of Pittsburgh and beyond. I plan to build an email list where people will be contacted about the final documentation from the weekend-long event and future public performances, so they can continue to follow the evolution of this work. The edited and completed documentation will also be available on my website, as well as on social media platforms including Youtube.

The fliers and programs will be designed with care to be printed objects to keep and remember the series of art happenings with. I hope that this flier is kept by recipients and serves as a reminder to neighbors and people in the community who came out to get involved, enjoy and partake in the unusual way we were able to commune as people and that this event is able to remind people of the power of bringing people together in public space.

I want to emphasize accessibility, as viewing art can be an inaccessible experience if the viewer is not accustomed to it. I hope that when people experience Rainbow Connection and Portals, they will feel that they understand the work more by getting inside and being part of it and that it will give more context for the other pieces they will see performed later in the night, such as Bridging The Gaps. I also hope to bring the art of installation to the public with the sculpture Self Healing as an experience of limited sensory contemplation, using therapeutic and methodical lighting.

Explorator Portals for Play are individual-sized sculptures informed by work that I’ve been able to create at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum and the work of others I’ve experienced there. As the northside does host this and many other institutions, I’m excited to bring this to the public. By familiarizing people with the kind of work that artists are making at these institutions and bringing them to the city steps, I hope to create more pathways to these institutions for local residents.

 

Materials and Tools

  • Tent
  • Generator
  •  Extension Cord
  • Staging
  • Lighting
  • Chairs
  • Lighting for Stairs
  • Traffic Control
  • Permit(s) for the street fair
  • Staff Support
  • Sound Equipment 
  • Person to run Sound
  • Multiple speakers

 

Drawings 

See the folder “Images for Design Proposal” alongside this document.

 

History

City Steps are a defining piece of infrastructure unique to our landscape in Pittsburgh. They have created a culture of walking the steps mixed with other forms of transportation in order for us all to live on these hills. As we see the deterioration of this valuable asset in our city, it is extremely important that we hold the city accountable for fixing these hillside walkways used by all. In many cases, some of these stairs are one of only two ways in and out of a street, neighborhood or someone’s home. With the workshops and events I’m organizing, I’m hoping to use the city steps as a vehicle to bridge gaps between people and across communities. The city steps are both poetic and physically powerful; they are a piece of infrastructure that many of us walk in our everyday lives as a method of transit between communities.

Pittsburgh’s Northside is made up of many neighborhoods, some of which are only a small number of blocks but are still distinct communities. Historically the Northside existed as a separate city, Alleghany City, where people lived lives mostly separate from Pittsburgh.

Through the vessel of these two lively events, I’m hoping to activate Fineview and also bring people in neighboring areas such as Perry Hilltop, Spring Hill, and Cityview together with the residents of Fineview to celebrate the space between us, a space where we can have room for each other in a way that we call community. 

In the two after-school workshops I will be leading with youth, I will be asking the youths to work with me to choreograph segments that will be used in the final showing of the work. Although the artists are facilitating movement, audience members who choose to participate will be responsible for interpreting that in their own way and bringing themselves and their life to this work in a collective fashion, placing value on their experiences. I hope the families of the youth come together to experience the live facilitated movement and the segments of movement choreographed by youth in workshops. 

In these workshops, I would like to honor Northside (Allegheny City) born Martha Graham and make young people aware of the extremely important role she played in the development of modern dance over her 70+ year career. Graham is quoted as saying:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of the time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

In the workshops and events I’m developing, I seek to capture this spirit of the unique creativity in all of us, valuing the perspectives and experiences of the residents of these neighborhoods, and allowing them to share that with each other and the wider city.

Additionally, I’m interested in referencing the lively history of the annual Strawberry Festivals that used to be held in Fineview, hoping to activate people to value the space we have between us, and our power to come together and share energy in creative ways.

The title of this project is an homage to the work of Jim Henson. As somebody who studies soft sculpture, I have been influenced by Henson, particularly his work with Mummenschanz. I want to honor him as an artist who has influenced the lives of many people both young and old at this time when his work is being revisited.

On Henderson Avenue at the Carrie Street Steps, where the first of the two events will take place (Oct. 11), there is a sculpture by Angelo Ciotti, which has become part of the more recent history of the area. Ciotti’s work is “paying homage to the bridges”. Responding to this work, I’m looking at the idea of bridges between us and how we bridge the gaps, relate to our neighbors, and use these outdoor public spaces that City Steps provide us as areas to celebrate one another and our connection as people. I aim to ask the audience “how can we better connect to one another?” The interactive sculpture and performative work Rainbow Connection that will be performed during these events is in response to the intention and energy of this public sculpture the sense of community it creates.

Lastly, the city steps are, at their most basic level, a form of transportation. When looking at the essence of personal vehicle alternatives in transit one might consider socially how it affects us as people. Do we feel less alone when we experience each other as we commute, and in turn do we isolate ourselves less? I would like to use this work to challenge us all to consider ways we could make our neighborhoods more accessible for commuting by bus, bike, and walking, while also considering how we could make the sidewalk and bus stop more wheelchair accessible. These things will not be immediate, but all of this is a longer vision for how we create a city of more equity and access. I am excited to create and bring this work together in the hopes of heightening empathy amongst us all, bringing us all closer together as we consider each other’s needs. These thoughts will be present at the event in the form of printed programs for participants and attendees to keep as they experience and contemplate the work. 

 

Project Timeline

Conceptual Design Drafting: June 10 – July 31, 2019

Conceptual Design Review, Refinement, and Pricing: August 1 – August 30, 2019

  • Final Conceptual Design Due: August 1
  • August 3rd: Flier design, ending August 9th
  • August 11th: Rainbow Connection construction, ending of August 20th
  • August 21st: Portals Constructions, ending on August 28th
  • August 29th: Bridging the Gaps, ending on September 3rd

Final Implementation: September 1 – October 15, 2019

  • September 4th: Self Reflection, Self Healing, ending on September 10th 
  • September 11th: Exploration Suits, ending on September 18th Finished with all fabrication
  • September 17th: Workshop: Choreographing Together! Learning about Modern Dance
  • September 18th: Week 1 Rehearsals: Groups 1 and 2 — Designing Event Program
  • September 24th: Workshop: Choreographing Together! Learning about Modern Dance
  • September 25th: Week 2 Rehearsals: Group 3 — Printing Event Program
  • October 2nd: Final rehearsals
  • October 11th: Event 1 Carrie City Steps, at the top of Henderson
  • October 12th: Event 2 Fountain, Graib, Below Henderson

 

Event Timelines

Friday, October 11th, 2019: Henderson and Carrie Street Steps

12-4pm Event set up

4pm Event start: Trevor Miles and Nikki Danielle facilitate Rainbow Connection, guided audience participation (Explorator Suits for Play and Self Healing will be open and facilitated live during the entire duration of the work)
Performing Artists Involved: Trevor Miles, Nikki Danielle, Peter Redgrave, RM Guido, Kelsey Robinson, and Simon

5pm Movement Artists facilitate Portals, guided audience participation
Performing Artists Involved:Trevor Miles, Nikki Danielle, Peter Redgrave, RM Guido, Kelsey Robinson, and Simon

5:30pm Movement Artists facilitate Bridge the Gaps, guided audience participation
Performing Artists Involved:Sara La Bluff, and Stephanie Dax

6pm Movement Artists facilitate Portals, guided audience participation
Performing Artists Involved: Trevor Miles, Nikki Danielle, Peter Redgrave, RM Guido, Kelsey Robinson, and Simon

6:30pm Movement Artists facilitate Bridge the Gaps, guided audience participation.
Performing Artists Involved:Sara La Bluff, and Stephanie Dax

7pm Event end: facilitate Rainbow Connection, guided
Performing Artists Involved: Trevor Miles, Nikki Danielle, Peter Redgrave, RM Guido, Kelsey Robinson, and Simon

7:30-8:30 pm Event Clean up

 

Saturday, October 12th, 2019: Fountain/Graib/Henderson Street Steps

 

9:30-10:30am Perform at Step Challenge

12-3pm Event set up

3pm Event start: Trevor Miles and Nikki Danielle facilitate Rainbow Connection, guided audience participation (Explorator Suits for Play and Self Healing will be open and facilitated live during the entire duration of the work)
Performing Artists Involved: Trevor Miles, Nikki Danielle, Peter Redgrave, RM Guido, Kelsey Robinson, and Simon

3:30pm Movement Artists facilitate Rainbow Connection transform to Portals, guided audience participation
Performing Artists Involved: Trevor Miles, Nikki Danielle, Peter Redgrave, RM Guido, Kelsey Robinson, and Simon

4pm Facilitated play by movement Artists facilitate Bridge the Gaps, guided audience participation
Performing Artists Involved: Sara La Bluff, and Stephanie Dax

4:30pm Movement Artists facilitate Portals, guided audience participation
Performing Artists Involved: Trevor Miles, Nikki Danielle, Peter Redgrave, RM Guido, Kelsey Robinson, and Simon

5pm Movement Artists facilitate Bridge the Gaps, guided audience participation
Performing Artists Involved: Sara La Bluff, and Stephanie Dax

5:30pm Movement Artists facilitate Portals, guided audience participation
Performing Artists Involved: Trevor Miles, Nikki Danielle, Peter Redgrave, RM Guido, Kelsey Robinson, and Simon

6pm Event end: facilitate Rainbow Connection, guided
Performing Artists Involved: Trevor Miles, Nikki Danielle, Peter Redgrave, RM Guido, Kelsey Robinson, and Simon

7-8 pm Event Clean up