Ok so since my last blog post I had a lull in actual meetings. The emails haven’t stopped but there was almost a full week where I didn’t have any in person meetings with anyone. I figured out that this is all going to be about filling up the calendar in advance with people to meet, scheduling secondary and tertiary visits to make sure I don’t have too many blanks in the calendar. To setup all this stuff takes time the way working in any big sprawling company or organization takes time. I’m also figuring out that the chain of command so to speak is immensely important here. For example I had my second visit with Nancy Callahan today and she introduced me to her director at that site. I was a little thrown off thinking that Nancy was in charge there. Then I had a phone call with David Sinski today and realized quickly how he’s the head of one of the 5 “companies” of Heartland so by extension oversees all the people I’ve met to date in Nancy’s office. Knowing who makes ultimate decisions and communicating clearly to the proper people is going to be key in gaining the trust within Heartland to do anything. I’ve been trying to show my work to people and articulate how my past interests align well with Heartland goals and I think the work and discussions are priming the pump so to speak.
Here’s an update on who I’m talking to meeting with and some ideas that have started initially coming to mind.
Second meeting with Nancy went well. She told me that the refugee hospitality training doesn’t start up until January so there are no opportunities to sit in and observe those training sessions currently. I’m hoping that Nancy could setup some meetings with individuals who have already gone through the training and are currently working. She seemed to express that would be easy enough to do. I think hearing from some people who have gone through the training and hearing their personal stories if they are open to sharing would definitely get me thinking in some interesting ways about this portion of Heartland’s work. I feel like I’m forgetting something about our conversation. I think I need to switch to a written notebook for taking notes in discussions. I can’t type fast enough to take notes on my computer and I feel like it’s interrupting the flow of conversations sometimes.
Met with Shannon Ericson today after being introduced to her through Nancy. She handles case management of new refugees and asylees. We had a really long and great conversation and I think she gets what I’m all about. What she does involving all the nuts and bolts of getting new refugees settled is fascinating to me. In some ways it’s almost two extremes with what Nancy and Shannon do. Shannon is working with people in some of their most vulnerable states being new to a country and having to navigate many basic things that we take for granted. Nancy is working with people trying to get them self sufficient after they have most of those basics more under control. The timeline on all of these things is pretty shocking… I was expecting years of help and it sounds much more like its a matter of months in many cases where the US government is expecting people to have things all under control. Shannon and I both have lived abroad and shared similar experiences which I think gives us both a better understanding of what it’s like to be living in a country the first couple months and not know the language, the food, transportation etc. Albeit we had much more privileged experiences living in foreign countries. One of the things shannon talked with me about was how she finds new apartments for people and has to have them ready when people arrive in this country. So she has to find landlords who are willing to rent because legally people can discriminate against refugees because they have no credit, no jobs etc. Apparently the largest group of people who help new immigrants find housing is people with immigration experience themselves. I find this to be an extremely fascinating idea that immigrants are the main source of help for new immigrants when it comes to housing. I’m keeping this thought on my radar as I go forward. Additionally Shannon told me about how she utilizes another organization of volunteers who setup apartments for arriving refugees. I expressed an interest in seeing this process and meeting with people who do this and even being part of a setup as a volunteer. I can imagine the photographs of setup apartments would have a particular look before people inhabit them that is both welcoming and a bit lonely and bare. The little touches and collection of possessions would be missing but furniture, toiletries, certain amounts of food etc would be there. I suggested to Shannon that maybe I could photograph these apartments before people move into them and while they are being set up. I think it would be informative for me to see but could also be compelling imagery and would have a low barrier to access because there would be no privacy concerns of photographing people. Shannon seemed to think this would be very doable and we are going to try and get me involved in the next setup of a new arrival in early November. Shannon also talked to me about the paperwork people have to endure and this has a special interest for me personally. I was interested in seeing if I could get blank copies of all the paperwork someone has to fill out as a new arrival in this country. This is another point of inquiry I think would have a low barrier of access for the same reasons and there’s potential the paper could be repurposed in interesting ways with my skills and interests in papermaking and then combining that with imagery.
Talked with David Sinski today. He has put me in contact with someone to visit the facilities that care for unaccompanied minors. I’ll be following up on that tomorrow. It seems like David is a very important and busy person at Heartland who could open lots of doors or shut them very quickly. I will be doing my very best to impress upon David (and everyone for that matter) my commitment to prioritizing the people who Heartland works with over any work I might want to make during my fellowship. I’m trying to make it very clear that I would just like to see and hear what these different programs are about and meet people who are working at Heartland and people who Heartland serves and that any ideas for what I might do will be clearly communicated before I do anything. I need to send him some links to some of my work but I think we are on the same page.
Barbara Martinez gave me a long list of workshops and gatherings that I’ve put in my calendar that are all over the city on asset building. I’m going to at least 4-5 of those in the next month or so and maybe more in the coming months. There will be opportunities there to connect with people and hear about people’s lived experiences which might spark ideas for a project as well. I’ll update you both as this all comes together.
I’ve got an initial meeting with Christen Jasmin at the Belmont location scheduled for next week as well which should be under the same umbrella of what David Sinski oversees. Looking forward to that. I’ve got a meeting with President Kim scheduled for the 25th of Oct to talk about my past work and opportunities where we could involve Columbia College more in socially engaged work. If there’s anything that I might bring up with him I’m definitely open to suggestions. I was just invited to speak at Jay Wolke’s Seminar class next week as well. I’ll be doing a presentation and Q&A. I was also asked to come speak at Getty Images about my work/practice in early November which I’m in the process of setting up.
I still need to meet Quinten with the art for justice campaign and setup something with Celeste Johnson for the Associate Board. Those kinda slipped through on me.
I think I’d like to setup a meetings with both of you for after I’ve had a few more meetings and site visits. I’m starting to have those mental pictures pop into my head where I get ideas for what becomes my work. So I’m feeling encouraged because generally my experience is that when I’m feeling and seeing that I see a path forward and can envision what I might do for a new project.
There’s more I’m forgetting…