Celebrating Neighborhoods… While Undermining Them

For those who missed yesterday’s post: The Hoods, which opens tomorrow night at Bon Bon, is, in their own words, an “arts and design show with a neighborhood focus” that “celebrate[s] the spirit of Spokane’s communities.”

At heart The Hoods is a fantastic idea. Blue-collar or bohemian, historic or contemporary, seedy or glitzy, gentrified or dynamic… over time every square mile develops a distinct identity, and the proof thereof is that each of those adjectives ought to bring to mind at least one of Spokane’s twenty-seven neighborhoods.

Those identities are one of the biggest reasons why we choose to live in (or avoid) a particular part of town. In many ways, those collective neighborhood identities are an expression of ourselves as individuals. Being able to see those identities distilled in an engaging visual way like a logo or photograph can help reaffirm our decision to hang out at a particular coffee place, to shop at a particular store, to raise a family in a particular house on a particular block. Or they can even provide us with a rallying point to actively set about changing or maintaining certain aspects of our neighborhood.

Put simply, there’s a lot of power in those identities and how you choose to represent them.

Unfortunately, in some respects, The Hoods has gone about channeling and extolling that power in the wrong way. The participating designers have deliberately ignored existing neighborhood names and boundaries, and instead sided with “popular terms for neighborhoods [...] for the sake of easier promotion and marketing” in the words of their organizer, Karli Ingersoll (herself an Emerson-Garfield resident, which makes what follows sting all the more).

In most cases, the popular names happily coincide with the official designations. In the case of Emerson-Garfield, however, the designers chose the arbitrary term “Corbin Park.” And in doing so, they elevated that tiny portion — about 50 homes out of several hundreds — of our neighborhood over the rest.

That doesn’t celebrate diversity. That celebrates exclusivity. Imagine an arts project on the statewide level that featured Seattle, Tacoma, Yakima, Kennewick and… South Hill.

For many years, the active volunteers on the Emerson-Garfield Neighborhood Council — many of whom are also Corbin Park residents — have devoted countless hours of their time to ensuring that the neighborhood receives a fair and equitable distribution of resources and attention. Emerson-Garfield was in fact one of Spokane’s three original neighborhood councils, and the geographical remit of that council has been very clearly delineated at the city level for more than 15 almost 40 years.

Highlighting Corbin Park at the expense of Emerson-Garfield undermines all the effort that these volunteers have made toward uniting everyone who lives and works here. It complicates their aim to foster an inclusive environment — a true neighborhood, which invariably includes businesses and social cliques, pockets of poverty and pockets of wealth, young families and longtime residents, community gardens and empty lots — and not just cater to a handful of listed homes next to a park.

Whatever the popular conceptions might be, the simple fact is that the Corbin Park area is not something that can be geographically detached from Emerson-Garfield. Nor is it representative of Emerson-Garfield as a whole. Nor is it large or self-sufficient enough to be treated as a neighborhood in its own right. Quite honestly, the designers’ deliberate decision to ignore all three of these issues makes us question how well they understand the neighborhoods they claim to be celebrating.

To do Emerson-Garfield justice, they might have at least consulted the group of people who are engaged on so many levels in the challenging process of improving this neighborhood. To do Emerson-Garfield justice, they might have worked toward countering popular misconceptions instead of reinforcing them.

Make no mistake: Emerson-Garfield residents are extremely proud to be able to say that such a green and historic area as Corbin Park is part of their neighborhood. But that’s precisely the point: it is a part, not the whole, of our much more colorful and variegated square mile. It is not the only aspect of the identity our neighborhood wants for itself, and is not the identity those of us in the trenches have been working so hard to tease out and cultivate.

You can read today’s Inlander article on The Hoods here. Our displeasure is at least acknowledged in the story.

20 thoughts on “Celebrating Neighborhoods… While Undermining Them

  1. A long, wordy, drawn-out way of saying… “Waaaah! no one included ME!”. I feel like the art show represents what the majority recognize as areas of town. Most people don’t really know (or care) where any of these neighborhoods EXACTLY start and end. It is a generalization. For me it really boils down to this fact: I own a home 2 blocks from the boundary and I have never heard of “Emerson-Garfield”. At least not until The Hoods made the conversation interesting to me. Chillax brah!

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful dialogue.

    Corbin is really just a blip in the show and I don’t think it will cause the damage you expect. The show and concept as a whole is supposed to impact people…and be fun for us. All of which has happened so far. We hope to win you over in the future when we do an EG logo!

  3. I am so glad to be reminded that not offending anyone is NOT one of the purposes of art. Scary to think what wonderful and important works would not have come about if that were the case. So proud of Karli and all the other artists! (Hope they aren’t offended that I left their names out!)

  4. So you’re asking that if anyone dares create art in honor of a place important to them– whatever they want to call it – that they check around with everybody else and get official sign off first? Good luck with that.

  5. I think you have some fair points, but if I may be so bold, I don’t think the point of Karli’s work is to detach Corbin Park and claim that it’s better, bigger, or somehow not a part of Emerson-Garfield. All of this work is informed by the personal experiences of each designer and their histories with each respective neighborhood. They’re doing logos for the places they’ve lived or live now. It would seem more personal, more intimate, and thus lead to a more informed design for someone to pick a smaller place that they’ve spent years becoming familiar with than to just stick to the neighborhood lines on a map. Karli chose to represent a place that she knew and loved and grew up in; she chose to give that history and that experience a name, a look, an identity, maybe because she has strong emotions attached to that place and feels that it deserves something. Trying to claim that her method of relating to where she grew up and experienced childhood is somehow offensive because it excludes everyone else is kind of ridiculous. I grew up near Sammamish on the west side; if I drew a logo for Sammamish tomorrow, wouldn’t it be a little silly for someone in Seattle to get offended because I didn’t do a logo for Seattle instead? I spent many days in Seattle, but it did not inform my experience as a child as much as spending EVERY day in Sammamish. Why would I include it just to include it? Wouldn’t that sort of destroy the whole point of creating something that’s been intimately informed by my experience?

    Because that seems to really be the point of this show. Not just creating a fancy logo for a neighborhood. I’m sure if you asked one of them nicely they’d commission an Emerson-Garfield logo for you.

  6. “Emerson~Garfield Neighborhood came into being in 1976. Named for the two elementary schools in the area at the time, the neighborhood boundaries were established in response to the Federal government’s Community Development program. The rules for drawing the boundaries were based on family income; this led to the boundaries being drawn without concern for either historic neighborhoods or for what the people living here felt their neighborhoods to be.”
    “The area around Corbin Park, (Spokane’s first local historical district) and the park itself, served as the Spokane Fair Grounds for a few years, then became a racetrack for harness racing. Later the racetrack gave way to houses and the original track was eliminated, leaving the infield oval to become Corbin Park.”

    Don’t feel left out, you are still up to bat. Corbin Park is just old timey words used for Emerson-Garfield, perhaps with more “history to it.”

  7. It’s a shame that you wrote this. To take something so well-intentioned and refreshing and stomp on it in such an abrasive fashion is disappointing. Nothing negative or malicious has been done regarding the Hood project. It’s a celebration of neighborhoods, however it is defined, and it is truly special. As a lifelong resident of Spokane at all 4 corners, I’ve never identified with my larger neighborhood, but I knew it by my street, my block, the empty adjoining field, etc. This project of personal endeavor brings home those nostalgic feelings of the Spokane most of us love. Sometimes it just happens to attach to people more personally, in a smaller fashion. So, really, I guess I’m just sorry someone pooped in your pour over this morning. Really.

  8. Wow, you use the words “wrong way” and “undermines” in your reaction to The Hoods art project that is meant to bring beauty and enhance people’s view of our wonderful city. To say that you would have hoped they would represent the neighborhoods in the way you have designated them is one thing but to say what they have done is wrong and that it will undermine your work is quite a jump. All I can say is wow and wow again. It is disappointing to say the least. The heart of the project continues to show forth in Karli Ingersoll’s response to your criticism of the project again having no malice or criticism in it. She is not a foreigner to diversity, having done mission work in third world countries, lived in a homeless shelter and lived in some poorer neighborhoods in our city including Emerson-Garfield to name of few of her diverse experiences in life. So, for what it is worth, the project to me promotes our city and it’s neighborhoods. Your reaction brings a feeling of competition, criticism and defensiveness that leads to separation. I feel like I know even more now about neighborhood distinctions and am so thankful for the many lovely parks we have in our city that help me identify areas of our city. A response from you that would compliment the project and also identify the larger neighborhood’s official distinction of Emerson-Garfield and the work you have done to promote our city in that would only lead to greater awareness and collaboration as a people that dwell together in Spokane.

  9. We posted the following comment to Karli’s reply to this post, and it’s just as applicable here:

    We’re all a bit surprised by the extreme backlash on this — the comments, particularly those on the E-G website, seem to have perceived this debate as being far nastier than it is. It would take several posts to address all the arguments that were attributed to us but we didn’t in fact make:

    1. That the neighborhood council should have sanctioned Karli’s design
    2. That The Hoods is a bad idea with bad motives
    3. That we feel left out
    4. That the purpose of art has somehow eluded us

    None of these is true. We know that our neighborhood council and The Hoods are both working toward the same ends in their own ways. We were just disheartened that a celebration of our neighborhood, which we’re so eager to see, focused on a very limited area that has historically skewed the perception of the neighborhood. Believe me, many folks who are involved in EGNC and were disappointed about the Corbin Park decision are still going to see and support The Hoods, myself included.

  10. One of the reasons people appreciate art is because we each register different responses to it. And the conversations that ensue tell us something about ourselves and also help us acquire new perspectives on the artists’ work.

    In this case, I find it interesting that this project has really fostered a conversation about what exactly a neighborhood is. Can we only call something a neighborhood if it receives an official designation from the city or if it has some sort of governing body like a neighborhood council? Is it just a shorthand way of talking about a community that’s formed in a particular place, was settled by a particular group, or known for a particular landmark like a park? And who gets to decide what does and doesn’t count as a neighborhood anyway? These seem to be some of the questions that Karli and the other Hood Project artists’ work are raising. And clearly there’s some sensitivity here about the politics of defining what constitutes a neighborhood in Spokane and how a neighborhood is characterized.

    So whether or not you’re happy with the way the Hoods Project represented neighborhoods in Spokane, the work they’ve done seems to be serving a pretty useful purpose. They’ve provided a venue for a conversation about neighborhoods that’s engaging a much wider audience than probably a neighborhood or city council meeting does. (No disrespect for such meetings or those who attend them.) I, for one, would not have visited your site or learned that there was an Emerson-Garfield neighborhood without this project. So at the end of the day, let’s be grateful that these artists put together a collection of work–purely out of their love for art and their city’s neighborhoods–that’s provoked a response and given all of us an opportunity to talk about neighborhoods and what they mean to us.

  11. I went to Bon Bon this evening to view the “logos” that were created by artists involved the Hoods project. There is quite a variety and diversity of styles to the designs that were presented.

    There have been a number of comments, taking the author of the original article to task for being uncharitable, insensitive and abrasive. In my view the criticism of the project was well intentioned, not meant to demean or degrade any person or their work, but to comment on the process whereby an entire neighborhood became defined by a very small section of that neighborhood. While this is not a truly big deal (a big deal is burning the breakfast toast), it does have some aspects that nettle residents of the wider neighborhood.

    Like much of Spokane, Emerson Garfield (EG) has grown and developed over the years. EG became a Community Development neighborhood in 1976, designated a CD area due to the low income nature of the neighborhood (the 3rd legislative district is the poorest in the state). A steering committee was formed to designate projects for funds that were available to the neighborhood. This steering committee was chaired by, and many of the members were from the Corbin Park area. These folks did a credible job, providing funding for home rehabilitation, sidewalks and the upkeep and remodeling of the Corbin Senior Activity Center.
    This was, more or less, the status quo until 2000, when the Neighborhood Council program was created.

    In the years from 1990 to 2000, the neighborhood struggled to develop an identity and fought against a City Hall that viewed the neighborhood as being full of white trash, who deserved no consideration or say as to what happened to their neighborhood. In 2000, suddenly EG had a voice that was not only supported, but listened to. Still, old habits die hard and EG was treated like an unwanted step-child of the City.

    It took countless hours in countless meetings for EG to begin to develop an identity that wasn’t related to the Corbin Park area neighborhood management team. EG was the first Neighborhood Council and it was hard work to gain the respect of people working within City Hall… I know just how much work because I was involved in the doing of much it. And I don’t mean to imply that I did it all myself, I didn’t. Many people worked to make EG a better place to live. More trees were planted, more sidewalks and access ramps were put in. Everything from lighting to after-school programs got funding. Maybe this explains how some folks might be a bit concerned, enough to speak out, about the process that left the impression that the actual, designated, neighborhoods were being represented, as was done with West Central and Indian Trail, and not just a fractional piece like Corbin Park and Garland Avenue.

    The comments aren’t about the work, you’ve missed the point entirely; nor about the person, you missed the entire planet with those remarks, but about the process. EG has worked hard to create an identity and we are still struggling to do so, we need all the help that we can get, and we hope that Hoods will engage us in a process that creates results we all agree represents the true nature of our neighborhood.

  12. Art vs. reality? Neighborhoods vs. Hoods? What is the fight really about? It’s certainly not the time to be insulting to each other.
    The people who volunteer their time on the Emerson-Garfield neighborhood council, or any of Spokane’s other neighborhood councils, are doing this because they want to make a difference. I know, because that’s why I got involved.
    We may not be able to solve the bigger problems faced in this country, or the world, but we found this small opportunity to affect what is truly local — working to improve the neighborhoods we live in and the business districts that are within walking distance around us.
    Art is something that can have a powerful impact too, even if the intention was lighthearted and spontaneous. I’m glad it spurned a hot flash of interest. Perhaps those reading now will learn that they have neighborhood councils, and find out what the boundaries and names of their own neighborhoods are.
    That awareness is worth the controversy. It is empowering to know that you can actually have a say in what happens on your streets. But now that you have this knowledge, what are you going to do with it?

  13. Jay, EG has an incredible story behind it, as do all neighborhoods in Spokane. Understand that the purpose of art, and this show in particular, is not always to highlight stories that you or other council members may feel are the stories that are noteworthy. Art can showcase both history, and personal experience. This show was, again, about the personal histories and experiences of the artists and the neighborhoods they lived in; therefore, their perception of these neighborhoods, how they saw or see them now and what they call them within their personal circles will come into play. Not necessarily the general overall story, or even correct names, of these neighborhoods themselves. Being historically accurate according to the neighborhood boundaries is not always the point, and if it were, art would be completely boring. Our personal experiences and memories and names we have for where we live are just as “accurate” as the actual names on a map, because they’ve developed naturally and organically amongst the people who live there instead of being decided upon by a committee. There’s nothing wrong with either approach; that’s the point. And I think that’s why many people were upset with this article, in that the words were emotionally charged and aimed at a show to incite a negative response. (You can’t really tell someone they’re undermining a neighrborhood they love and not expect everyone to be a little upset.) I think most if not all Spokane residents love their neighborhoods and want to encourage awareness, but we all have different perceptions of where we live, and all of these perceptions are valid. There’s no “wrong” answer in this case, and acting like there is is why this article is receiving so much negative attention.

    This comment, “we hope that Hoods will engage us in a process that creates results we all agree represents the true nature of our neighborhood.” isn’t always the reality of art, especially when an artist seeks to show others their own personal perception. I don’t feel that these artists should have spoken to a committee to make sure that their personal interpretations of where they lived were accurate according to the opinions of other people. If you feel that everyone’s viewpoints should be taken into account, (which I think is a great idea for ANOTHER show) then engage the artists about creating work that does so. Commission work that YOU want to see created (that is the point, after all, of commissioning artwork). And perhaps take a moment to enjoy work that’s already been created and that’s come from the hearts of people who love their neighborhoods. It can be difficult when the perceptions of others challenge our own perceptions, but that’s the beauty of art; it makes of think of things in different ways, and perhaps grow as a result.

  14. Katie,

    Again, you’ve rather missed the point of the original article and my comment. The article wasn’t an attack on personal “Art”, and my comment wasn’t a defense, it was an explanation, an iteration of my view of the source(s) of some of the concerns expressed by the article.

    I found your long response to my post to be rather condescending, I do not really require you to explain the purpose of “Art” to me. And, while your view is certainly valid, it is far from the only one. It seems unfortunate that you, and your group appear to be unable to hear a bit of well meant criticism of your process without becoming defensive and going on the attack. As the group collective works with numerous client and organizations, I am surprised that the reactions on your part has been so vociferous and ongoing. The whole exercise is a learning process, not an effort to define art in the 21st century.

    When the project was explained to me, my understanding was that Hoods was going to be creating some “logos” for some randomly chosen neighborhoods. For years, one of the goals of many neighborhoods is to have an identifying logo for use on stationary, banners, mailings and other uses. I believe that there was some good level of excitement and a somewhat elevated expectation of what was being created by “award winning, professional artists”. The results, while charming in their own right, do not live up to the advance billing.

    Most of the artwork are not actually logos for starters. “A logo is a graphic mark or emblem commonly used by commercial enterprises, organizations and even individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition. Logos are either purely graphic (symbols/icons) or are composed of the name of the organization (a logotype or wordmark).” (from Wikipedia). IBM, Apple, Subaru, Arbys, all have logos. The artwork for Corbin Park is a nicely done emblem, but it is not a logo.

    Now, as I am only familiar with the project by word of mouth, it could be that I am misinformed, and there was never any real intention to create neighborhood logos, only some personal, neighborhood based artwork; which is great, and kudos to Hoods for a job well done. Some of us have been laboring under the misinformation burden, and if that is the case, I apologize for not understanding the true scope of your project.

    Art serves many masters and mistresses, not the least of these is the desire and ability to bring people together around a common goal. If Hood has an interest in helping neighborhoods develop their identities, in part through the creation of a logo, I am sure that many of Spokane’s neighborhoods would welcome the opportunity to work with you.

    • To clarify, I’m not involved in the Hoods project. I’m reading your blog as a citizen of Spokane neighborhoods and nothing more, and my opinion is based on my own perceptions of the situation. :) I’m not sure who my “group” is, but the fact is there’s a lot of people that feel the way I do about this blog post and the EG response to the show.

      Jay, it also seems like from what you just posted maybe the committee was expecting some usable work to come out of this that they could put through circulation on stationary and start using as their own? I can’t speak to whether or not that was something that was agreed upon before the show between you and the artists, but from my understanding, that wasn’t the intention behind a lot of the work created. I can see how you would be disappointed in not getting something to use as your own brand if that’s what you were expecting, but again, if that’s something the community wants, why doesn’t the community council just commission it? I think it’s a brilliant idea and I think some of the artists on the Hoods project are talented enough to make a gorgeous brand set for EG. Then you’d have license to give feedback and open up a dialogue between artists hired by you to create something beautiful that fulfills your needs as a community, and as a client would be able to hold the design accountable to what the council felt was a fair representation of EG. But when you don’t commission work and it’s just done by someone on their own under their own free will and power, it definitely goes down courses that you may or may not like, and that’s the nature of the beast. Which is what makes it interesting.

  15. Katie,

    My apologies, I confused “Katie” with “Karli”, obviously not the same person.

    As the information regarding the Hoods project was passed on by word of mouth, it is becoming more apparent that there was never an intention to produce work that was useable by a neighborhood for purposes of neighborhood identity. The work is simply a freelance exercise, done for the fun of it.

    That said, I say great fun and good luck in the future.

  16. We most certainly did create logos. Just to clarify. We can debate about the other stuff but that is pretty darn clear.

  17. Wow. Lots of boo hissing on here. Go Karli for wanting to make Spokane a better place! Go Karli for trying to enrich Spokane! Sounds like someone’s got some poo in there panties… Karli is obviously trying to create an art scene here and you EG (where ever that is) folk are trying to take a crap on it. This is the exact reason I left Spokane in the dust! I got burned out by you people and responses like this when I was trying to give you what you needed, not what you wanted. Because no matter what I poured into you, nothing would change! It was like trying to raise a child that only wanted candy and pop. No matter what, I couldn’t get you to eat the greens. I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into you and not a thing changed. Looks like Karli is serving up a good ol’ dose of something Spokane desperately needs. Identity. Art. Cool. Every time I say “I’m from Spokane” to another human being they say “Oh near Seattle? That’s awesome. I used to spend time in the U district, and got sushi once in Ballard, oh and Fremont is soooo cool! Ugh and I used to go to this sick art show with my girlfriend…” Besides, from a designer stand-point, ‘Corbin Park’ is a much more marketable phrase that has a lot more meaning to most Spokies than EG (the names of the elementary schools? Seriously?). Probably why they picked it. SPOKANE, I ISSUE THEE THIS WARNING -> PLEASE stop scaring away the people that want to make you a diamond.

    You sure scared me.

  18. The EG Council has a right to their points, even if by human rights alone. They are responsible for the image of their neighborhood, despite the fact that neighborhoods are arbitrary. The fact is – they exist as outlined by border and according to the city. Thus, councils are responsible as representations of their area.

    I’m incredibly disappointed in the people standing up for Karli Ingersoll or the Hoods logos. While I have nothing against any of them and I’m sure they are decent people – the critique that I have is that the Hoods project should have been more thought out. If only as a matter of decency to the neighborhoods they are or are trying to represent. There should have been more research involved and more consideration if these “art” pieces are going to be successful not only for a neighborhood (which the creators aren’t staking a claim in, for the sake of objectivity), but for the success as pieces. Can you sell your “art” and make money off of it? I’m sure you did and will continue to. But could you have done more with it – more responsible work as artists (really as designers)?

    Today is April 13, 2013. A while after this has happened. The matter has sort of spawned its own life. No one is really hurt. I’m sure there is some quiet bitterness between EG and, most specifically, Miss Ingersoll. Karli certainly didn’t submit a logo for the contest recently held for the neighborhood. That would have been a nice peace offering, knowing – to be totally honest – that she probably wouldn’t have won. Or would it have made things worse? Interesting. … Hopefully we can all be friends and be more responsible as designers and much more so – as neighbors.

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