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Center for Performance + Civic Practice

CATALYST INITIATIVE Artist Elizabeth Burden, based in Tucson AZ, engaged a small collective of local artists to work with several Tucson organizations — each of which addresses public transit and access-related issues in the community. Their work together focused on creating a public engagement strategy and online platform called Transit Talks aimed at bringing the public into dialogue with public and private decision-makers around public transit culture and options in Tucson. Their story over a year of collaboration is one of multi-disciplinary public acts, civic dialogue, and a culminating invitation from a major local player in the transit ecology to continue and grow Transit Talks as an ongoing public engagement strategy.


A creature roams through town Transporting life, here from there Ever moving, slow.

- Transit haiku written by a student in Tucson Youth Poetry Slam



Project Partners

Elizabeth Burden Lead Artist & Facilitator Tucson, AZ

Les Pierce, of the Arroyo Chico Neighborhood Association and the COREbaNC (Core Barrios & Neighborhoods Coalition)

They co-created â&#x20AC;&#x153;Transit Talks,â&#x20AC;? which was conceived after meeting and talking with transit advocates who wanted to have positive, generative conversations in the community. Together, they contemplated how an arts-based process could help promote a broad community conversation about transit in the metro Tucson area.

>> They also wanted to discern key questions/issues that the organizations feel are important for the community to address, and identify specific needs that the organizations have as they work to advance their transit-related goals.


â&#x20AC;&#x153;I think it was a proof of interest

Would other organizations that were interested in transit issues work with some crazy artists on some creative stuff?

And if they were interested, would there be projects that would come from it, projects that would actually happen and would produce results?

< and a proof of concept project.”

“I think the answer to both of these questions is YES.” Liz Burden, Lead Artist


The process would be simple. 1.  First there would be an initial group session of artists and organizational members at which participants would brainstorm ideas and conceptual possiblilities. From the brainstorm, they would —

• Narrow the ideas to a manageable number. • Do an initial co-design of selected ideas. • Commit to working on one of the ideas as a small project team.

2.  Second, there would be one or two additional design meetings of the small project teams to finish the planning.

3.  Third, the teams would implement the projects/make the works.

4. And lastly, there would be some sort of final product (catalog, website, community planning session, presentation, or celebration) to summarize the work.

They developed questions to ask about each process: • Did the artists start working in different ways? • Did the organizations start working in different ways?

Sarah Gonzales Sarah Gonzales serves as a community organizer and artist in Tucson, AZ, and as a social justice education consultant nationally via her company, TruthSarita, LLC. Sarah is also the Co-Director/Co-Founder of Spoken Futures, Inc home to programs including Tucson Youth Poetry Slam and Liberation Lyrics which creates space for youth to process and address issues such as the school to prison pipeline, LGBTQ rights and migrant justice through spoken word poetry. In addition to facilitation, training and youth organizing work, Sarah is an extensive haiku writer, fierce dance floor occupier and a trickster performance artist whose work landed her in 6th place in the Arizona US Presidential Primaries in 2012. Her recent poetry has been published by the Feminist Wire and will be included in the upcoming book, Talking Back and Looking Forward: Poetry and Prose for Social Justice in Education. Sarah has been involved in social justice education for over 17 years. She believes the intersection of art and activism is a critical place for community survival and incorporates storytelling, writing, video, movement, photography into her community collaborations.

Elizabeth Burden Elizabeth Burden is a multidisciplinary artist whose installations feature traditional and non-traditional media— painting, sculpture, video, web, and other art forms. Her work is about interpreting and reinterpreting history and community stories. Elizabeth is also a consultant who for 30 years has worked with non-profit organizations using creative processes to encourage visionary, disruptive, and radical thinking. The common thread that runs through all her work is to look at old realities anew, to confront those realities, reflect upon them, shape them, and transform them—whether through artistic practice or through community process, she believes we can be catalysts for change.

Josh Schachter

Five Artists... Kimi Eisele Kimi Eisele is a multidisciplinary artist working in the literary, dance, visual, and participatory arts. Her writing has been published in literary magazines, anthologies, and online news outlets. Currently she is completing on novel about America in the post-apocalypse. She has directed multiple community dance projects for New ARTiculations Dance Theatre, including Rosemont Ours: A Field Guide, FLOW,The Invisible City, and We Are What We Eat. Kimi is also a co-founder and member of Movement Salon, an improvisational performance group that incorporates dance, spoken word, and live music to create ephemeral compositions. Kimi’s makes papercuttings that explore themes of nature, spirituality, and the body, often incorporating the quirky and whimsical. She has taught creative writing and dance in schools, communities, and institutions for over a decade.

Josh Schachter is an educator, photographer and cultural organizer who has collaborated with organizations throughout the US and globe to document critical social and environmental issues. He earned an MES from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies in 1999. Over the past 15 years, he has collaborated on community-based media projects with youth, teachers, neighborhood groups, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. In 2009 he received the “Arizona Teaching Artist Award for Innovation” from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and was a nominee for the 2013 Buffalo Exchange Arts Award.

Denise Uyehara Denise Uyehara is an awardwinning performance artist, writer, and playwright whose work has been presented across the United States and abroad in London, Helsinki, Vancouver and Tokyo. For over two decades she has investigated what marks the body on its migration across borders of identity. Her interdisciplinary performances often focus on issues of gender, cultural identity, civil liberties, war and occupation. She is a founding member of the Sacred Naked Nature Girls. Uyehara is a frequent university lecturer and conducts workshops in the community and in theaters, galleries and museums.

...worked with local organizations Living Streets Alliance Tucson Bus Riders Union The Tucson Bus Riders Union is a group of community members, businesses, and organizations committed to building a first class bus system in Tucson. TBRU has  been organizing bus riders and their allies to keep the bus fares low, the routes plentiful, and the Ronstadt Transit Center downtown. It is making sure Tucson’s transit system serves all residents in the most affordable, convenient, and easy-to-use way.

The Living Streets Alliance is a nonprofit organization. Its mission is to promote healthy communities by empowering people to transform our streets into vibrant places for walking, bicycling, socializing, and play. LSA aims to empower citizens, staff, developers, and public officials to improve public rights of way and the street network to be more connective and convenient for walking and cycling, while simultaneously utilizing roadway improvement as a means of enhancing the urban environment and character of the greater Tucson region.   The Living Streets Alliance seeks to inspire urban improvements for walking, cycling,  public transit, and healthy community and neighborhood life through outreach, education, and advocacy pertaining to alternative modes of transportation and basic improvements to the physical condition and design of roadways and the public right of way.

CoreBaNC CoreBaNC (Core Barrio and Neighborhood Coalition) is made up of barrios and neighborhoods that are impacted by the City of Tucson Infill Incentive District Overlay Zone (IID). This zone has been placed over many of the neighborhoods in the downtown area and stretches from Fourth Avenue to Menlo Park, up to Grant Road and down past 22nd Street.

... and created

Transit Talks The Pilot Project The process followed eight simple “rules”. 1) Remember, this is an experiment. 2) Trust the people and the process. 3) Have only two meetings. 4) Plan with clear intention for thoughtful action. 5) Spend $50 or less on materials. 6) Document what you do. 7) Keep commitments. 8) Complete project in 12 weeks. And resulted in four projects*. • • • •

At the Bus Stop Video Poems On My... (Bus/Bike/Walk) Website Our Money Website Tucson Bus Posters

* Elizabeth Burden also created the website TransitTalks.zone as an ongoing record, repository, and online meeting place to share news, project updates, and documentation.

Project 1: At the Bus Stop Video Poems This project lives on Youtube and is linked through the TransitTalks.zone website. The project asks — What’s happening at your bus stop? Regular bus riders share images and thoughts about what happens at theirs. It’s a photographic study of bus stops in Tucson, highlighted with haikus written by members of the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam. http://transittalks.zone/videos-we-love/video-poem-project/ Sssh... The lady speaks Babies laugh, my phone is on shuffle I got swag. Sun Trans Bus #16 Take me to the mall right now I want to shop please.

Bookshelves and wifi Community solutions Transit Talks - LOUDLY.

In Tucson we wait For the bus to come For the same reason we wait for rain To save us from the sun. It’s easier for me to find a liquor store Than it is for me to find a bus stop.

On my bike, I pass the school in Rincon Heights neighborhood, all the students gathered in a circle in the back lot, with a tribal chant and gourd rattle. Maybe a blessing or ceremony for the start of the new semester â&#x20AC;&#x201C; keeping their culture alive.

Perfect find on my ride home. Tucsons little free libraries are always full of surprises!

On my bike, I see Beautiful monsoon vista of the Catalina mountains with rays of sunshine poking through.

Standing room only on the #9 today.

On my bike, I see a lot of distracted and dangerous driving. This morning, I saw someone run a red light at high speed on Campbell Ave. I also saw very few motorists using turn signals.

Project 2: On My Bus/Bike/Walk On My... is an independent website featuring photos and captions from Tucson transit riders, bicyclists and pedestrians sharing their views, viewpoints and perspectives. www.transittalks.zone/onmy/

Project 3: Our Money Our Money: How Public Dollars are Spent is an informational webpage including infographics describing what we spend per capita on transit, road, and bike/ped infrastructure in Tucson and across the nation. It also asks how you would spend the dollars via an interactive poll. http://transittalks.zone/projects/our-money-project/

Bus Riders = Eco Heroes

Where buses go, community grows

What do you think? Text TTALKS & message to 22333 to reply

What do you think? Text TTALKS & message to 22333 to reply

transit talks

transit talks TranzitTalks.Zone


% of respondents who think that bus riders are ”Eco- Heroes”

% of respondents who think ”community grows where buses go”

The “Yes” responses often expressed delight at how Transit Talks is recasting the perception of bus-riding: “EcoHero? That’s too cute! Yes i do!” The “No” responses were largely about reasons other than altruism – cost savings and no access to an automobile.

The “No” responses posited that buses go where communities have already grown. The “Yes” responses identified improving quality of life; access to “Grow America” funds; the ability to “get more done”; the presence of businesses along bus routes.

Project 4: Tucson Bus Posters One group’s project involved designing, placing, and analyzing data collected from posters with questions for transit riders. They generated about a hundred responses, entered via text message.

TransitTalks.zone Lead artist and facilitator Elizabeth Burden synthesized all the projects on the website TransitTalks.zone.

Beyond the first phase — What’s next has been “lovingly called TransitTalks 2” by the project’s creators.

The Catalyst Initiative has basically been the catalyst for the larger project that is happening in Tucson... Our goals are really to shift the system. The context has gotten even more interesting and important, and the timing is just right... A couple of the key partners that were part of the transit project are now on the city’s transit task force. We’re meeting with a city council person, to talk to her about how our process can help her... Reenvisioning bus stops as public spaces as well as functional spaces and increasing ridership. Those are really the things the partners have signed on for. We’re looking at it as an eighteen month project that will culminate in what we’re calling The Bus Start Festival. The Festival will be a showcase for everything that happens over the first sixteen months, that will happen at bus stops, at the transit centers, and on the bus. Which Suntran has already committed to. When that happens, it will be great. - Liz Burden, Lead artist and facilitator

Reflections We learned relationships are important. If we want the projects to work, spend more time relationship-building, and less time doing presentations. Encouraging community partners to envision things that they wanted to tackle, but have been afraid to.... Because an art-based process might be a way of approaching some of those more challenging or difficult issues.... Artists learned that they can say and do things that may be advantageous for SunTran that SunTran cannot itself do, given its contractual relationship to the city. Artists in Arizona also came to see that â&#x20AC;&#x153;shifting the city system is about shifting the [city] staff; they are the greatest champion as well as greatest barrier. - Liz Burden

OUTCOMES << Catalyst projects have led to continuing or new collaborations between the artists and community partners.... In Arizona, Catalyst artists have reached out to the City of Tucson and SunTran to partner on a larger version of the project and they have agreed to participate. The artist team is now acknowledged as a potential asset and tool in the community’s public and official work to improve public transit options. [Projects explored] use of narrative and story and how to project those to broader publics. Artistic practice revealed stories that, in the public telling, have potential to shift public narrative on issues in community.... Arizona’s creative interventions called attention to users’ stories of public transportation as a critical public asset and resource. In so doing, the aim was to shift public attitude. Artists considered how tracking media reporting can serve as a proxy for shifts in public perception. [Catalyst projects experimented] with new media and social media in place-based work. Arizona’s online platform, Transit Talks, provided an alternative forum to bring the public into dialogue with public and private decision-makers around public transit culture and options in Tucson. .... More people and new voices were engaged in civic dialogue through the Catalyst activities. Catalyst projects succeeded in creating alternative discussion forums and participatory activities that attracted and involved people who are most directly affected by the issues. Arizona, New Orleans, and Kentucky projects were explicitly focused on issues of inclusion and used creative strategies to ensure that disenfranchised community members were given opportunities to share experience in public contexts, listened to, and supported. .... It’s interesting to note that artist Elizabeth Burden in Tucson characterized the set of Catalyst creative activities in her project as artist driven. “Partners didn’t have as much ownership of the final projects as we would have liked.” Despite this, the partners, in the end, felt well served by the artists’ contributions. .... Catalyst projects challenged the norms and forms of civic processes. Catalyst projects in Arizona and New Orleans prompted thinking about a new way of collecting and sharing data that could begin to shift public process. For example, questions investigated by the Transit Talks project included: Who collects the data necessary for good policy and planning? And how might community-sourced data become a model for sustained government practice rather than simply a criticism of gaps in government practice? Having the community taking responsibility for information development changes the dynamic. Even though the scope of Catalyst projects didn’t allow for such questions to be fully played out, it was valuable that such questions were surfaced for further public scrutiny. - Catalyst Initiative Report (Animating Democracy, 2015) Animating Democracy is a prograom of Americans for the Arts

The Catalyst Initiative is an action research initiative â&#x20AC;&#x201D; a model for supporting, advancing, and learning from innovative artist and community partner collaborations in order to reveal new possibilities for artistic contributions to community problem-solving and growth. The Catalyst Initiative is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Profile for Center for Performance and Civic Practice

Catalyst Initiative : Arizona 2015  

Center for Performance and Civic Practice presents a five-part series on the first round of its Catalyst Initiative Pilot Projects, supporte...

Catalyst Initiative : Arizona 2015  

Center for Performance and Civic Practice presents a five-part series on the first round of its Catalyst Initiative Pilot Projects, supporte...


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