The Story Behind SEE/CHANGE: An Interview with Philippa Hughes
svetlana | Nov 16, 2016 | 11:00AM |

In this time of uncertainty, art projects that focus on building and engaging communities are more important than ever. Art can be a catalyst for conversation that brings people together, closes the gaps between us. SEE/CHANGE, a public art video installation that is part of this week’s FotoWeekDC programming is one of those catalysts, engaging the community  along the lower Georgia Ave. corridor. We caught up with Philippa Hughes of Pinkline Project, the driving force behind SEE/CHANGE, which runs through November 20.

In addition to staging SEE/CHANGE, Philippa is hosting a community discussion, “What changes do you see?” on Thursday, November 17 at Walls of Books, 3325 Georgia Ave NW, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Attendees will receive a “Georgia Avenue is for lovers” t-shirt designed by former Pleasant Plains resident and artist Kristina Bilonick.

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How would you explain creative placemaking to a complete stranger?

Kim Driggins, former Associate Director, DC Office of Planning, said it best: “The intentional use of arts and culture to shape the physical, social, and economic future of communities, which strengthens economic development, promotes civic engagement, and contributes to quality of life. In short, art is a verb, and creative placemaking is doing art to change a place.”

What attracted you to it at this point in your creative career?

The mission of Pink Line Project has always been to use arts as a tool for connecting people who would not normally interact, to create more empathy. Now more than ever. Change in the world begins with understanding our neighbors.

How did the idea of SEE/CHANGE come to be?

After winning a grant called “Crossing the Street” from the DC Office of Planning, I spent six months meeting people in the Lower Georgia Avenue neighborhood and trying to understand the dynamics at play in this transitioning community. I played around with many creative placemaking ideas until I finally landed on a simple concept: humanizing the effects of population change and revitalization on a neighborhood that is undergoing rapid change. I wanted to show on a large scale the faces of people who live in the community who would be affected by these changes.

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How does it fit in where D.C. as a city and an art community is right now?

D.C. attracts people who want to make a difference in the world and who have the capacity to do so. SEE/CHANGE is a natural extension of that desire. Our art community is pivoting toward using our powers as artists to fight injustice and to shift the momentum toward positive change.

What can the audience expect to see?

Video portraits of residents of Lower Georgia Avenue projected into storefront windows from Florida ave. to New Hampshire Ave. And large mobile projections every night during FotoweekDC from 5 to 8 p.m. in a different location each evening. Follow @pinklineproject to find out where to go! Also interviews with members of the community expressing their views on the changes that are taking place in this rapidly changing neighborhood.

How do you hope the audience interacts with it?

I hope people will stop and stare into the faces of their neighbors. It’s hard to look in someone’s eyes and hate them. I hope to sow the seeds of empathy through these interactions.

Tell us a little bit about the team and the process?

I collaborated with the amazing team of Composite Co. to create SEE/CHANGE. I explained my vision to them and they made it a reality and then made it more awesome. We agreed that the neighborhood deserved great art. That we would create something beautiful with the community and for the community. We then worked with Bell Visuals to project the video art in storefront windows and on walls a long Georgia Avenue. Robin Bell completed SEE/CHANGE by enlivening blank spaces with light and visual dynamism.

How has the response been thus far? Any interesting reactions and conversations?

Overheard, from a man who was passing by the storefront projection at the former Pleasant Plains Workshop: “That’s tight.” Pretty much the best compliment you can get in D.C.

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What is the measure of success for a public art project?

Success of public art is measured by whether it moves people in some way. I don’t think it should be measured by traditional metrics. Though a particular art work may move only a few people, that movement can produce a ripple effect that moves many more down the line. We need to think in terms of generations rather than in short-term ROI.

Is this only the beginning of a series or just a stand-alone project?

I deeply hope that this project is only the beginning of many art projects that provoke conversations between people who might not normally speak to one another.