Awardee: Donna Oblongata

Primary Artistic Medium: Audio Documentary / Walking Tour

Idea

My proposed project (working title: Passing Through) is a combination audio documentary and walking tour. It invites participants to listen to stories from a diverse array of Philadelphians who pass through and sometimes overlap within a small area of public space.

The project serves three specific functions artistically. First, it works to illuminate and remind us that everyone we pass on the street has a story. Their lives are undeniably as complicated and multifaceted as our own—we’ve all got a lot going on. Second, it brings these disparate stories into relationship by placing them together in a geographic context; letting the listener feel and experience the complexity and heterogeneity that is vital to city life. Third, it invites listeners to spend time in the city’s public spaces, by engaging in a short walking tour and observing each space anew.

To begin, I will select three public spaces near Center City that are within walking distance of each other. In each of these spaces, I will spend several days conducting in-depth interviews with people who use the space in some way. The interviews will be audio-recorded and will represent a diverse spectrum of people—both demographically and in terms of their relationship to the space itself. For example, in Hawthorne Park there may be an interview with an office worker who takes their lunch break at the same park bench each day, a professional dog-walker who passes through the park but never stops to sit, an unhoused person who spends much of their day in the park, a worker with the water department who is often working beneath the city’s surface, a child growing up in one of the nearby condo buildings, etc.

Once I’ve collected six interviews for each of the three locations, I’ll set about editing each for clarity and to give each a poetic and emotional arc, so that the listener can get a full sense of who each person is. Once the interviews have been edited, they’ll be uploaded to a website, so that they can then be streamed by listeners.

Finally, I’ll install a plaque in each of the three locations, which will provide information about the project (as well as letting folks know they’ve come to the right spot). The plaque will prominently display the URL for the interviews for that location, so that participants can listen to that space’s stories using their own phone or other device. The plaque will also provide directions to the next location on the walking tour, where there will be another plaque offering another URL that leads to that space’s specific stories.

If possible, I would also like to install the interviews on MP3 players that could be borrowed from the closest Free Library, to make the project accessible to participants who aren’t able to listen via their own phone. However, given the constraints of the pandemic, I understand this may not be viable.

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