NET/TEN Shareback: Borderlands Theater, Spoken Futures, and U of A Mexican American Studies - How to Change the Name of a Municipal Building

2016-17 Exchange Grant Recipients

Borderlands Theater (Tucson, AZ) partnered with Spoken Futures (Tucson, AZ) and the University of Arizona, Mexican American Studies Department (Tucson, AZ) to produce an immersive walking tour showcasing the history and heritage of Tucson’s historic Barrio Anita. Archival research and intergenerational oral histories from Barrio Anita elders, current residents, and youth was transformed into multi-media video projections, spoken word performances, shadow puppetry, and reenactments.

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Marc David Pinate, lead artist on the Barrio Stories Project and artistic director of Borderlands Theater, explores the principals of Micheal Rohd’s methodology of Civic Practice through a case study from the Barrio Stories Project.

How to Change the Name of a Municipal Building: A lesson in Civic Practice

In the wake of the considerable ruckus over the removal (or non-removal in some cases) of confederate statues and flags last year, you may have started walking around your city with a critical eye toward the individuals whom city fathers chose to memorialize through statues or placards on buildings and parks. Or perhaps, like the artists involved in the Barrio Stories Project in Tucson, Arizona, you embedded yourself in a neighborhood and through your interviews and meetings with community members came to find out the city owned and run community center in a primarily Mexican-American historic barrio is named after an Anglo pioneer who was a former Texas Ranger/“indian killer” and led the massacre of nearly 100 Arivaipa Apache women and children. What follows is a checklist we used to create a project aimed at changing the name of the William Oury Neighborhood Center in Barrio Anita, a historic designated neighborhood in the heart of Tucson, Arizona. The project was part of a larger heritage preservation initiative called the Barrio Stories Project in Barrio Anita.

Full disclosure: The name of the center has not been changed... yet. Neighborhood residents themselves must come together to take the final step, which involves the collection of signatures and a formal petition to the city council for the name change. Our humble notes below describe the mechanism by which artists, neighborhood residents, youth, a school teacher, and a city council staff member devised a strategy to get residents to this final step.

Step 1: Listen
This comes straight from Michael Rohd’s concept of Civic Practice. For those unfamiliar with the framework, Rohd defines Civic Practice as “activity where an artist employs the assets of his/her craft in response to the needs of non-arts partners as determined through ongoing relationship- based dialogue.” In order to employ assets in response to needs artists must first understand those needs. The first and most important step is always to listen.

As part of the Barrio Stories Project I video recorded the oral histories of sixteen Barrio Anita residents, which resulted in about thirty five hours of listening. Through that listening a few residents brought up the name of the community center as an issue of concern. To quote Barrio Anita resident Luis Mena, “it’s like if you had a community center in a Jewish neighborhood and it was named after Hitler!” A couple of residents also had an idea for the new namesake of the center. Father Asenio Carrillo was born and raised in Barrio Anita. He served as its parish priest for several years and was known for his lifetime of championing the needs of poor and working class before his death in 2017. Other things I heard in my listening were that there were few activities for young people in Barrio Anita, and the neighborhood school, Davis Bilingual Elementary, had a social justice mission with some incredible, highly innovative teachers.

Step 2: Research and Design
I decided to see how artists might be able to use their assets and skills to help residents get the name of the community center changed. I researched Mr. William Oury and the Camp Grant Massacre. I found plenty of information on Oury’s nefarious pursuits. Next I sent an email to Steve Arnquest, chief of staff for Barrio Anita’s city council representative. Steve was part of the Creative Communities Institute team working on the Barrio Stories Project. I asked Steve what the process for changing the name of a city building was. He did some research and emailed me back. Steve said that usually a name change is very difficult, however, there is a stipulation in the municipal codes that states that individuals who the city names buildings or parks after have to meet the standards and morals of the community. He said in light of Oury’s heinous acts, a name change would likely pass a city council vote. The key was to get the neighborhood residents on board.

Assembling a Team
I spoke to Adam Cooper-Teran, a digital media artist from the Barrio Stories Project, about making an animated video that would convey Oury’s questionable acts in a succinct and impactful way. “But I don’t want you to make the video,” I said. “I want you to train youth from the barrio to make it and I’m going to pay them to take this video animation workshop from you and help make the video” Adam agreed this was a better way to involve more community stakeholders while teaching skills the youth could use long after the project. I went back to some of the barrio residents I had gotten to know over months of working on the Barrio Stories Project to recruit a couple of youth that would work with Adam. Based on the recommendations of residents I found two young men interested in the project, Telpochtli Moreno and Louis Romero. Concurrently, I had been looking for ways to engage students at Davis elementary school. Julian Barceló, another member of the Barrio Stories Creative Communities Team who served as a liaison between Borderlands Theater and Davis, set up a meeting with the principal to see if engaging a class of fourth graders to draw and narrate the story would be possible. Telpochtli and Louis would then animate the children's drawings and edit the narration. Principal Carmen Campuzano was excited about the idea, as it fit within the school’s social justice mission, and gave me the green light to contact one of the fourth grade teachers. Working with the students of Davis was as much an artistic decision as one based on increasing community engagement. As the lead artist on this project, I felt the voices of small children and their drawings would create an arresting tension when coupled against the cold blooded acts of massacre. The historical information coming “from the mouths of babes” would perhaps make these harsh facts more palatable for any die hards against changing the name of the center.

Now I had a team. Next I needed a script. Based on my research on William Oury I wrote a ten minute script in the voice of a fourth grader.

Step 3: Vet... or Listen Again
After several revisions, I sent my script to the historical consultant on the Barrio Stories team, Dr. Lydia Otero. I wanted Dr. Otero to look over the script for historical accuracy, and more importantly, to give me a sense of how deep rooted, Mexican-American Tucsonenses, whose connection to Tucson runs five, six, even seven generations deep might react to the work. Along with being an expert on Tucson history, Dr. Otero, as a fifth generation Tucsonense and a previous collaborator with Borderlands Theater has provided candid feedback on past heritage/ history projects without judgement. After receiving notes from Dr. Otero and making appropriate edits, I sent the script to Ramon Olívas, one of the Barrio Anita residents who first spoke to me about the problem with the community center’s name. Mr. Olivas liked the script. He asked if the Carrillo family had been contacted about the proposed name change, and volunteered to talk them after I replied the family had not been contacted. I then sent the script to Miguel Garcia, who works for Tucson Parks and Recreation and runs the Oury Center. Miguel was born and raised in Tucson’s Barrio Hollywood, a neighborhood that borders Barrio Anita. He grew up playing in Oury Park and Oury Center. “A lot of people grew up at Oury. They have a lot of memories associated with the place and they’re not going to want a name change,” Miguel said. Miguel brought an important point to our attention. Generations of barrio residents with no knowledge of William Oury or his murderous acts had spent their lives with this name in their lives. To them Oury was the name of the park where they played ball, barbecued, hung out with friends, and spent their best years. It was time to make adjustments.

Step 4: Adjust and Implement
I consulted with Adam about Miguel’s feedback. Along with incredible digital media skills, Adam has a wealth of experience as an artist working with Native American communities. He understands the nuances of being an outside artist who respects the culture and values of the community he is working with/for. Miguel’s feedback made a lot of sense to both of us. After some discussion, I suggested we step back from the name change (even though by this point we had received the blessing of the Carrillo family) and focus our messaging efforts on educating Barrio Anita residents about William Oury and his role in the Camp Grant Massacre. Once the community was primed with the historical facts, a resident like Mr. Olivas could introduce the idea of a name change to the neighborhood association.

Around this time I also found out that due to timing issues, the fourth grade class at Davis would not be able to participate in the project. I personally knew the parents of a Davis student and I contacted them directly about having their daughter record the narration for the animation. They and their daughter, Mariana, were excited to participate. Mariana’s teacher, Mr. Barceló, worked with Mariana to prep her for her voice over recording and offered his classroom as a recording location. Telpochtli and Louis would draw the animation images along with animating them. Adam created a five week curriculum and we began the digital animation workshop, fittingly, at Oury Center on Wednesday afternoons. Students worked with Adobe Photoshop and After Effects to render and animate images and the final piece was edited in Adobe Premiere Pro. The resulting animation can be viewed here.

The culminating Barrio Stories in Barrio Anita event took place April 20 and 21, 2018. The animation played several times each night on four giant projection screens located at the center of the event site. Hundreds of attendees, including many Barrio Anita residents and Davis families watched the video and learned about William Oury and his deeds.

Step 5: Evaluate... yep, more Listening
In the days that followed the event, I had the chance to speak to all of the people involved in creating the video (everyone mentioned in this article) along with several audience members that came to the event and saw the video. Responses have been positive overall. We achieved our goal of educating residents and our next step is to work with leaders in Barrio Anita to bring the matter to the Barrio Anita Neighborhood Association for consideration.

The artists, myself and Adam Cooper-Teran, made every decision based on what we heard from Barrio Anita residents at each step of the process. Through this methodology we succeeded in creating a successful civic engagement project. 

PHOTO DOCUMENTATION:

Still from "The Tale of William Oury" edited by Adam Cooper-Teran.

Still from "The Tale of William Oury" edited by Adam Cooper-Teran.

Mariana Alvarez-Espinoza and Marc David Pinate pictured recording voice over narration. Photo by Julian Barcelo

Mariana Alvarez-Espinoza and Marc David Pinate pictured recording voice over narration. Photo by Julian Barcelo

Picture of giant screens used in Barrio Stories.  Photo Credit: Kate Gross

Picture of giant screens used in Barrio Stories.  Photo Credit: Kate Gross

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Monday, June 11, 2018

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