elizabeth jade rodak

artist + art educator

a community art exchange

Elizabeth Jade RodakComment

One of the first projects that started my journey towards the art of social practice was my project a community art exchange. Below is the writing of this project, see "portfolio" tab for images. I hope to start this back up very soon since the weather is finally warming up.

 

A COMMUNITY ART EXCHANGE.

outreach. friendship. connections. support. fellowship. living life together.

I’ve walked the same streets of Cincinnati for over two years now. I see the same people coming in and out of neighborhood homes and I rarely ever say hi. I see everyone else doing the same thing. We live among thousands of wonderful people who are living life, struggling with life, and enjoying life, just as we are, but we never step out of our life to hear about theirs.

I’m tired of living my life next to other people who I don’t know. I want to get to know them. Some of the easiest ways to form community with others is sharing a meal, getting coffee, or giving them a personal gift. I’m on mission to break the barriers between my life and my community’s life. They are just as valuable as my best friends are. They deserve to be smiled at when passing, spoken to when eye contact is made, and they most certainly deserve to share in community with their neighbors.

For the next month I want to start carrying around my ceramics mugs, cups, and bowls along with food and coffee. I want to engage with my community. I want to live life with them, not separated from them. I want to exchange my ceramic art for their story, their words, and their friendship. If I get denied 9 out of the 10 people I ask to participate, I will still come out with one more friend than I started out with.

I want my art to impact my community’s life and I want my community to change my life.

RON.

funny. optimistic. talkative. outgoing. striver.

Every morning at 7:30am I leave my house to walk to UC. I always walk the same route and I always cross at the same crosswalk on Jefferson Street. I have seen some men sit outside the houses by the crosswalk before but I have never said hello. On my walk to school on a Sunday, I decided to stop, chat, and share crackers with them in my ceramic bowls. As I turned the corner onto Jefferson, I could see three men sitting outside the house. When I approached, they were laughing and enjoying the weather. Ron was sitting on a chair looking out over the street. He told me he was the oldest out of the gentlemen there. Ron was definitely the chattiest. He loves Cincinnati because it has many religious places where you can practice your faith. He said, “It’s a challenge to the world, it gives us a challenge to ourselves in Christ, things are moving here in Cincinnati. We are all glad for the change here in Cincinnati, we are optimistic.” He loves Jesus. He praises the Lord for the beauty of Jesus’ name and not our own name.

I have passed Ron several times now in the morning. One morning I stopped and listened to music with him. It was refreshing to start my day out with community. Ron and I are now friends and I intend to continue to grow closer in community with him.

WILLIE.

quiet. intelligent. thoughtful. kind.

Willie was sitting among the other men on Jefferson Street. Willie was the youngest of the three. He sat on a cement ledge next to his dog Miracle. He moved to Cincinnati several years ago from Alabama. He loves the diversity in Cincinnati, he feels he can go anywhere in Cincinnati and see lots of ethnicities. Willie feels all cultures are welcome in this beautiful city. He loves the skyline at night. He feels there are never dull moments throughout the year. Each community is it’s own but safe and unique in it’s own manner. His approach and perspective on community and the city of Cincinnati was inspiring. I love Cincinnati as well, but his description of the scenery that draws him in was beautiful. He helped me to have a new, fresh perspective. Sometimes the city can overwhelm me, but Willie helped me to see things in a different light. I appreciate his thoughts.

Willie emailed me a week or so after our first introduction. I was so thrilled to hear from him! He and I intend to go to church together soon. I’m so happy to have met him.

TERRY.

gentle. involved. community-seeker. calm.

Terry immediately caught my attention. He was sitting in a chair next to Ron. He was quiet at first but I could immediately sense a protective nature about him. I just felt safe next to him. As we began to talk, he expressed his love for the redevelopment of downtown Cincinnati. He feels everyone supports it. Terry said, “It’s not just for certain people but for the whole community, everyone. It’s beautiful. It’s a great place to get involved.” He said he always loves running into people who love Jesus. Terry talked about the particular kind of communication and love that is present between believers. I could relate to that love. He feels that Jesus is the way to community. He wants community and he has found that in Cincinnati. I loved his theory, “that’s what it’s all about- getting involved with the community.” I was so excited to hear Terry’s heart for the community. I could feel the love pouring out of him in words and tenderness. He was a strong, kind man. I hope to run into him again.

CHAZ.

eager. humble. respectful. honest.

As I was walking down Calhoun, Chaz stopped me and asked if I would donate some money to his schools’ trip to DC. He was so humble as he asked. I asked him if I could have something in return. I just wanted some time. We sat down right out side Buffulo Wild Wings and I pulled out two mugs. We sat together and drank some flavored water. Chaz is in 8th grade and he was so motivated and excited about life. He wants to be a doctor someday. His joyful spirit was refreshing. He told me flipping to him was just like art to me. So not only did he have an active spirit but also he had an active body. He loved to learn different kinds of flips; back flips, front flips, spring etc. He said he has an ambition to be in the Olympics someday. Chaz talked so highly of the people in his life. I don’t often find teenagers who respect all the people in their life, but he did. He and I had a lot in common, too. We both love our grandmas a lot and we would both consider them one of our best friends. Chaz was eager to learn, grow stronger, and achieve things in life. Before I left, I gave him a few bucks and I really hope he has a blast in DC!

CRYSTAL.

lovely. modest. sweet. engaged.

I spotted Crystal sitting on a bus bench as the sun was setting. I sat down next to her and asked if she was waiting for the bus. She said no but she was waiting for a ride home. So I asked her if she wanted to do an exchange. I pulled out my mugs. She already had some soda to drink but I poured myself some water. She was a little shy at first and seemed confused as to why I wanted to talk to her. After a minute passed, we might as well have been friends. We talked about school and where we were from. She’s an achiever, a freshman in pre-med. Crystal was very engaged in the conversation and she asked me questions in return. It was nice to be able to let the conversation flow. It wasn’t forced at all. She participated just as much as I did, if not more. She was beautiful on the inside and out. I gave Crystal my contact information and I hope to hear from her soon.

KIMBERLY.

involved. honest. companionable. kindhearted.

As I was walking home from studio today, I couldn’t help but stop at the Coryville park on my street. After the sun had left from the seat I was at, I began to walk home and I saw two women sitting on the front porch of a beautiful yellow home. The porch itself looked so warm with flowers, comfy chairs and drapery. I asked the two women if I could join them on their porch and just get to know them. They seemed a little confused at first but they allowed me to come up anyways. It was just Kimberly and I at first; Latoya went inside to check her food. Kimberly has been living in the Coryville neighborhood for over 40 years. She lives up the street from the house that we were sitting at. She asked me so many questions about my life and my family. We talked about church and where each of us attended. We found out that the church I attend now is right next to the location of the church she attended before it moved. Small world. Kimberly is one of ten children. She told me about her family and a lot of the kidney surgeries that have occurred. She told me about her profession in surgical tools. I don’t remember the name but essentially she works with surgical tools, pretty serious stuff!  Her willingness to be vulnerable and honest with me was uplifting. It was so easy to talk to her and be real about life. I felt nothing but acceptance from her. We talked about how I live right around the corner from her. She asked if my house was the house that threw the block party at the beginning of the school year. It was. I was sad that her and Latoya didn’t know they were invited. I want the whole community to come together, college kids and those who have resided there their whole life. Coryville is Kimberly’s home; it has been for 40 years. It was an honor to meet her and talk to her. I know she and I will remain friends. I plan to stop by more often and try to form a deeper friendship.

LATOYA.

friendly. generous. inviting. sweet.

As soon as Latoya came back out from checking her food, she sat down on the other side of me. She was so sweet. She repeated a lot of what Kimberly and I had already talked about, but that was okay. It was cool to hear it again. We talked about the block party and she told me that the Coryville community had a reunion not too long ago. That was exciting to hear! The community is really coming together around Coryville and on Short Vine. There were so many connections and community events going on already and I had no idea about them. Latoya and Kimberly new so much about the neighborhood. They pointed out all of the houses around them that have homeowners in them. They knew their neighbors. A few people drove by and either waved or rolled down the window and said hello. I could tell that Latoya and Kimberly were kind and had many friends. Latoya provides daycare at her house. We talked about caring for kids and how they are so adorable except when they cry, poop, and hit each other. We laughed. It was nice to laugh with a stranger in hopes to break the barriers. Before I left, I gave Latoya and Kimberly some of my ceramic work. Latoya offered me some Macaroni and Cheese. I declined it but I was blessed to have her generosity shared with me. Latoya invited me to a fish fry on October 5th and I can’t wait to go and just hang out with her some more.

NATE.

nice. protective. tease. playful.

Nate was the first guy I made eye contact with as I was walking down the street. He immediately smiled and patted on the empty bus stop seat next to him. I laughed and said, “Sure I’ll take a break on my walk.” Nate was easy to get acquainted to. Right off the bat we discussed how old we both were, what my major was, how he works at UPS, and that we both live in Coryville. He even has the word Coryville tattooed on his chest. He loves his community. Nate is 25 and majored in Psychology. We laughed about how he isn’t doing anything with Psychology and how I will have a hard time finding a job with a fine arts degree. It was sweet of him to ask me questions in return for my questions. A man next to him wanted some food so I pulled out some crackers and poured them in my ceramic bowl. Nate asked me if I made it and I said yes. He jokingly asked if I would make him an ashtray and I said I had something in my bag he could use as an ashtray if he wanted, so I pulled that out, too. I was thinking it could be used to carry salt and peppershakers… but at least it’s going to use now! Nate was very intriguing to talk to. He definitely had his flirtatious moments but it was innocent and flattering. I could tell he had a good heart because he had a subtle protective nature in him. A few times the guys on the bus stop bench pushed the limits and he stuck up for me. It was a very cool experience and I’m sure I will hear from him soon!

KENNY.

curious. content. happy. friendly.

Kenny showed up at the bus stop about 20 minutes after I did. I didn’t realize the bus stop was such a cool place to hang. I always see people there, but I always thought they were actually waiting for the bus. None of them were. As I sat there on the bench, I started to understand why they gathered there. It was a nice bench, it was in the shade, and lots of people walked by. It was a place they all gathered for community, to talk, and enjoy one another’s company. I was blessed to enjoy their company, too. Kenny was quiet at first but as soon as I stood up to go shake his hand and introduce myself, he instantly became curious as to who I was, where I was from and so on and so forth. One of the other men on the bench expressed some of the struggles he was going through and all I could say was, “I’m sorry, I’ll be praying for you.” As soon as I said that, Kenny asked me what church I go to. I told him I went to Missio Dei. We started chatting about churches and he told me he goes to Christ the King but he’d like to check out my church and asked if I was going the next Sunday. I was ecstatic to hear he wanted to come see my church. He invited me to hang out with him and some of his friends from church that night, unfortunately I couldn’t because I was in studio working on this project. I’m sure we will be seeing each other around from now on.

REGGIE.

lively. experienced. determined. thankful.

What a character Reggie was. From the moment I sat on the bench he was yapping away, in good ways of course. He was very spirited. He had a comment about everything. He thought I was Irish because his grandmother was Irish and had my skin color. Reggie was the man who said he was hungry. Crackers weren’t enough for him though. He was determined to get a burger. It was quite comical because I toyed with him a little bit before I said yes to buying him a burger. I’m vegetarian so I had to, at least a little bit. As Reggie and I walked into Steak & Lemonade on Short Vine, we saw a couple with their baby. We instantly both started to smile and make faces at the baby. In that moment Reggie and I weren’t very different from one another. We had so much in common in that short moment. The baby really was adorable. After Reggie and I left with his burger, he was so thankful. I was touched by his grateful heart. Reggie shared with me a good amount about his past. I could tell that he had really experienced some of the difficulties life can have at times. I was encouraged to hear the progress of his life and where he is at currently, though. He was honest and willing to share the reality of his life with his community. This is something that I wish more people would do.

T.Y.

sweet. calm. humble. attentive.

T.Y. walked over to the bus stop last. He was very quiet but aware. He didn’t say much in the conversation but he laughed along with us and I could tell he wanted to be involved. He was friendly and sincere. He and Nate started to talk about sleeping in and T.Y. admitted that he slept in till 1 in the afternoon. That was a little late for my taste but I think T.Y. is just a very laid back guy. Sometimes I wish I could be as laid back and content with life as he seemed to be. I need to learn to relax like T.Y. can. His silence intrigued me more than anything. I really loved his ability to simply listen and be amused. He didn’t need to voice his opinion at all; he just absorbed the interaction around him and enjoyed the nice day.

JASON.

loving. friendly. strong. father.

The first time I ever met Jason was at a block party that my house hosted. He and his daughters came over and the girls played with me and he just watched from afar. I saw him watching the girls and I knew he was the father. I went and introduced myself to him and that started a friendship between neighbors. For a long time, our only encounters were Thursday mornings when I would walk to work at 7:30am and he would be sitting outside on a lawn chair enjoying the cool morning air. We would always chat for a minute and then I would be on my way. Jason has always been kind and engaging. He has such a protective and caring nature to him. Recently, I saw Jason and his daughter playing outside. I approached them and we talked a lot about the neighborhood and the kind of art I do. He also told me that he is a father of four girls. I think that is incredible. He is an honorable man. Jason was grateful for company and we talked about how we want to be more communal with one another and everyone else in the neighborhood as well. Jason is someone who has been on my heart for a while. Something about him and his daughters just shine. I am blessed to have such friendly,  incredible neighbors.

ASANTI.

adorable. innocent. playful. sweet.

Asanti came over to my house for the block party back in August. She was so happy that she was there. My friend was rapping on the porch and all the kids were dancing and clearly filled with joy! Asanti and several other girls hung around me for the most part. They all wanted to take pictures with my SRL camera. I let each one take a turn. A lot of the other girls were greedy with the camera but Asanti was so sweet and she listened to me when I said her turn was up. She is a true gem. When I walked up to her and her father, Jason, she was popping firecrackers with a hammer. It was so childlike. Asanti was extremely pleasant and a great listener to her father and to the others around her. She kept a smile plastered to her face at all times. Asanti is going to become a beautiful young girl soon and I hope to get to know her more and more as she grows up.

LISTENING TO LEARN.

diversity. strength. contribution. seeking.

After meeting all these people, I can say more than anything else I am grateful for the wisdom I have gained. I truly believe we can learn from everyone we encounter in our life. Age difference, gender difference, race difference, economic difference… none of that matters. Everyone has something to share that is worth listening to and learning from. I hope to learn from Ron’s willingness to sit outside on a chair in front of his apartment and talk to strangers, Willie’s love for the beauty in Cincinnati, Terry’s excitement for the development in Cincinnati, Chaz’s ambition to achieve things that seem impossible to most, Crystal’s modesty in how she conducts herself, Kimberly’s involvement in the community around her, Latoya’s hospitality, Nate’s less-serious and more playful attitude, Kenny’s content and happy personality, Reggie’s honesty about difficulties in life, T.Y.’s ability to relax and listen, Jason’s strong, protective nature, and Asanti’s lovely, consistent smile that she shares with everyone. These are all the strengths that my community holds and I have been privileged to learn through the members of my neighborhood. I am blessed to witness the diversity of strengths that each individual withholds. If every person contributed their strength to the community, I believe we would have a remarkable, sturdy, and cheerful community.

ejrodak.com/portfolio