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Portland Bureau of Transportation

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Interview with an Artist - Lauren Moran on Participatory Art & The Neighborhood Block Party

This article eNewsletter, we are going to replace our Historic Highlight with an introduction to Portland in the Streets’ new Artist-in-Residence Lauren Moran. They are working to help the Portland Bureau of Transportation re-imagine our open streets events, by focusing on integrating art, community and equity. Let’s take a look into their brain!

A map of a block party with hand written comments about the block party designWhere are you from originally?

I’m from southern Connecticut, but moved to Portland from Tucson Arizona to attend the Art and Social Practice program at Portland State University (PSU).

What are you studying at PSU?

I was studying Art and Social Practice and recently graduated.

What is Art and Social Practice? What is that program about?

We work on projects collaboratively to question power systems and hierarchy, and work with a variety of communities through participatory art projects and events.

What drew you to this program and to participatory art?

My background in printmaking and illustration. I then started teaching art in alternative art spaces where I realized relationship building was what I was most interested in…I also work with the collective Public Annex as well as with experimental music, so I was interested in a program that was interdisciplinary and conceptually based around socially engaged art.

So how was moving to Portland? And how did it inspire the art that you do now?

I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Portland, so I have been working on building community here ever since.

What makes you passionate about open street events? What is the need you see for Open Street Events in Portland?

The quote " thinks the most exciting part about having a social practice is that they are able to put relationships at the forefront of their artistic concerns"As an artist, I like to work to create opportunities for other artists. I have become really interested in accessibility (in particular) and have started thinking about accessibility in a really expanded way. How people can access resources. How can people use art to access resources for their everyday lives. 

I am influenced by artist Carmen Papilia, whose work is about accessibility in regards to power, access and agency, such as in his long term project called Open Access. I think about how we can make a space where everyone feels welcome. I am interested in art that isn’t just for an art audience.

What other artists inspire you?

A few other artists and collectives I'm influenced by are Wochenklausur- an Austrian collective, Tania Bruguera- a Cuban artist, Ghana Think Tank- Carmen Montoya participated in Scores for a Block Party, Hank Willis Thomas- who created the For Freedoms project.

Local artist initiatives I have been influenced by who are doing amazing work- IPRC, UNA Gallery, Ori Gallery, Pochas Radicales, Art Saved My Life and DUG- an artist residency for artists who have been affected by displacement and gentrification. KSMoCA- a contemporary art museum in an elementary school.

In your art you show a connection to community and activism. What does art activism mean to you? In what ways do you see art as the vehicle for social change?

I got really interested in social justice in Tucson - mostly around groups doing border work. Art can be a different entryway, not in just a didactic way, but in providing an exploratory way to discuss things. I am interested in developing experiences for people to engage in that civic space. I am really interested in projects that are a way to imagine a different way to see the future; projects that open up ideas on different ways we can act with each other.

I feel like art can sometimes be a different type of platform to engage people in dialogue where they may otherwise be uncomfortable; sometimes we are even making it fun! Obviously, I have my own convictions but I am interested in creating open and welcoming spaces for all sorts of people. I like being in community with people and trying to come up with ideas collaboratively.

Picture of two little African American girls at a Block PartyHow can art be used to process times of grief and political turmoil?

It’s a really important thing art can do. It’s creating spaces where change is imagined, embraced and feels possible. I don’t think there are enough options for people to engage their emotions on how politics intersect with their personal lives.”

I am working on a project where I am working with people that have very different political and ideological ideas than me... It’s pretty intense and emotional. It’s getting difficult for people to connect with people who have different experiences than them. My project, Differences is a Field, will explore concrete aspects of that.

Open street events play a large part in the community and neighborhood building process in Portland. In what ways will the participatory art you have planned contribute to the strengthening of Portland neighborhoods?

I would describe my social practice as a way that I am working collaboratively with people from a few different communities in a variety of contexts, inside and outside of traditional art spaces like galleries and museums. Sometimes it looks like community organizing in the streets, sometimes it could be a conversation. I make a lot of self-published books, etc.

A lot of my projects come from very personal experiences, walking around my neighborhood led to this block party project! My goal for these projects is to connect people. In Scores for a Block Party I worked with over 20 artists and even more neighbors and community members. I asked artists to collaborate with me by inviting them to come up with instructions, or prompts for a block party. We want to see how these prompts and instructions could inspire community engagement. And all of this started because I was curious about getting involved with my neighbors and community.

People often say that Portland’s Art scene is struggling. What is your take on this issue?

Many artists and musicians feel like there are a lack of places to practice art and many people I know struggle with affordability.  Artists are struggling to find homes, I’ve moved every year since I’ve lived here due to affordability issues. But there are places, like Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, that are really supportive of artists.

So what’s next?

My book release! The book, Scores for a Block Party, debuts at the July 22nd Sunday Parkways event. I’ve invited all the artists from the book, which documents my process of researching block parties, getting to know my neighbors, and getting involved in the Vernon neighborhood. In the end, this whole experience was wonderful. My neighbors ended up being really rad. I hope this book inspires more art at block parties.

 Interviewers: Sophia Halleen, Bertyna Aiken & Alexis Gabriel