“Racism is a heart disease,” “Love wins,” “Revolution is not a one-time event,” and other powerful sayings were scribbled across sidewalks across the city as part of two public art installations directed by LMU Marital and Family (Art) Therapy alumni and students this summer. The intent of the installations was to provide families and community members with an outlet to express the many complicated feelings that have sprung from the pandemic, social isolation, and frustration at racial injustices, all of which have boiled over in recent months.
The installations were born from a desire to promote peace and unity, while fostering an appreciation for diverse cultures and ethnicities. The events brought neighbors together to connect and express complex feelings with sidewalk chalk and engaging conversations. The first installation was called Separate/Together and was directed by graduate student Nicole Rademacher. The second installation, which was untitled, was facilitated by alumna Cindy Bryant and student Susan Lee.
The Separate/Together installation invited community members to make art together, yet separate, on the sidewalk, and was focused on feelings surrounding the pandemic and self-isolation. This project began as a way for the community to process the isolation of living in quarantine through art therapy. Of course, maintaining social isolation was key. According to Rademacher, “I asked participants to sign up online for a time slot. I then prepared customized art therapy prompts with colored chalk in sanitized pouches. People came at their time (I also had extra packs for those who were passing by and wanted to participate), read their prompt, and created art as they saw fit: either using the prompt or not. Most people used the prompt, but there were many kids that came by and used their own inspiration.”
The inspiration for the untitled installation sprung directly from the Black Lives Matter movement, which has ignited in recent months. “After the events surrounding George Floyd’s murder, we shared our personal feelings about racial injustices with one another,” said Lee. “We wanted to connect through art-making and engage the community in creating a space to express what was on people’s minds – freely and without judgment.”
In selecting the location for their installation in Culver City, Bryant and Lee wanted a local neighborhood park frequented by families and individuals of all ages, and where they could find a culturally diverse population. During the stay at home order, public parks are outdoor spaces where people and families can gather safely while social distancing, which was a key component. Similarly, Rademacher staged the drive-by-art installation in Baldwin Hills, and invited her friends and neighbors, as well as passers-by, to participate.
Over 100 people participated over the two days of the Separate/Together installation. “Many of the participants were my neighbors, but others were artists, art curious, arts writers, families, and friends,” said Rademacher. “People seemed to have a renewed sense of community. The first day of Separate/Together was day five of the protests and marches in response to the killing of George Floyd in police custody. There was an air of empowerment and justice.”
At both installations, families and individuals participated in creating art, sharing feelings and artistic expressions about being in quarantine, racial injustice, and the killing of George Floyd. The initiatives provided families with an opportunity to connect, share their feelings, and talk about action steps, which can be the start of the healing process. Visitors walked along the sidewalk and stopped to look at the art, which remained over the next couple of days along with a memorial to Floyd at the Culver City installation.
Both Bryant and Lee felt moved by the themes of social justice, taking action, community work, and collaboration that are so prevalent in the MFT program. “These themes left an indelible mark for ongoing exploration of the usefulness of art as a tool to address the racial injustices that are so prevalent,” said Bryant. “This pandemic caused us to think about our own strong feelings and led us to be a part of the solution to provide hope for others through safe, peaceful expression.”
Both pointed to a course they took called Cultural Issues in Marriage and Family Therapy. In one memorable class, students were asked to participate in a potluck and share their cultures through food. Students discussed the significance of their dishes through memories and shared journeys, and used the information to work on a reflective art piece. These elements cemented bonds and enhanced cultural appreciation for one another, an important component that Lee, Bryant and Rademacher sought to bring to their installations.
Rademacher credits years of experience working within international communities as her inspiration for creating this project. “Often times my art projects would require me to go to a new place and get to know the people, the community, the culture,” she said. “It is within the last five years that my practice as an artist has broadened to include social practice engagements and activities. I am currently considering approaches to replicating Separate/Together, hoping to create a safe space to cultivate community resilience with special care to support the Black community.”
Photos provided courtesy of Susan Kim, Cindy Bryant, Nicole Rademacher and Kris Evans.