Creative placemaking is a trendy term among arts organizations. What makes a neighborhood or street distinct? How can art honor the history of a location? How best should a community tell its story? At the Society for Contemporary Craft (SCC), in the Strip District, these questions are grappled with constantly as artist-in-residence and Judy G. Cheteyan scholar Christian Morris continues a summer-long project to capture a moment in neighborhood history.
Morris, originally from Leetsdale, Pa., but now studying at California State University Channel Islands, is in the early stages of a unique project: combining the craft of ceramics with his love of acting, specifically the Meisner method. Meisner techniques focus on repetition and emotional awareness, something Morris wanted to incorporate into interviews with Strip District residents and business-owners. Interview segments, which dive into memories and opinions of the Strip, will be accessible to listeners with smartphones through QR codes placed on ceramic speakers designed by Morris.
However, on-the-fly interviewing represents a challenge for the young artist to embrace unpredictable conversations.
“To use Meisner [in an interview], I’m nervous about it,” Morris said. “My true nature is introverted, so this is a rebellion against my inner nature.”
He described his project, entitled Practices of Listening, as a way to answer the question, “Who is a place?” So far, perspectives given about the Strip have been wide-ranging, from criticism about a lack of business innovation, and the need for developing underutilized spaces, to declaring Pittsburgh the greatest city in the world.
“These stories, these voices, these lives will be documented and remain here,” says SCC Executive Director Janet McCall. “I hope also that there will be some increased awareness of the value of [the Strip District’s] history and how important it is to preserve that and incorporate that as we move forward. We want to know where people are right now because their conversations with Christian and other artists can help us creatively think about the future of this neighborhood.”
In addition to local interviews, another goal of SCC’s residency is to have artists accessible to the public within a studio setting. As Practices of Listening expands over the course of the summer, Morris will be sculpting and interacting with visitors in SCC’s main gallery until his residency concludes, on Aug. 27.