A community based art project developed by Felice Salmon & Tanya Torp, The East End Listening Project sought to create safe spaces for radical listening and the recording of interviews to gain a better understanding of the assets and stories of The East End neighborhood of Lexington, KY.
In the spring of 2015, through The Open Forum Youth Initiative, the members of the Honeys community group began to practice the art of interviewing. After practicing those skills with each other, they went out into the community with local artist and Applied Anthropologist Steve Pavey to record conversations with neighbors around the meaning of “home.” We translated the responses into a shared artwork consisting of birdhouses covered in quotes.
Each participant was trained to prepare for interviews and to record the stories we heard. In stage one, the students learned how to find willing participants, explain the project through introductions, and gain consent from interviewees. In stage two, the Honeys learned to prepare their questions, equipment, and listening skills based on a 5 question community asset survey:
1. How long have you lived in this neighborhood?
2. What do you like best about your neighborhood?
3. If you could change anything about your neighborhood, what would you change?
4. If there are others interested in the same types of community action, would you be willing for us to connect you in order to help make that change happen?
5. Do you have any special skills or interests that you could share with our community?
In stage three, they began to record responses in audio and written format by visiting participants, asking them a few questions, and recording their answers.
The students who participated in this project were successful across the board in gaining consent and candid information from neighbors as they carried out this project. Community elders were eager to share their history and wisdom with young people once they felt assured that their words would be respectfully heard and used wisely. We were able to interview 12 individuals through 4 listening sessions consisting of about 2 hours each.
As the young women increased in their confidence, they began to ask more personal questions and develop rapport with the interviewees. Thus, the content and quality of recordings improved with each interview. It was a significant advantage that students were mentored and given feedback after each interview. In this way, they continually improved. With brief training, each student’s existing skills were grown to a new level of confidence and effectiveness.
In the final stage of this project, our community group used our interviewing skills to collect oral history and build relationships among community members at The Annual Roots and Heritage Festival. Our youth community group partnered with The Lyric Theater, the UK Nunn Center for Oral History, and the Bluegrass Community Foundation. As we listened to our neighbors about their memories and experiences in the East End, we recorded their answers and created an archive of stories inspired by our neighborhood.
Community seems to be built one conversation at a time, and we began that process through these interviews. Our listening sessions became a pathway for neighbors to become acquainted with one another. In addition, this project allowed the Honeys to gain listening skills and confidence in talking with adults. All participants have continued to seek out leadership opportunities.
Funded by BGCF and in collaboration with Steve Pavey, The Lyric Theater, The UK Nunn Center for Oral History, & Andrea James. Black & White photographs by Steve Pavey.