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Hearts, Minds & Homes: An Arts & Civic Listening Dialogue on Homelessness and Gentrification

Hearts, Minds & Homes is an art and civic listening dialogue on gentrification, homelessness, and housing in Portland, operating with the premise of using stories to support community-engaged design and development for affordable, innovative housing.

The project is conducted by USM Social Work students; USM Art students; University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) Architecture students; Art at Work, a project administered by arts nonprofit Terra Motto Inc.; and the City of Portland.

The project is anchored in 100 interviews, conducted by USM social work students, with Portland residents who are activists, realtors, bartenders, homeless, formerly homeless, business owners, refugees, ministers, social workers, landlords, city councilors, immigrants, lawyers, police officers, tax payers, tenants, city workers, young people, students, artists, poets and more. Click here to see samples of questions and responses.

At First Friday Art Walk on May 1, Hearts, Minds & Homes presented an Interactive Art Installation, Tiny House Models, On-the-Street Listening Exchanges & Pop-up Performances:

• A largescale chalkboard Listening Wall produced by USM art students under the guidance of Michael Shaughnessy, USM Professor of Sculpture, with significant statements and questions collected from the 100 listening exchanges. Community members at First Friday Art Walk were encouraged to add their own questions and statements to the wall.
• Tiny Home Models and Drawings produced by UMA architecture students under the guidance of Rosie Curtis, UMA Adjunct Professor of Architecture. This is a collaboration with Waterville's Mid Maine Homeless Shelter and emphasizes the importance of community.
• Listening Exchanges with Passersby led by USM social work students under the guidance of Paula Gerstenblatt, USM Professor of Social Work.
• Pop-up Performances by city leaders and residents, led by Marty Pottenger, Art at Work Project Director, bringing the transformative power of live performance to help inform and address an important social issue.

Hearts, Minds & Homes is a listening civic dialogue anchored in a vital, catalytic and rare ingredient: listening.

The city of Portland's housing issues require a focused response from the community as a whole. To devise and and implement truly sustainable solutions, an open community dialogue is a necessity. As a diverse group of people with differing backgrounds and perspectives, the Portland community will benefit from this nonjudgemental forum to ask questions, express concerns, and share ideas.

Hearts, Minds & Homes has been made possible with generous funding from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Art At Work/Terra Moto Inc. and the City of Portland.

About Art at Work

Art At Work, a project of multi-disciplinary arts nonprofit Terra Moto Inc, is a national initiative to tackle significant non-arts based challenges in municipal government and communities through strategic arts projects with city employees, unions, elected officials, residents and artists. Since 2007, Art At Work has partnered with the City of Portland, working with over 75 local artists and 15 local organizations, unions, neighborhood associations.

Executive Director of Terra Motto Inc. and Project Director of Art at Work, Marty Pottenger, is a nationally acclaimed Portland-based theater artist. An OBIE award winner, her work has toured internationally since 1990, with U.S. productions in over 15 cities. Her play Abundance made Seattle's PI's "Ten Best Plays" list. Local community performances include home land security, exploring the intimate and public impact of 9/11 on the city of Portland, performed by Portlanders and reflecting the city's diversity; Radio Calls/Forest City Times performed by five Portland Police Officers and nine African-born students for more than 1000 high school students and residents; and Meeting Place, a year-long National Endowment for the Arts Our Town project involving four Portland neighborhoods and more than 5000 residents which the NEA featured as a national Creative Placemaking example.

Hearts, Minds & Homes is an ongoing project. Later in 2015, following additional civic listening dialogues and listening exchanges, Hearts, Minds & Homes will hold a performance with community leaders and residents.


Hearts, Minds & Homes: An Art and Civic Listening Dialogue

Sample Questions asked to 100 Portlanders

1. What is the time in your life that you felt the most at home, centered, yourself and why?
2. What is the time in your life that you either experienced a version of homelessness or felt the least secure regarding your living situation?
3. One way that you/your family/community has been personally affected by homelessness/gentrification?
4. A story about gentrification or homelessness that you'll never forget?
5. A question you have relating to the issue of homelessness that you don't ask out loud because it may be seen as either politically incorrect or ignorant?
6. If you had a magic wand, what is one way you would you use it to address gentrification/homelessness?
7. What is one thing in your life that would be different if you knew for certain that from this moment on everyone everywhere would always have safe affordable housing --- first thought?

Sample responses from 100 Portlanders

• "So in a city that feels like a very comfortable, fun, cultured little city, we still have this big issue and you can't escape it or get around it." --- Neighborhood Association Member
• Home has become less of a structure to me and more of feeling, a community, and a sense of belonging.
--- Bartender
• When you are up to your ass in alligators it's hard to remember you are supposed to be draining the swamp.
--- City Councilor
• I don't mind working 18 hours on my feet because I know at the end of the day I will have a warm meal to eat.
--- Cambodian refugee
• I feel most at home when I meditate. It has nothing to do with shelter. --- Real Estate Investor, formerly homeless
• We never came through when we closed Pineland and reduced AMHI & Bangor Mental Health Institute.
--- City Councilor
• I welcome others into my home who may not have the support and backing from others like I've had the luxury of having. That makes me feel centered and what makes my home feel like a home. --- Police Officer
• Why has Portland become such a prominent place for homelessness and panhandling in the past 5 years?
• Are the benefits that good and available that they have come to Maine? --- Funeral Director

• "The most challenging thing is feeling shame. Feeling like you should be able to do it without asking for help?"
--- Elementary School Principal
• "Everyone wants to think they're beyond it, but the truth is, everyone is about 30 seconds away from being on the street." --- Radio Employee, formerly homeless
• "Homeless?! Why are you REALLY out here?" --- voiced by Rehab Facility Nurse, Clinic Dentist, Interviewer
• "As long as there are people...are there going to be people without homes?" --- local activist