I began this installation amid the sounds of my neighborhood. Shopping carts and the conversations of passersby mix with the shuffle of those who sleep down the alley, the steps of mothers and children and the reverberation of car engines.
I have lived in this neighborhood for many years and carry myriad details about the people who live here. Towards evening when I take a stroll, I look east through the alley hoping for a glimpse of the soccer players who turn it into a field. I wonder how long it will be before they must move elsewhere. In the garage next-door a famous domino game was conducted for decades. Seven days a week Willie and his friends played on, sometimes around the clock. Old timers and those who grew up around here know this stretch of alley as a vibrant cultural landmark. Sometimes I still hear a phantom slap as a domino hits the table.
Over the years many shootings have occurred where the alley meets 6 th Avenue. In front of the Viva Dogtown Mural, there is a new sidewalk. The roots of the coral tree that stood there for a lifetime once created a tumbled and treacherous walkway, a place where sellers and buyers could meet in shadows. 6 th and Brooks was a place where crack flagged you down and addicts walked searching the ground for a lost fragment of just one small hit please. Those of us who still live here have witnessed our community change in significant ways, but we have not yet forgotten the sound of ghetto birds and semi-automatic gunfire.
Through the last decades most of us were somehow making home, building a shelter the size of our dreams. Throughout the good and the bad we were raising children, holding on, growing gardens and hope. The police often arrived in the neighborhood and treated most of us, if not all, as suspects: few escaped being interrogated, questioned, harassed or arrested. It was hard then, but the truth is that perhaps it has not become any easier.
Gangs of one kind have been replaced by other innovations. A different kind of violence, one that leaves people living on the streets and criminalizes poverty has arrived in a more powerful and virulent way. It’s helpful to remember that this was the ‘hood that no one wanted, where the weird and rebellious were commonplace. Here you could still make things work on a shoestring and keep it simple. Now other people want these alleys, these properties.
It’s become difficult to keep a foothold and, if that happens, most cannot afford the rent. Those who can pay erect mansions and replace the space where communities built memory and myth. Cardboard encampments grow, new restaurants and businesses arrive, while the diverse artists and cultures that once wove the essence of Venice are displaced.
Few see the parrots that fly through the high trees, or recognize the kestrels and red-tailed hawks that perch in high branches, eluding the groups of crows that mercilessly harangue them. Fewer recognize that these streets are full of hummingbirds, their calls and the whir of wings is never far away. Fortunately, some things persist. On Sunday morning in the house of the Lord on the corner of Brooks and 5th Avenue people still sing Gospel even if they have to drive from the valley to do it. Regardless of the changes the fruit and vegetable truck still rolls by, the tamale seller makes her rounds.
All of us seek shelter, a home. I join a multitude of others in believing that everyone has the right to food and housing, regardless of circumstance. I also believe we can gently help those around us to open their eyes and hearts to all who share our community. May common sense prevail, may no one remain invisible or neglected.
This installation gathers thoughts about shelter, home and community and become a catalyst for conversations that imagine a future for everyone. If it moves you, please make an artistic contribution and be part of Already Home, a portable public and collective installation.
Participants at Venice Artwalk May 17 2015