How do you break down social barriers and build community in a world that seems to becoming increasingly fragmented and contentious? If you’re San Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks, you start with some postcards, tape and chalk, and add people.
Franks is the mastermind behind the Creative Interventions Tour, a yearlong project designed to spark connections among people from diverse social and economic backgrounds in four American cities. The tour, which was supported by a $59,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, included three-week stops in Macon, Georgia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Akron, Ohio; and Detroit, Michigan.
In each city Franks visited, he worked with local organizations to craft engaging, often playful activities designed to address the specific needs of each community. The overall objective, however, remained the same: to build stronger communities by fostering connections among people who ordinarily might have little contact with each other.
“People really do want to connect, but sometimes they just don’t know how,” Franks explained. “So I help them by inserting the opportunity for fun and spontaneous connection into the urban landscape.”
“I get it,” the 28-year-old artist added. “We all need our personal space. But, when we don’t talk to each other, we are left to rely on how people look and what we’ve heard about them to form our opinion of them. Stereotypes arise and lead to fear of other people. We need to stop this cycle. We need to talk to each other, to hear each other’s stories.”
That view was echoed by Carol Coletta, vice president of community and national initiatives for Knight Foundation, who worked with Franks in organizing the Creative Interventions Tour. “People increasingly find themselves isolated, having contact only with people who share their political views, their economic status and their intense interests,” Coletta said. “This limits the potential for all of us to learn from each other and create communities that embrace progress together.”
What Coletta and Knight Foundation found particularly appealing about Franks’ proposal was its potential to leverage small-scale, temporary activities to create wide-scale and — hopefully — lasting impacts. “This project is a fast, fun way to start building community without waiting for longer-term initiatives to take shape,” she remarked.