UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Visiting artist unites campus, Richmond

– A project focusing on the beleaguered but proud city of Richmond moves forward Wednesday (Nov. 8) with an interactive, multi-media installation at the University of California, Berkeley, and a potluck dinner forum on campus with students, faculty, Richmond leaders and residents, and others.

Shannon Flattery, an artist-in-residence at UC Berkeley's Arts Research Center, is spearheading a two-year art project centered around the campus's research ties to Richmond that date back to the early 1900s. Richmond, which Flattery now calls home, is a blue-collar city nestled on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay that recently was ranked the 11th most dangerous city in the United States.

Flattery, an anti-violence activist for a decade, uses what she has dubbed "Touchable Stories" art projects to bring communities together to honor their history, voice their concerns and needs, create new awareness, and forge alliances to promote social policy and resource changes. Her other projects have involved communities in the Boston area.

Her latest art installation, "The Bridge," is a blend of horticulture, audio and video components. It will be on display on the terrace of the Free Speech Movement Café through February 2007. It is free and open to the public.

The montage created by Flattery and a multi-disciplinary team of students features nine listening devices to allow visitors to hear interviews with several UC Berkeley researchers whose research on everything from model cities to toxic environments has been conducted in Richmond. It also includes conversations between UC Berkeley's Regional Oral History Office staff and former Richmond shipyard workers and other city residents. Displayed under a stream of water are videotaped interviews with UC Berkeley alumnus Whitney Dotson, a public health consultant and community activist, as well as with his sister, environmentalist Ethel Dotson.

"It's Richmond people talking about what they think Richmond is, and UC Berkeley's view of Richmond," Flattery said. "Sometimes they meet up, and sometimes they don't. But they all still have a lot of hope . the communities really want to come together."

The free potluck dinner forum will help promote dialogue between Richmond leaders and residents, Bay Area artists, and UC Berkeley students and faculty, including those from the College of Environmental Design's Center for Community Innovation, which is researching Richmond revitalization.

The event will take place from 6-8 p.m. in the lobby of UC Berkeley's Wurster Hall, just north of the intersection of Bancroft Way and College Avenue.

Flattery's team has met repeatedly with Richmond residents , who consider their city "a place of pride and purpose," said Shannon Jackson, a UC Berkeley professor of performance studies and chair of the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, which is home to Flattery during her residency.

For the past year, Flattery has dispatched UC Berkeley students to Richmond to get to know residents, police, clergy and other local leaders and to videotape different parts of town - from the area that once was home to a thriving, World War II shipyard industry and to "Rosie the Riveter," to today's swank tract homes in the hills; toxic sites; Parchester Village's; lush gardens that are often hidden from public view; and the stark Iron Triangle neighborhood, the site of much of Richmond's spiraling homicide rate.

Students also have attended community meetings, church gatherings, police activity league events, planning commission hearings and documented a Richmond "tent city" set up by residents, activists and others to display their solidarity against the rising local crime rate.

"I haven't met anybody (in Richmond) who hasn't lost someone, including myself," said Flattery, noting that a close friend was murdered in Boston last May.

Whenever there's a violent death in Richmond, Flattery said, questions focus on whether it was drug- or gang-related. "It's so much more complex than that," she said.

The doors of Flattery's home are covered by bars, as are the windows. She admits to being frightened when she first moved in, but said she's developed an enclave of Richmond women who helped her navigate some of the trickier parts of town and learn how to stay safe. Most importantly, Flattery said, there's no substitute for living in a community to learn about it.

She and students next will work on an interactive exhibit that will open in an abandoned warehouse in April, expanding on Richmond-UC Berkeley connections of the past and future.