Unearthing Layers, Connecting Stories: Reflections on Environmental Justice in Everyday Life

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$8,195 raised of $6,000 goal
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Funded on July 10, 2023
    • 137% contributed

I am developing a new community arts project that aims to encourage and amplify critical reflection, creation, and action around environmental justice, beginning from residents’ lived experiences of local issues. Unearthing Layers, Connecting Stories: Reflections on Environmental Justice in Everyday Life brings together a cohort of adults from multiple communities to build relationships and learn from each other through a series of creative writing workshops on Chicago’s Southwest Side. I will work with cohort participants to produce a limited-edition book of creative writings that will be shared locally starting in late 2023, including through community events with area groups.

About This Project

This project is rooted in McKinley Park, where I have lived for a third of my life, and builds on my creative community engagement work with Neighbors for Environmental Justice (N4EJ) and others. The McKinley Park neighborhood sits in industrial and transit corridors that extend across Chicago’s Southwest Side, where textures of daily life intersect in complex ways with local environments and broader inequitable systems. As a neighbor and community-based artist, I want to provide an accessible and supportive creative space for residents to reflect, connect, create, and motivate action within this area we call home, that also carries a disproportionate burden of pollution.

I recently began the first stage of this project: facilitating a 10-session series of community-based writing workshops with a cohort of 17 participants from several Chicago neighborhoods. The workshops engage environmental injustice and related issues from participants’ existing knowledge, sensory observations, lived experiences, and collective inquiry, using approaches like multimodal writing and shared excursions. At the heart of this devising process is imagining: What would a just environment be like? While recognizing challenges and desired changes is essential, I also hope these workshops uplift, making space for the stories that participants most want to tell about where they/we live.

The next stage is to produce a limited-edition book that will document and amplify participants’ work—likely including poems, personal narratives, creative nonfiction pieces, experimental forms, and more. The book itself will be a kind of collaboratively-made artwork that reflects multiple perspectives of this specific time and place, and can potentially function as a resource for future person-to-person organizing. This publication will be trilingual, featuring English, Spanish, and Chinese, the three most common languages in this area.

Once available, free copies of the book will be shared locally, including through public events with N4EJ, ¡Anímate! Studio, and other partners. While these events will ultimately be informed by the cohort’s writings and interests, my current vision includes both large culminating events (parts book-release party, community celebration, and organizing moment) and more intimate ones, in multiple neighborhoods. The book’s release is currently anticipated for late 2023, as are the first of the related events.

The costs of this project are significant. With the support of a Neighborhood Access Program grant from the City of Chicago’s DCASE, I have been able to launch and fund much of this project, including compensating workshop participants for their time and artistic labor. However, I need your help to cross the finish line and cover crucial unmet costs. Donations toward this campaign will help fully fund the production of the trilingual book and at least one large culminating event (including support for cohort participants interested in reading/performing their work). If I am able to fundraise beyond my initial goal, donations will enable me to print additional copies of the book as well as plan a more robust community event series for its local distribution.

Through this project, I hope to help build lasting connections among communities of neighbors, to spark and facilitate conversations around local issues, and even to fuel and inspire deeper involvement in ongoing environmental justice organizing on the Southwest Side and beyond.

* A note about the “thank you rewards”: In the spirit of a community-based project that prioritizes local access regardless of financial circumstance, I would also offer versions of these to community members for free through public events. By donating, you both help make the project’s broader vision a reality and you access the convenience of having these rewards directly delivered to or scheduled for you.

Thank yous

Contribute any amount or choose from the levels below.

  • $10
    Your name acknowledged on the project website ($10.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $25
    A handwritten “thank you” postcard featuring an image from the project, plus your name acknowledged on the project website ($20.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $75
    A sampling of creative prompts used in the workshops, delivered to your email, plus your name acknowledged on the project website ($75.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $100
    A copy of the book(*) mailed directly to you, plus your name acknowledged on the project website ($75.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $200
    Exclusive invitation to an online Q&A/meet-and-greet with collaborators and me, plus a copy of the book and your name acknowledged on the project website ($175.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $350
    Invitation for you (plus a guest) to a guided excursion of a local site of project relevance, featuring various collaborative creative activities (in-person event), plus a copy of the book and your name on the project website ($300.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $500
    My profound gratitude, along with a copy of the book with a personal “thank you” note written inside, plus your name acknowledged on the project website ($475.00 is tax deductible.)

Marya Spont-Lemus

Make a Wave Artist

Marya Spont-Lemus (she/they) writes fiction and personal narratives, critically re-makes objects, and educates/facilitates/collaborates, often in public spaces. Questions guiding Marya’s work across these realms include: How does experience impact interpretation? How do personal choices, structural forces, and chance occurrences interact …

View Marya Spont-Lemus's profile
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