Hunter Franks: Reflections on the 2014 Creative Interventions Tour

“My parents said if you have a boy he will wrestle; that is what he will do,” Lisa remarked, referring to her son Martaz. I had just met Martaz and Lisa a week before, as they participated in my Neighborhood Postcard Project in Detroit. They shared what they love about their Detroit neighborhood, Lindale Gardens, on postcards that were then mailed to random residents in Grosse Pointe, an affluent suburb of Detroit. Martaz’ postcard ended up in the mailbox of Grosse Pointe resident Mary, who was moved to reach out and meet Martaz in person.

Tensions in Grosse Pointe and Detroit had recently resurfaced, as Grosse Pointe built a farmers market complex in the middle of a road on their border with Detroit. Many said the complex acted as a wall to keep out the nearby low-income Detroit residents. So bringing together Mary and Martaz and his mom was particularly special at this time. A simple postcard brought them together and helped break down those barriers. Bringing people together helps them realize that they are much more similar than they are different. With support from the Knight Foundation, I carried out the Neighborhood Postcard Project in three other cities as well.

The 2014 Creative Interventions Tour took me to four communities for three weeks each, carrying out creative placemaking activities aimed to connect disparate people and communities. The first stop was Macon, Georgia, a small post-industrial city that has seen population decline, disinvestment, and racial and socioeconomic divides. I carried out projects such as a giant chalkboard downtown that asked residents to share what they love about Macon. This collective pride helps residents see that other people love where they live and further enables the positive energy required for change. I used similar strategies in the other cities I visited; Philadelphia, Akron, and Detroit.

Another popular project was First Love, where I invited passersby to share a story of their first love and then captured a portrait of them. Their story was displayed alongside their portrait in public space. People shared stories of love like this one: “We lived 3,000 miles apart. We met in Seattle at the Sheraton Hotel when I held the elevator for her. We talked for 23 floors and headed out onto 6th Avenue. I walked 10 blocks in the wrong direction to keep the conversation going. We met again five years later in London. I learned she too walked the wrong direction to keep the conversation going.” As passersby stop to read these stories, they are able to embrace and understand that regardless of where we come or what we look like, we all share the story of a first love.

In each city I visited, I worked to create small-scale projects that were quick to implement so residents could see the immediate change and begin to reimagine their city as a whole. People in the cities I visited are used to blight, decay, and lots of negativity about the communities they live in. Our work together in these communities created a venue to challenge the norm and to practice creativity in public.

I have found that people really do want to connect. Sometimes they just don’t know how to do that. I created spaces for that connection to happen and I made it fun, safe, and simple for people to approach.

It was also important that the Creative Interventions Tour not only help create space for new ideas of what was possible, but help sustain that change. To accomplish this, I established a chapter of my League of Creative Interventionists in each city I visited. The League consists of small groups in various cities who come together once a month in their city to carry out a creative intervention. After the Tour ended, the chapters flourished and continue to building their member base, regularly creating small-scale impactful projects, and establishing partnerships with other local organizations and initiatives.

You can view the story of the Creative Interventions Tour here.

San Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks challenges our ever-increasing personal and physical isolation by transforming public spaces into positive venues of conversation and connection. His public installations create shared spaces and experiences that break down social barriers and catalyze connections between people and communities.