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Artistic Community Mapping

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 8 months ago

Artistic Community Mapping


Vanessa Sparrow writes:


"Over the course of my professional and academic work in the field of community development, it has become clear to me that fostering that social and environmental justice necessitates engagement with a broader range of place narratives than is often the case in current community and environmental planning. The different perspectives (and underlying values) presented by different ways of knowing – such as Geographical Information Systems, historical archival material, statistical data collection, etc – frame the story different ways, emphasizing some narrative threads, and obscuring others. Furthermore, some of these “storying” methods emerge as having particular power for engaging and capturing diverse, and often marginalised voices in telling stories of place; challenging homogenizing grand narratives and making explicit the values and beliefs that operate in shaping the physical and cultural landscape at more intimate scales than tend to count as legitimate for “data collection”. One such method that is gaining increasing interest among community-builders is artistic community mapping."


Community mapping has many and varied applications, and associated ideological agenda, but is fundamentally a way of expressing a set of relationships between people and land, and the values that inform them. As such, a community map can be become a powerful way of exploring the place-identity that results from peoples’ bodied transactions with material settings, and especially illuminating of the way in which they seek to shape those settings to reveal themselves (Dixon and Durrheim, 2000). Sometimes trivialised as “local knowledge” and included in policy by those who govern to appease the governed, the passion and intricacy of place rendered at this scale is actually vital to understanding the imagined landscape and its possibilities. As the founder of parish mapping organisation Common Ground, Sue Clifford, points out: “so much surveying, measuring, fact gathering, analysis and policy-making leaves out the very things which make a place significant to the people who know it well…With each level of abstraction, we feel less able to argue what we know, and less sure in our valuing of the unquantifiable smallness…” (Clifford, 1996).


Artistic community mapping attempts to put these things back in by re-personalising place relationships with the use of hand-drawn and imaginatively rendered maps. While not seeking to undermine the utility of maps derived by GIS-trained experts, artistic community maps aim to reveal what abstractions from objective data cannot – the experiences, desires, fears and values of the people who collectively define the “place” beyond its Cartesian coordinates. Engaging people in the process of narrating themselves in this way not only has the power to undermine the hegemonic stories of “inevitable global development” that suppress local resistance; it can also act to reinvigorate the sense of connectedness and interpersonal responsibility that community adaptation, (and ultimately sustainability) requires. This is not to suggest that community mapping is a sufficient condition for community empowerment and sustainability, nor that it ought to replace other ways of knowing a place. Community maps are not exempt from the possibility of reproducing power inequities, creating new outsiders and reifying the local as somehow separate from global or even regional economic and social dynamics, as geographers like David Harvey and Doreen Massey have warned us against. In their capacity as visual representations of “fixed scalar locations”, maps of all kinds can operate as powerful tools for legitimating some voices and silencing others – this is a pitfall of any text claiming to tell the whole story. However, it is in the negotiation of which voices are heard, which stories “we want to tell”, that the process of community mapping (rather than its final outcome) becomes potentially inclusive and liberating, in a way that the homogenizing, universalizing technologies of other narrative frameworks (such as statistical data analysis) are not.


See Islands in the Salish Sea Community Mapping Project, Maps and Mapping.

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