When Ohio State doctoral student and artist Rebecca Kemper began her research in city and regional planning, she said she quickly recognized a common theme — those living in lower-income neighborhoods around the central Ohio area were not getting a say in the urban development of their neighborhoods.
“(Lower-income) communities are becoming economically marginalized, and I noticed sometimes there is a gap between development solutions and citizen engagement,” Kemper said. “There are needs and concerns a community might have about developments within their areas.”
By January, Kemper decided she wanted to be more involved than just researching, so she started an organization called Equitable Urban Futures aimed to bridge the gap.
“We’re basically a city planning think tank concerned with social justice and economic segregation in the central Ohio area,” Kemper said.
In the last month, Equitable Urban Futures has been working closely with the Second Sight Project, a Franklinton-based organization working to connect artists to local members of the community. Kemper said she reached out to Second Sight as both it and her organization had similar concerns about gentrification.
“Second Sight advocates not only for artists, but for social and cultural equity,” said founder Mona Gazala in an e-mail. “(We) use the arts to give voice and visibility to Franklinton’s longtime residents in the face of gentrification.”
Gazala said Second Sight brings artists from all over the state, country and world to Franklinton, providing them with housing in a live-work residency program. Each artist is, in turn, required to host at least one exhibit or event during his or her stay that actively involves neighborhood residents.
“Second Sight facilitates exhibits and art projects that are accessible to residents of Franklinton, while giving the artists a chance to experience the neighborhood from the perspective of the people who actually live here,” Gazala said.
In order to help Second Sight with programming funds, Kemper said Equitable Urban Futures will host an gallery fundraiser and discussion at Clintonville’s Global Gallery on Wednesday.
“The event is really twofold,” Kemper said. “Half is a gallery and fundraiser, with the proceeds from artwork sold going to Second Sight. The other part is a roundtable discussion about communities being displaced or disrupted (by urban development).”
Kemper said discussion with groups of OSU researchers and nonprofits such as United Way of Central Ohio and Columbus Coalition for the Homeless will hopefully help bring light to issues like gentrification and public policy perspective and help converge the art world with everyday practitioners and researchers.
“We’re trying to create a safe space with panels for different types of people to come together and talk about these issues holistically,” Kemper said. “A lot of assumptions are made about these (lower-income) communities from the outside and (we) want to bring out the stories about these communities that already exist.”
The collaboration of Wednesday’s event is key, and Kemper said she believes the sort of change she is hoping to see truly takes a village.
“If we have different entities that are concerned with the true engagement of these community members, we can really be sensitive to their needs,” Kemper said.
The event, Coffee & Conversation: Communities Displaced/Disrupted, is set to take place Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. at Global Gallery. It is free and open to the public.