I went to church with my parents yesterday rather than going to the Episcopal church I normally go to, and we got into a discussion about power structures and how we’re taught to undermine them where we can. As a straight white middle-class American male I realize I’m kind of implicit in those power structures, but I think there are ways I can work towards breaking them down and, in turn, help further what I see as my life’s work in architecture and communication.
As I’ve been telling people, if this thesis thing is finished this summer I’m moving back to Nashville to either work there or, if there’s no work to be had, live there while I look for work elsewhere. I’ve already written about my desire to start a community design/build program at Trevecca, to work towards giving poor communities good architecture in the form of picnic shelters, bus stops, community gathering spaces, etc. In other words, undermining those power structures both by giving impoverished people good spaces to live in community with each other, and also by calling into question the entire power structure of architecture by showing that people don’t have to have an architecture degree to make good things.
Another thing I want to do is along the same lines of enabling people to better live in community with each other, but it takes a different form. When Chicago-based artist and activist Theaster Gates visited UNCC last fall I was able to work with him and learn from him, and the first thing he did in his week-long visit was hold what he calls a Plate Convergence. These are events he holds, usually in Chicago, where he invites people from different backgrounds and careers to come and eat dinner together.
I think this is a really valuable and powerful thing, and the act of eating together is an intimate one that can do a great deal towards building and strengthening a community. So I want to start holding these in Nashville. If I’m able to have a job at Trevecca, I’d hold it there, but if not I’d find somewhere else. I’d figure out a way to get local, healthy food and create menus for each time we eat together, and then I’d just invite people. University presidents, politicians, artists, musicians, East Nashville hipsters, West Nashville old money, people from the projects, homeless people from downtown, illegal immigrants, priests, atheists, rabbis, writers, scientists, students, then I’d mix them all up at different tables so there’s a good mix, and I’d just have them talk to each other while they eat a good meal. And I’d invite mostly new people each time.
By doing so, power structures and prejudices get broken down and community gets built and strengthened, just by sitting down and having dinner with people once a month. So that’s something else I want to do in Nashville if I can ever get this thesis finished.