Walking the neighborhood

To kick off the “Rodney Street Is…” creative placemaking project, our resident design collective—Amanda Reese, Ashley Moon, and Elena Johnson—personally delivered 750 community surveys to Rodney Street businesses and homes. They launched their residency with a personal touch to get familiar with the neighborhood, start conversations, and generate interest in the project.

After many weeks of preparation, we were thrilled to distribute our community surveys, launching our first engagement with the Rodney Street neighborhood. In true Montana style, the week of our planned distribution landed in the coldest week of a previously mild winter. We reluctantly paused and waited for temps to rise to above zero. Finally, after a week spent indoors, it was an absolute joy to bundle up and begin delivering.

Tromping through the snow brought cold toes and fingers, so face masks became a welcome accessory. Footprints and shoveled paths showed us where people come and go, helping to determine where to leave surveys. We lovingly wrapped each survey with baker’s twine to add a special touch, proving to be useful in hanging the surveys on doorknobs and gateposts.

Walking from door to door, we found ourselves interacting with the neighborhood in a slow, very personal way. There was a stillness to the sidewalks, aside from an occasional barking dog, friendly waves, and youth walking home from school in the afternoon.

Each home brought its own story, character, and flavor. There’s a certain intimacy and trust in approaching doors in the midst of the pandemic and perhaps that’s the magic of this neighborhood. Humility and friendliness.

Every doorknob had its own style—conventional to ornate—each approached with care as to attach the survey with a clothespin, slide the twine, or drape over the handle. Porches spoke for themselves with chairs patiently waiting for warmer weather or belongings that crafted their own stories. Often, the surveys themselves even complimented the colors of homes!

From grandiose mansions with carriage houses; a church transformed into a home; housing complexes filled with personality; surprise homes tucked between buildings; modest miners’ homes; and houses with big porches—the wide array of historic homes put into perspective the socioeconomic diversity that has always characterized Rodney Street. The wonder of history, grief for historic buildings lost, and celebration of the present made distribution an enlightening experience.

After a pandemic year limiting our contact with strangers, we were nervous about even safe encounters with neighbors. These feelings quickly turned to excitement when people greeted us with warmth and interest. By the time we returned home, responses had already begun trickling in. And in the weeks since, we’ve collected many more, through the mail, phone calls, and deliveries to The Myrna Loy lobby. Several delivery sessions and a few weeks later, we are filled with gratitude for all the voices who have contributed. Our one overwhelming impression: There is an abundance of love, care, and honesty expressed for the Rodney Street neighborhood.

We look forward to the collaborations to come.

Elena Johnson, Ashley Moon, Amanda Reese

Rodney Street artists in residence

 

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