Planting the seeds of partnership
Harold Green is the founder and Executive Director of FFTL, a Chicago-based artistic collective merging poetry and music through live performances. An award-winning poet and storyteller, Harold is also a coach and mentor, using FFTL as a platform to nurture and celebrate the scholastic talents of Chicago students.
Ariel Efron, our Group Director of Creative Services, had previously worked with Harold on the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s “Take A Stand” project, designed to inspire social activism in students.
At the time, Harold also conducted creative writing workshops for Chicago students, enlisting the support of various foundations to provide material and financial support to workshop graduates as a means of encouraging their continued growth, self-exploration, and academic progression.
This writing program came to an abrupt halt when face-to-face contact was curtailed due to pandemic lockdowns. Despite the turmoil of the ensuing years, Harold’s work still left a strong impression on Ariel.
“I always wanted to work with him again and needed the opportunity,” says Ariel. “It emerged from the desire to create hubs for positive change in the world—not just in museums—and suddenly it all came together.”
Our engineering team had been working on adapting our immersive audio technology for use in an outdoor setting, and Ariel saw this as a moment to reconnect with Harold and revive the FFTL creative writing program.
A new vision of Bronzeville
The walking tours are an opportunity not just for Chicagoans to see their city from a different perspective, but for all of us to see Bronzeville through the eyes of its youth.
For the students themselves, the process of creating these tours led them to reminisce about memories of the neighborhood, both heart-warming and heartbreaking, from as far back as kindergarten. The listener is drawn into this world and invited to imagine these experiences through the vivid descriptions in the students’ own narration.
Some of the students highlight contemporary social and political issues through the lens of African American culture—demonstrating their awareness and lived experience of Black identity and belonging, but with the ambitious optimism of adolescence that we so often forget in adulthood.
There are even some dream-like musings from the students about the future and what it could potentially hold for them. But above all else, these tours provide a deeply personal introduction to life in Bronzeville and a journey into the heart of each student.
An investment in the future of creative leadership
For the five students, Streets of Bronzeville was designed to be more than just a writing project over the course of a few months. As part of fostering their creative growth, the workshop program included visits to locations such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
These field trips served three main purposes. Firstly, to dispense with any reluctance they may have felt about their sense of belonging in these spaces. Their exposure to museums and galleries was extremely limited, and we wanted to demonstrate that these institutions exist to serve and represent everyone in the community.
Secondly, to raise awareness that the creative storytelling process they experienced through Streets of Bronzeville could be channelled into a career, and that these same talents could be applied within a museum setting if they desired to take such a direction.
Finally, we wanted to emphasize—to the Bronzeville community and beyond—that we need to hear the voices of young Black people within these institutions, together with the voices of all other people who have been silenced, marginalized, or disadvantaged.
The launch of this app doesn't mean the end of our investment in community-focused collaboration. If anything, this is just the beginning. We're already in the process of developing a second collection of walking tours—and again, we'll be seeking out the talents of local students, sharing our resources, and elevating their voices.
Streets of Bronzeville mobile experience
Our location-aware immersive audio technology has seen extensive use in museums and galleries, but the Streets of Bronzeville app is its inaugural deployment in an outdoor setting. It’s now available to download for iOS and Android devices.
While it’s possible to simply follow directions from the students, each walking tour also features a map outlining the route, pointing out nearby landmarks and indicating where each chapter begins. Transcripts are provided for those who are unable to, or do not wish to, listen to the audio.
Users from anywhere in the world can also manually activate the tours if they wish to explore the app. Complementing the voices of the students are background lo-fi beats, adding a breezy atmosphere to the experience.
“Throughout the program we could see the students developing not only as writers, but also as human beings. They got out of their shells and began to have fun with it. They became more confident in class, more confident speaking up when giving their input. It was a really beautiful thing to see them blossom out of their cocoons like that.”
– Harold Green III,
Executive Director, Flowers for the Living Foundation