Reclaiming Artifacts

*Please note: Other projects are being included in this new site during the summer of 2019.

Project Name: Reclaiming Artifacts – “What could a construction dig in 2050 find?”

Client/Sponsor:  The Gardiner Museum

Date: January-August 2018

Team: Calla Lee and Prateeksha Singh

Objective:  Project was funded the Gardiner Museum, Canada’s National ceramics museum, under their Community Arts Space programming grant. The museum has been in the process of ‘decolonizing’ its spaces, and opening itself up to more diverse programming and patrons.

Calla and I were personally driven to taking foresight outside the confines of the traditional communities: academia, corporations and governments, by working, in particular, with marginalized and racialized youth who we felt remain largely invisible in Futures conversations.

Outcome:  Our project took place in Lawrence Heights, Toronto’s third largest community housing project that has been undergoing sweeping revitalization efforts for over decade and is quickly gentrifying with original residents being displaced. Our youth were a group of local:

  • young women of colour,
  • first generation immigrants,
  • from lower-income families,
  • between the ages of 15-18

Due to their age, they had spent most of their with the revitalization and gentrification hanging over their head. They felt no agency and dreaded what moving out would mean. Thinking about the future was, for some, a destabilizing or triggering activity.

As such, our project challenge was, ‘How do we create this positive futures fluency with a group that was, for the most part, both trying to avoid thinking about the future, but inevitably thinking about it because they did not have the luxury of blissful ignorance or more positive social supports?’

In light of our youth, and geography we curated an a team of all women of colour (which included a local youth worker + trauma informed facilitator + potter + spoken word artist) who were collectively facilitating the projects many elements. Calla and I designed the futures curriculum, in particular, with the intention to:

– To grow their future-time perspective

– Develop their foresight skills to make personally aligned decisions for their future

-To collaborate and be inclusive

-To expose them to new ideas, and show themselves they can own spaces like museums where they have felt excluded and out of place.

This translated into the design of a creative futures community engagement project (2 month longs, weekly workshop sessions) that would result in the youth creating clay artifacts from the year 2050 representing personal belongings a condo developer could find when digging for a future wave of ‘revitalization’. These artefacts were a physical manifestation of their emotional experiences, and creative reflections of future times.

The project culminated in a two week long exhibit at the Gardiner museum in August 2018 showcasing these clay artifacts and our project process. We had over 800 visitors in the two week exhibition window.

*Please note: While the youth sessions were for two months, the entire project was a 8 month commitment for Calla and I as the design started in January 2018,  and went through several iterations once we found our local partners and facilitators and co-designed to suit the neighbourhood, the local issues and the young people we would be working with.

My role: As co-lead of the project I was involved at varying degrees in all aspects of the project from beginning to end i.e. Ideation of proposal to co-designing curriculum, facilitation, capacity building of local facilitators with futures knowledge, managing client relationship, and co-curation of the final exhibition.

Mpathy Insights:  

This was a very transformative project for me, with many learnings and insights. Some key ones

-When working with marginalized communities, and youth in particular- we do need to translate our futures terminology into language that is easily understood, find examples that are contextually relevant and speak to their lived experience. That said, we cannot confuse simplifying a futures exercise with reducing its emotional burden or stigma for our participants.

-Community futures work necessitates local partnerships and representation on the facilitation team. Not only does this help make the content more relevant, it requires commitment and helps build trust, and helps avoid potential power and privilege imbalances between facilitation team and participants.

-Community futures work necessitates time. Time to get to know the area/neighbourhood/community/, time to know each other and build trust, time to build comfort with the topic of’ ‘futures’, and time to build up the complexity/depth of futures exercises. Funders can play a critical role in facilitating ethical futures engagements by having project build in time towards such activities. Without trust, futures work in communities is likely to



CBC Radio Interview

CBC Online article, ‘Lawrence Heights teens create ‘dystopian’ artifacts for 2050 residents to uncover’

The Gardiner Museum Guest Blog on Reclaiming Artifacts