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How can maps empower communities?

On November 4 and 5, two public events examine cartography’s ability to affect change
November 4, 2015
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By Tom Peacock

Detail of Lachine Canal (hand embroidery on textile appliqué) by artist and art education professor Kathleen Vaughan: “Maps empower people by emphasizing their own sense of entitlement to space.” Detail of Lachine Canal (hand embroidery on textile appliqué) by artist and art education professor Kathleen Vaughan: “Maps empower people by emphasizing their own sense of entitlement to space.”


This week experts and practitioners in community mapping are meeting in Montreal to take part in “Creating Common Ground: The Community Mapping National Summit”. Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement teamed up with summit organizers to host two public events.

“Participatory Mapping: How can maps empower our community and affect change?” a public conversation organized by University of the Streets Café, takes place on Wednesday, November 4, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Café Bloom, in Pointe-Saint-Charles.

“The Power of Community Mapping for Indigenous, Campus and Community Research and Partnerships” a public lecture, panel discussion and reception, takes place on Thursday, November 5, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in Room MB 3.435 of the John Molson Building.

In anticipation of these events, we spoke with one of Wednesday night’s invited guests, Kathleen Vaughan, an associate professor in the Department of Art Education.

 

Where does your own interest in maps come from?

Kathleen Vaughan: For the past almost 20 years, I've been the happy companion to large dogs, so I spend a lot of time out walking in my neighbourhood. Because I'm an artist interested in representation, I wanted some way to understand and represent my experience.

So, that took me to mapping, and the different ways that maps are created to explore and also represent power over space — not that, with my dogs, I had much of that! 

You've used maps in some of your artwork.

KV: Yes, I am working on a series of textile maps of walks in urban woods and green spaces. It's an ongoing part of my personal practice. There are some examples currently on display in the ARTE departmental gallery (EV-2.619) in the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex. The exhibition runs until the end of November.

I also work on collaborative maps, sometimes using my personal take on things as a starting point, or as an example. I often work with textiles, since they're a very democratic form of engagement. Most people are familiar with cloth from clothing and sheets, and all the items in our daily lives, and can do some kind of basic stitching or gluing, so it makes a very accessible art form.

But you also start to think about things like abstraction. What's important to represent, and what can you let go? What do you want to emphasize? What does colour do? What does pattern and repetition do? I have worked with various groups, doing maps of different kinds of experiences in space.

What sort of topics are you hoping will come up during the discussion?

It will be very interesting to see who comes, and with what experiences of mapping. I'm really looking forward to hearing what others are interested in, and seeing perhaps if there's some way that I can contribute to their practices, or they can contribute to mine. 

I think one of my strengths, coming from the art world, is thinking of mapping as a kind of awareness raising, for oneself — a form of self-expression and reaching out to others, that may or may not have an instrumental purpose.

The other invited guest on Wednesday night is designer, mapmaker and social sculptor Wendy Brawer.

Wendy is amazing. She's wonderful. She works a lot on green maps, and her maps are both beautiful and can be very instrumental in terms of policy and understanding, and public practice.

My maps have yet to reach that level of usefulness. They’re more objects of contemplation than objects of use, so I think we make an interesting team together. 

How do you think maps can empower communities and affect change?

From my perspective as an artist, one of the ways that I see maps working to empower people is to emphasize their own sense of entitlement to space. People begin to really see, mirrored back to themselves, the spaces that are important to them and their investment in them, and then understand their deep sense of desire to maintain them, advocate on behalf of them and build community around them.

Plus, they're beautiful. What's better than usefulness and beauty all together?


“Creating Common Ground: The Community Mapping National Summit” is bringing together experts and practitioners in community mapping from throughout North America. The summit will showcase real examples of best practice in mapping methods and will further initiate the development of a national network to nurture long-term collaboration and exchange.

The first public event of the summit, organized in partnership with University of the Streets Café, “Participatory Mapping: How can maps empower our community and affect change?” takes place on Wednesday, November 4, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Café Bloom, in Pointe-Saint-Charles.

The second public event, “The Power of Community Mapping for Indigenous, Campus and Community Research and Partnerships”, takes place on Thursday, November 5, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in Room MB 3.435 of the John Molson Building.

Kathleen Vaughan's exhibition of textile maps is on display in the ARTE departmental gallery (EV-2.619) until the end of November.



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