In March of 2010 individuals with disabilities and their allies in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, UNC-Chapel Hill and the Triangle participated in a special art and social networking project organized by artist Park McArthur called Presence is Progress. This Community Art Project was sponsored by the Town of Chapel Hill's Community Arts & Culture effort.
Presence Is Progress was conceived by the artist as a pair of collective mobilizations / performances to encourage community bonding, public awareness, dialog and questioning. Each mobilization utilized different pathways and sidewalks in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. The mobilizations were designed to highlight existing and new relationships between the participants, the participants and the surrounding architectural infrastructure, and the participants and the observers who witness the mobilizations.
The first Presence Is Progress mobilization occurred Saturday March 6, 2010 at the Carrboro ArtsCenter, 300 East Main Street, Carrboro, NC. A group of 40 participants travelled and documented a pre-determined route that led them west on East Main Street from the ArtsCenter, southeast on the Libba Cotten Bikeway, northeast on Brewer Lane, northwest on West Franklin Street, and then west on East Main Street, returning to the ArtsCenter. The mobilization lasted about 30 minutes, and participants gathered afterwards at the ArtsCenter for a group discussion, refreshments and socializing.
artist Park McArthur (left) and participants at the Chapel Hill mobilization, 3/27/2010
The second mobilization occurred on Saturday, March 27, 2010 at Peace and Justice Plaza at 179 East Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill. This mobilization began by honoring the history of the Plaza and recognizing the need for disability and mobility to join the conversation about civil rights in America. Participants toured Franklin Street and University grounds before returning to the Plaza for discussion and refreshment.
A website http://presenceisprogress.wordpress.com was set up for updates, questions and comments. With the participation of two photographers McArthur documented both mobilizations. Photographs and other forms of documentation then became the source for a series of exhibitions presented throughout the community and region, adding another level of experience between participants and viewers
An exhibit featuring photographs shot at the two mobilizations was displayed at Through This Lens Gallery in Durham from July 24 - August 7, 2010 in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A second exhibition of the project photography was held in November, 2010 at Guilford College. A third exhibition of the photographs was held at the Chapel Hill Public Library in February of 2011.
photograph by Jess Levin, "Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, March 27th, 2010"
As an art project, Presence Is Progress questioned who is invited to use our civic spaces and for what purposes - how does the way we navigate a city influence our relationship to that city and to the other people who share the city. How does architecture work as a segregating or enabling force in civic life? “The project intentionally blurs definitions,” explains McArthur, “Is it a rally? A march? A celebratory parade? A performance art piece? Is it all of these or something else? I am interested in looking at disability and access after the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 because we live with a paradox: there exists unprecedented structural access, yet major barriers remain.”
Presence Is Progress is an artwork of multiple mediums that acknowledges, celebrates, and insists on continued progress for people with disabilities while expanding the awareness of others to the mobility challenges faced by those individuals.