Organization and community: Cook Inlet Housing Authority (Anchorage, AK)
The Mime Spenard Project from Cook Inlet Housing on Vimeo.
Road projects are always controversial in Anchorage; poor engagement, design challenges, and implementation stalled the needed improvement on Spenard Road for 10 years. As members of the local business association, Cook Inlet Housing Authority knew local businesses viewed the pending road project as a threat to their livelihoods due to the disruption of construction and removal of parking. They also recognized an opportunity for investment that could upgrade aging and inefficient infrastructure, address the absence of pedestrian and bus facilities, and support new housing investment.
Through dialogue with two local performance artists, Enzina Marrari and Becky Kendall, a common point of interest was identified from which the artists created a powerful artistic intervention. Their practice is rooted in the belief that “art has the power to effect social change and impact the social landscape of Anchorage, Alaska… [We] utilize our background in performance and visual art as a tool to remove barriers that keep our ability as citizens to find a deeper connection to everyday environments.”
The artists created an interactive spectacle that grew during construction, from spring through summer. #MIMESPENARD began stealthily and mysteriously, first with a simple black and white mural hashtagged with #mimespenard and then with a small number of participants performing as mimes along the Spenard Road corridor. Becky and Enzina worked with business owners to place mimes at their businesses and used social media to promote their locations. Ongoing mime training was offered so that they numbered 100 on MIME Day, the project’s culminating event. During the intervention, media outlets picked up on the mime activity, but the artists embargoed the full story, focusing only on informing residents that businesses were open during the road construction. The full reveal was published in a local newspaper’s cover story featuring master mime Brian Hutton.
The project helped many beleaguered commercial ventures retain business,with a sense of levity and also sparked widespread enthusiasm, curiosity, and engagement in neighborhood civic life. The artists’ organizing through #MIME SPENARD created a deeper understanding between those advocating for road construction, and the local business owners that would be most directly affected. The project also added new creative strategies to the Cook Inlet Housing Authority’s tool chest, showing the organization how this new vision for interactive public art could become a driver for community building.