Andrew McCann
YP Week

The Laundromat Project Comes to Town

New York-based nonprofit promotes cultural growth in communities and looks to do that in Milwaukee.

By - Mar 30th, 2015 11:50 am
The Laundromat Project. Photo from facebook.

The Laundromat Project. Photo from facebook.

The Laundromat Project is coming to Milwaukee.

The group is a community-oriented nonprofit operating since 2005 in Harlem in New York City whose mission is to promote strong cultural growth and development within communities. It seeks to promote strong personal networks, encourage problem-solving and help give people an enhanced sense of ownership over the communities where they live. To accomplish this, the Laundromat Project works to develop a very important facet of each community they work with: the arts.

The group believes that art and creative expression play a vital role in community development and are a way to spread new ideas and encourage people to connect within a community. Their theory of change, posted on their website, states that art, culture, and engaged imaginations can change how people see the world, and that when the skills and strategies to make this happen are made available to average people, they can become powerful tools for creative, transformative change at all levels of community affairs.

The Laundromat Project was named for the company’s philosophy that any community space – from laundromats to parks and schools – is an untapped creative platform to spread ideas. Financially the group is small: its 2013 federal tax form shows it has a budget of about $300,000.

A story in The Guardian included The Laundromat Project as one of six groups internationally using art as a way to improve communities.

Laundromat projects, the story notes, “have included renaming streets based on personal and social history, transforming laundromats into yoga studios or English classrooms, and creating community mix tapes.”

Laundromat Project executive director Kemi Ilesanmi. Photo by Akiva Steinmetz-Silber.

Laundromat Project executive director Kemi Ilesanmi. Photo by Akiva Steinmetz-Silber.

On April 13, representatives from the group will be in Milwaukee for Newaukee’s YP Week for two Spotlight feature presentations. First, Laundromat Project executive director Kemi Ilesanmi will lead an informal, interactive discussion with a curated audience. According to Ilesanmi, the focus of the discussion will be “the role of artists, creativity, and untapped neighborhood assets in building vibrant communities.”

Afterwards, New York writer and commissioned Laundromat Project artist Sukjong Hong will lead a workshop on how artists can collaborate with communities on both a small and large scale.

“I will be presenting a collaborative oral history project [I made] with immigrant communities in NYC,” says Hong. “[I’ll then] briefly present two art district projects I’ve researched that tackle gentrification and support long term residents in low-income communities [in Baltimore and Syracuse].”

The workshop will also have an interactive portion in which participants can interview each other and brainstorm collaboration ideas.

Ilesanmi is excited about the upcoming event, seeing it as a great opportunity for the visitor and locals to teach and learn from each other. “Our goal is to inspire and be inspired by a new city, context, and conversations,” she says. “We are looking forward to listening and learning from Milwaukee.”

Milwaukee has a vibrant arts scene but also has problems with racial and economic segregation. Can the Laundromat Project be a tool to take such issues on? Ilesanmi was as curious as we are about that. “We hope to find that out from the people of Milwaukee!” she said. “We look forward to attending the conference and leading our sessions.”

The Laundromat Project will make their presentations on April 13 at the Rumpus Room on Water Street. Each will be an hour long, running from 3:00-4:00 pm and 4:00-5:00 pm.

If you’re curious to find out or discuss how art can improve your community, and how you can participate, don’t miss this one!

Categories: YP Week

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