Postal Exchange social practice project

This project formed as a social practice most traditionally out of the understanding and importance of community and environment in social practice and the understanding of pushing the boundaries of aesthetics. Community is often how the project begins. It is near impossible to create a project founded with engagement and collaboration in mind without first working through who will be involved, whom the intended artist(s) or producer(s) want to engage with, and where they wish to have the engagements take place. These are core characteristics of creating socially engaged art (Helguera 22).
When I began the process of building this postcard exchange into an interaction for church communities, I had to look at where I wanted to start. I am a Seventh-Day Adventist, so I began with those circles. After I found my core people group to be involved with the project, I had to expand to which specific people I wanted to engage with and where. I picked churches across Tennessee and Indiana with people I had come in contact within varying degrees. As in the development of a social practice project, this identification preceded the development of the project itself. Once I had identified my people and places, I began looking into my own experiences in these places and reaching out to others familiar with this group to find an issue I personally felt attached to. This began the descent into community connections through the lens of young adults and church relations at churches and at a summer camp. In social practice, there can be two primary levels of the environment: the broader community, city, or region; and the immediate space being occupied – a church or a summer camp. The community and the environment are characteristics, not influencers, of this project. The postcard project would not exist without the people group and community it was built upon.
Then, the development of the postcards themselves began the pushing of aesthetic boundaries of art. Social practice takes aesthetics and captures a mix of the traditional methods of the arts and the nontraditional methods of the addition of social engagement and participation. Social practice has created this new form of aesthetic: one of human interaction and development based on participation not exclusively spectatorship (Finkelpearl 132). It invites people into art as a collective experience. This was an idea I wanted to embody with the postcards because while they established the traditional art of drawing in my creating of the postcards designs, the postcards invite people into the process by allowing space for them to create and change the designs visually per their desires. Then, it invites them into social interaction making the engagement of passing their postcards to others as the experience vital to the success of the project. The postcards were not meant to be pretty designs to be colored or drawn; they were a stepping stone of letting people experience and interact with my artwork, make it their own, and begin an interaction with another person as a part of their greater church community.

Postcard Designs

ICC Lake
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Coxhall Gardens
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What is community to you? How do you build it and make it stronger? How do you show love?
I will be honest with you. Talking to people is hard, but I have learned when I am at a place where I do not want anyone around at all is when I need people the most. However, when we reach this point in life where we want no one but need someone, if we do not have a strong community of support to reach out to, then we will remain alone with our spiraling emotions.
These postcards are not the fix-all, big answer to the never-ending question of how to strengthen our church community. They are a way to take a step toward others. Maybe you do not like to write, but you like to draw. Maybe you do not like drawing, but you like to color. Maybe you think you are not artistic, but you can write something nice. They are a simple, thoughtful way to begin a connection. When you have a moment this week, feel free to fill out a postcard and find someone to give it to. I encourage you to talk to the person you give it to. If talking is too far out of your comfort zone, pray for them. Let the postcard be an opener, not a handout. For your kids, get them involved. They can color or help pick the receiving people. All ages are important to our church. Young people are not just the future; they are part of the present. Help them see that because these are for everyone to enjoy.
So, the ultimate goal? Have fun! Meet new people. Pray for others. Spread some love and joy. Good Luck! I will see you around. Love, Anya

Postcard samples

The initial idea for this project came from the questions, "Where do people go when they are pushed out?" and "Why do we feel lonely when we are supposedly surrounded by people?"
It was built from personal questions I faced in my everyday life and happenings I saw playing out around me all the time. I wanted to focus specifically on churches because spirituality was a big part of the reason I asked these questions. I grew up going to church and a Christian summer camp where it seemed like everyone had these questions. Still, no one knew how to begin building bridges.
I existed in this world where we were taught what ways we could perceive the world and how we could fit into it. A big belief was everyone had a role or a gift or a way to make an impact on the church community. However, there were never any talks or investigations about how to do these things.
In a place where I was taught I have a unique gift and place, why do I feel so alone surrounded by my church community? In a world where my ideas should coexist with our taught beliefs and my need to be a part of something bigger should be appreciated, why does it feel like my age range is being pushed out? They were questions coming from my experiences, what I watched my older brother go through, how my dad got treated as a military man, and how my mom was perceived as a young mother.
I wanted to produce something that allowed for the initial connection and existed in these spaces where the hows and whys were created. The questions were found in the community gaps where connections were weak. I wanted to produce something that could begin to close these gaps and find a starting point for building bridges. I wanted to work on something replicable, as I do not plan to stay in Indiana, and this was why I included a trifecta of churches and a summer camp from Tennessee.
This project was created with the youth and young adult population in mind, but it expanded to include building community within the whole church by starting from where I was able to be involved. I worked directly with the young adults and church members of Seventh-Day Adventist churches and summer camp to begin a postcard exchange to help build relational connections and a stronger church community.

Quotes from participants

"You’ve touched my heart so deeply with your letter! Your words about when ‘we don’t want anyone is when we need people the most’ are so right. It’s a biggest message I am taking with me from camp. So true! It’s touching me to tears. Thank you! Love and respect."
- Family Camp 1
"Too often we try to overcomplicate and overcompensate in the planning of events for our church. We are trying to make them engaging and fun by offering a lot and filling their time by always having something. This reminded me that community engagement and fellowship can be small and simple and soothing in a genuine activity that draws people together."
- Family Camp 2
"The elders and parents of the younger generation are building the legacy for the younger generation to inherit. So, youth are the church of the future. We can’t ignore that. However, if we are not taught how to inherit the church and that we have a role and a place in the church now that leads to taking care of their legacy, then they can’t expect the younger generation to stick around and wait to serve until they become relevant in the future. There has to be a balance."
- Family Camp 3
This project opened my eyes to the possibilities of what social practice could do and how it could open doors with people’s personal journeys in tandem with a project working on a different side of the same experience. The art aspect of this project got lost in translation, and I may have pushed the aesthetic boundary too far. When I told people I drew and designed the postcards, they looked at them differently than when they were not aware it was my artwork. I might fix this by adding my signature, but I originally thought it would take away from their desire to make it their own if they saw an artist’s signature on them.
The focus on community and environment ended up being a point people latched onto and fully connected to, and this also turned into an unexpected self-exploration. People resonated with my personal self-reflective starting points and looked at their place in their community to find connections to others’ experiences. The postcards were not always vital to the community building that happened during this project, but they did help people have a reason to go up to someone and start an interaction. So, in terms of social practice, I do believe the project held to its standards, but in terms of making sure people understood the creativity and the art integration, I would need to be more intentional about how they view the vehicle of the project. I do not think the project lost any of its value despite this lack of attention on the postcard as a form of art, but I do think it could have further enhanced the understanding of ways to begin building community and fostering conversations between diverse groups of people within the church.