"Home" - a new collaborative social practice project tackling perceptions of homelessness

The Forum is excited to announce the first recipients of its new social practice grant, HUMAN:ties, inspired by the statewide impact of Sarah Davies’ 100Stone Project.

The selected proposal is a partnership between Ryan Romer, a Yupik/Athabascan multi-disciplinary artist, and Jimmy Riordan, a cross-disciplinary artist based in Anchorage.

Their two-year, cross-disciplinary, research based project and resulting co-authored artwork in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of Alaska will explore homelessness - a multifaceted, complex issue especially in Alaska where there is a history of seasonality, subsistence, nomadism, and itinerancy.

"When thinking about homelessness," Riordan and Romer wrote in their grant application, "we cannot help but find ourselves discussing how conversations on the topic are often rooted in an assumption that we as a people have a shared definition of home and what it is to have or not have a home. It is our hope that this project and the resulting artwork will question this assumption and help start a conversation about homelessness that acknowledges the complexity of the topic as it relates to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta specifically, and Alaska more generally."

The project will involve a partnership with people and organizations in Bethel and other communities in the region. Through research, visits, discussions, gathering and sharing, Riordan and Romer will create an artistic work together with the various individuals and groups that participate.

"Many of the homeless in cities like Anchorage are Alaska Native, often Yu'pik from Western Alaska," explain Riordan and Romer. "We are interested in this in relation to how homelessness and the issues that lead to homelessness are dealt with in smaller communities. This is why we plan to collaborate with the Winter House in Bethel and other local partners in the area."

Riordan's art is often participatory and involves collaboration with other artists, craftspeople and social scientists. He has a background in printmaking and artist books, and print media is often involved in his artwork. The son of an anthropologist working with Yu’pik people from the YK Delta, Riordan spent some time in his youth in Toksook Bay and as an adult, he has traveled to villages in the area as a teaching artist.

Romer grew up in Bethel, the grandchild of one of the starting families of the village of Aniak, with family members in many villages in the area, in a house where family and friends often stayed for extended periods while traveling around the region. While he now lives in Anchorage, Romer's artwork is still deeply rooted in western Alaska, his paintings and prints drawing from experiences, stories and folklore from bush Alaska, and his photography capturing nomadic lifestyles as they exist in contemporary Alaska.

A grant committee reviewed a strong pool of diverse and innovative proposals for creative advocacy projects as part of the selection process for HUMAN:ties, all in response to the goal of addressing the diverse experiences of isolation and promoting a deeper understanding of the invisible ties between self and community.

"I was struck by something the Executive Director of Fairbanks Rescue Mission Rodney Gaskins said in our Summer issue of FORUM Magazine," explained Megan Zlatos, the Forum's Director of Grants and Special Projects. "He said, 'People don't become homeless when they lose a house or they run out of money; they become homeless when they run out of relationships.' Our mission, at its heart, is to connect people. We're not a social services agency, we can't provide people a house, food, or a job. That's not our role. So what are we doing getting involved in homelessness? We're exploring the impact of relationships and connections on individuals and communities. Ryan and Jimmy really get that, and their project is all about building trust and connection through conversation. Conversation is core to our work, I can't wait to learn from what they do."


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