The Process

00. The Idea

The (Un)sheltered + Conversations project was born of a need to tear down the silos in which conversations on the topic of homelessness live. Drawing on our grounding in visual arts and adherence to a social justice framework, in Fall of 2015 with The AjA Project conceptualized a photo-mural to highlight the impact homelessness has on San Diegans. Early renders, completed in spring 2016, featured full-body candid portraits of participants engaged in conversation with the transcriptions of their conversations floating in the space between the portraits like shadows. Laid out on a vibrant coral color, the background was chosen to catch the attention of 6th Avenue street traffic. By the Summer of 2016, the concept for (Un)Sheltered+Conversations grew to include an Interactive Media Gallery (Unshelteredconversations.org) to provide public access to video interviews of participants captured during the creation of the mural.

00. The Inspiration

The (Un)sheltered + Conversations project is inspired by, and in conversation with, the “Question Bridge: Black Males” project that creates open and honest conversations between Black Men through video interviews shared across the United States on the topic of black male identity. The “question bridge” interview model is described by the projects as :
“First, one person asks a question looking into camera, as if they are talking directly to another person. Later, another person responds by talking directly into a camera. This question-answer exchange, the Question Bridge, reduces the stress of normal face-to-face conversations and makes people feel more comfortable with expressing their deeply held feelings on topics that divide, unite and puzzle.”
Inspired by the “Question Bridge: Black Males” project, AjA’s (Un)sheltered + Conversations seeks intersect the experiences of nine San Diegans through a question bridge style conversation on that impact and experience of homelessness.

01. The Think Tank Lunch-In

The official launch of (Un)sheltered + Conversations occurred in late Summer of 2016 with a Think Tank Lunch-In hosted by The AjA Project. The goal: identify the question that would begin the question bridge. On August 10th, 2016 representatives from local organizations and local advocates came together to share a meal, learn about the (Un)Sheltered+Conversations project, and discuss the complexities of homelessness in San Diego. The Organizations represented at the Think Tank Lunch-In included: San Diego Pride, Project Concern International, Monarch High School, Momentum Learning, and more. Reflecting the siloed nature of current discourse on homelessness, “Who is missing from the conversation?” emerged as the first critical question.

02. Identifying Participants

Following the Think Tank Lunch-In AjA gathered participants whose portraits and stories are featured in (Un)Sheltered +Conversations. Participants represent a cross-section of stakeholders impacted by homelessness to ensure a diverse array of experiences are included. We worked closely with our community-based partners and lent on our personal connections to engage participants in the project.

Once each participant was identified they received a packet of information including: a brief overview of the project, examples of the mural’s final design, and a worksheet to support their preparation for the question bridge. Prior to filming, AjA staff met with each participant to share the question the participant would be asked during their interview and to give contextual information about the person asking the question. We understand the level of vulnerability being asked of participants, and as such, trust building ahead of formal participation was critical.

03. Content Collection

The interviews, stills, and videos content for (Un)Sheltered+Conversations were shot in early Fall 2016 in the Crawford Gallery of The AjA Project building in City Heights. Local photographer and videographer Scott Polach produced the media with the support of AjA Staff and AjA volunteers. Images and videos for each interview were captured simultaneously and in a single session. This photo shoot method was used to ensure a candid and comfortable filming session, in which participants were encouraged to use their natural conversational gestures. AjA Staff worked closely with participants to ensure that each felt comfortable throughout their interviews.

04. Content Selection

Once content collection was completed selections of the video interviews were presented on unshelteredconversations.org . Content selection was guided by the following criteria:

  1. Clarity of message: Selection clearly articulates a specific point or message. In particular, the point should be reasonably understood even when removed from the context provided in preceding/subsequent narrative.
  2. Sequencing: Selection should relate to either the question posed by the previous participant, the question posed to the subsequent participant, or, if possible, bridge the two.
  3. Scaffolding: Selection should serve to scaffold the conversation between participants.
  4. Complicating the issue: Selections should represent views, points, and/or messages with different perspectives, tones, and respond to the issue of homelessness and/or poverty from different levels (i.e. individual, community, societal, philosophical).

05. Final Design and Install

In the spring of 2017 the mural was installed on 6th Avenue along with the launch of the UnshelteredConversations.org interactive media gallery.The mural holds true to the original design: full body candid portraits, shadows of text connecting nine individuals in an ocean of bright pink background.