Chicago is known as one of the most segregated cities in the country — and that disconnect can sow prejudice, fear, and misunderstandings. Artist Tonika Johnson explores that segregation through a photography. The Englewood native’s project is called “Folded Map,” which brings people from opposites ends of the same street, but in different neighborhoods, to meet and get to know one another.
“The fact that we have similar addresses on different sides of town and that they look so different compelled me to take photos,” Johnson said in an interview with Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia. “But that morphed into residents wanting to meet each other.”
Johnson talked about where she hopes the project will lead and how #FoldedMap conversations are expanding people’s awareness to segregation. Two of the projects subjects, one from Englewood and the other from Rogers Park, also joined the conversation to talk about their experience.
‘Everything just seems more aesthetically pleasing’
Tonika Johnson: As an artist, I pay attention to aesthetics, and everything just seems more aesthetically pleasing outside of Englewood and in the northern neighborhoods. The second time we moved out of Englewood, I was a junior in high school and we moved to Edgewater. That’s when I started noticing the similarities with the addresses and the streets. I was really happy in Edgewater because it had all the conveniences me and my mom wanted; we could walk to the grocery store, the lake was right there, I could meet up with friends to have dinner. I could really hang out in a way that I couldn’t in Englewood.
It will work for your block 😀my hope is to expand the project to include schools, businesses, public transit. So many ways the map can fold— Tonika Johnson (@tonikagj) May 16, 2018
The key to ‘Folded Map’ conversations is empathy
Johnson: During my fellowship at City Bureau, we crafted a set of questions for my first resident pairs: how long they had lived at their address, how they came to live there, and — here’s the big one — how much it cost to purchase or live in that home. I also asked how each resident would describe their neighborhoods, what was missing, and finally, what their place of peace was within their neighborhood or if they had to go outside of it to find one.
What really surprised me was how my resident pairs forgot I was even present with them. They started talking to one another, like, “Yea, I wonder why there aren’t more flowers on the medians in Englewood,” or conversations that went into tax increment credits. Now, the pairs have electronic relationships and have visited each other’s homes.
‘We want the same things’
Folded Map subjects Carmen Arnold-Stratton, of the 5600 block of S. Winchester Avenue in Englewood, and Brighid O’Shaughnessy, of the 6500 block of N. Winchester Avenue in Rogers Park, called up Morning Shift to talk about their takeaways, too.
Carmen Arnold-Stratton: This project is bringing awareness to my generation and to millennials. We need to come together as a whole for unification. I’ve lived in lots of cities across the country and I’ve never experienced the kind of segregation that’s here in Chicago.
Brighid O’Shaughnessy: One of the challenges is that many people have never been down to Englewood. All they see is the media talk about crime and divestment, but they don’t know about the people who live there. We want the same things. Carmen and I cried together about both wanting community, both wanting a neighborhood where we felt our neighbors have our back.
‘Art provides a comfort for this kind of engagement that no other thing could’
Johnson: I am most impacted by being able to witness the power of art. Art creates a neutral space — and this has been my duality my whole life — so I know specifically what to ask and how to be delicate so that a conversation won’t emerge as blaming.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was adapted to the web by Gabrielle Wright.