Situated Knowledge and the Conditions for this Collaboration
Initially, we began doing research on land-use politics of the Santa Cruz region. This involved secondary research of local history archives – reading books, newspapers, maps, and photos. During this period, we were very open-ended and didn’t know exactly where things were headed.
The particulars of Santa Cruz’s political history involve a coalition of socialist-feminists, socialist-welfare, and environmentalists who found common ground surrounding issues of neighborhood environmental justice. There has been fighting within this coalition between those that hold a zero-growth position, opposing any and all development, and those that are open to select development projects, protecting revenue and jobs. In the late 1970s, the coalition won two of the seven seats on the city council. Within five years they would have all seven seats, temporarily dismantling the growth coalition that had many plans for developing the region to mirror southern California’s suburban sprawl. It is during this period that members of the coalition are credited for getting more land protected under their grant-writing then any other individuals in the history of the US. California agriculture –a $36-billion-a-year industry  – became a critical political device in helping to establish an anti-development direction for the area that could simultaneously provide jobs and food security for the region. The coalition crafted tax laws to make land affordable for farmers and subsidized the cost of agricultural water.
We targeted neighborhoods that have community gardens and began walking along the streets, interviewing people we encountered. The interviews were recorded as audio files and later transcribed, along with photos. Eventually, we made postcards for a number of interviews and redistributed them into the neighborhoods where the interviews took place. The postcards directed people to a webpage on the Circulation of Knowledge archive website where they could listen or read the interviews that happened in their neighborhood. Additional material from the secondary research was also made available on the website.
Walking around the neighborhoods eventually led us to collaborate with one of the smaller neighborhood branches of the Santa Cruz county library system – the Garfield Park Public Library. The Garfield branch is one of the older libraries in the area; it was built with a $3,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation in 1914 and opened its doors in July 1915. We spent a week in the one-room library, documenting patrons reading and studying. Next, we installed a video projector and screen outside on the front lawn, showing the footage. While some might read the piece as being about surveillance, I was thinking more about bringing the hidden into view –about the dynamic relationship between patrons and textual practices, and about the library as system and civic institution that offers a set of conditions for negotiating knowledge. During the installation, we had conversations with the librarians, library staff, and patrons about the current state of the Santa Cruz county library system and more general conversations about the shifting role and function of public libraries. It was while working at the Garfield Branch that my theoretical focus shifted from questions of land-use politics to questions of cultural and civic infrastructure.
Garfield Park Public Library video Installation