San Bernardino art activists help their city heal

posted by – 02/23/16 @ 3:58pm

Thomas McGovern and Juan Delgado, professors and art activists in San Bernardino. Photo: Jenna Schoenefeld, New York Times.

Thomas McGovern and Juan Delgado, professors and art activists in San Bernardino. Photo: Jenna Schoenefeld, New York Times.

It’s no secret that the city of San Bernardino, California, has been under the microscope in recent months since two terrorists attacked an office building there. The shootings are once again making headlines as Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation butt heads over what rights the tech company has to defy FBI orders. The New York Times, though, finds a pieces of positivity in the shaken city despite constant media attention and criticism: the city’s residents are actively “trying to find a new civic identity rather than someone from CNN telling [them] who [they] are” with the help of local art activists.

In attempts to shape this new identity and empower the city’s residents, poet Juan Delgado and his colleague at California State University, photographer Thomas McGovern launched a project aimed at documenting and capturing San Bernardino’s “scrappy allure.” Even before the life-altering attack on the city, Delgado and McGovern saw that the city “was on a decline” and in need of revitalization. In fact, the project was launched three years before the December 2nd attacks. In a city not yet struck by terrorists but riddled with “gang violence, drug addiction, foreclosures, and political dysfunction,” the artists wanted to make people see the positive in their city rather than the emptiness that many felt as businesses left town and shops closed.

In a variety of projects, including a book and a six-week public art show, the art activists inspired the community to solidify a cultural identity that ultimately strengthened the sense of community in San Bernardino. Delgado and McGovern drew attention to the city’s problems without exploiting them. They provided young people with a more positive outlook on their situation. In fact, they opened young people up to art in a way that the city had never seen. And when the unthinkable happened not yet three months ago, that common grounding and residents’ “stubborn regard for their city” undoubtedly banded people together when they could easily have been torn apart by tragedy.

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