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Posts Tagged ‘Zuni’

Zunis Help Design the Park

Photo: Zuni Youth Enrichment Project.
By incorporating the Zuni people into the planning, design, and execution, a unique park in New Mexico addresses health on multiple levels.

Call it the department of “Don’t tell people what they need. Ask them.” It’s a bit of wisdom that organizations and government entities proposing to do good have been trying to apply to their work for years now. Unfortunately, past failures mean they first have to overcome suspicion.

Amanda Loudin reports at Shelterforce, “Six artists reside in the Shack family home in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. While that many artists living under one roof is an anomaly, in the Zuni tribe there’s at least one artist living in nearly 70 percent of households, according to a study by the University of New Mexico. Art is part and parcel of the tribe’s history and culture.

“The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) understands this, so when it began planning a new youth center and park in 2015, Zuni artists and community members were invited to play a central role in the design and execution of the project.

“Their opinions and their art were woven into the fabric of the process from start to finish. The end result is the 2.5-acre H’on A:wan, or ‘Of the People,’ Community Park, which officially welcomed youth and the wider tribal community in 2018.

“ZYEP is a grassroots nonprofit founded by community members with the mission of enhancing the health of the tribe’s youth, who number 2,900 of the 10,000 tribe members. Zuni households face many challenges, including systemic poverty, which affects one in two Zuni families with children. And poverty, of course, is closely linked to health.

“Daryl Shack, one of the six artists in his Zuni household, played an integral role in the youth center/park project. ‘I kind of became involved by accident,’ Shack says. ‘We had a Main Street Art Walk project underway, and I was already involved in that to help ensure the modernization included a cultural aspect to it. When I heard about the park project, I wanted to learn more.’

“Funding for the park and community center originated with ArtPlace America, a 10-year collaboration among federal agencies, foundations, and financial institutions. … By design, the projects involve artists, culture bearers, and community members in every step of the planning and implementation.

“With the grant money, ZYEP set its sights on developing a center for youth that would benefit their spiritual well-being. To ZYEP, this meant Zuni art, history, and culture needed to be integral to the project. But Zuni youth also need access to safe spaces to play and be physically active, says ZYEP Executive Director Joe Claunch.

“ ‘We were well aware of the fact that they lacked space where they could run, play, and fall down without getting injured — every surface was either concrete or desert,’ he says. ‘The park represents a green space that celebrates Zuni identity and [is a] safe place where kids and families could engage in a range of healthy activities without concern.’

“Like many kids today, the Zuni youth have access to technology, which can quickly override cultural influences and healthy traditions. ‘Kids can get stuck on technology and start practicing a sedentary lifestyle, planting the seeds for preventable diseases,’ says Claunch. …

“The original intent for the park goes back more than a decade. ‘We had a local pediatrician who heard too many times from youth that they had nothing going on in their summers,’ Claunch explains. ‘He recognized that they needed healthy spaces and places, not just activity.’ …

“On a spiritual/emotional level, [the park] is a supervised space with a positive, culturally sensitive staff in place to encourage healthy activity. ‘We provide training to our staff that focuses on the strengths of the community, the family, and the youth.’ …

“In 2014, ZYEP approached the Zuni Tribal Council about acquiring land to develop the park and community center. Together, they found a spot near the center of the village, and ZYEP leased 2.5 acres. A year later, they applied for the ArtPlace America grant. …

“Typical government-sponsored development brings with it an institutional look, says Claunch, rather than a cultural look. Think chain link fences, sometimes even topped with barbed wire, which is unwelcoming and devoid of character. The same goes to new housing developments, which are designed for the nuclear family, rather than the extended family commonly found in Zuni culture. A government-designed home will look like a typical two-to- three-bedroom home, whereas a traditional Zuni home will house three to four families living under one roof — much larger in structure with large communal spaces for family functions like meals.

Having a recent history of development that often neglected the role of Zuni culture meant that when approached by ZYEP, community members were initially skeptical about the good intentions of the project. …

“Like others in his community, Shack came to the table with a healthy dose of skepticism. ‘Usually, grants come into Zuni and the planning and models are made, the meetings are held and that’s where it ends,’ he says. ‘When the park project was directed to the artists community, I was hesitant but interested.’

“Shack’s first introduction to the project was in a large-scale meeting he attended to listen in and hear about the planning process. ‘Subsequent meetings were smaller, and that’s when I decided to sign on,’ he explains.

“From the get-go, says Claunch, ZYEP aimed to build trust in the community, and did it by engaging residents in conversation. ‘We didn’t make any promises but assured them that over time, we’d show them we were serious about having them shape decisions,’ he says. ‘The artists took on the role of advocates and cast the vision. They also took the feedback and concerns from the neighbors, often in the Zuni language. If it weren’t for the artists, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.’ ”

Read more about how this beautiful park came together at Shelterforce, here.

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