Listening Project Explores Sounds of 24th Street

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Tonight at the Brava Theater, artists Lynn Marie Kirby and Alexis Petty present the 24th Street Listening Project, a showcase of neighborhood characters they have encountered in the Mission, including singers, musicians, painters and storytellers. The event kicks off at 7 p.m. at 2781 24th St. and will be preceded by a 5 p.m. walking tour of five Mission District blocks that serve as the project’s focal points.

For more than 18 months, Kirby and Petty mapped the sounds and colors of the five square blocks. The process led them to meet countless Missionites and to engage the community in a unique way. Their practice involved sitting in various locations to note the sounds and phrases that are prevalent in different areas around 24th Street.

It’s a meditation of sorts, to hear the artists tell it. They also went door to door on the streets they covered, charting the colors of the homes and learning which languages are spoken in each household. Kirby and Petty have collected their artistic encounters and findings — including some 35 stories from Mission residents — in a run of 100 hand-painted and screen-printed books that will be available at the event.

Mission Local caught up with the artists in the Mission over the weekend to talk about the project.

Mission Local: Talk to us about the Listening Project and the event on Wednesday.

Lynn Marie Kirby: The event is very celebratory. It involves a lot of the people we met in the neighborhood. We’ve engaged people who we’ve met and run into in the community to be part of this event. The Listening Project is a kind of meditative practice. The first stage of it was being present to what’s happening, and not necessarily interacting, just being a receiver. That’s why it’s called listening. We began walking the blocks and taking notes on the architecture and the colors and the languages that were spoken in all the different homes. So for the last year and a half we’ve been doing that. And the event at the Brava is a kind of distillation, a presentation of all these things we’ve discovered.

Alexis Petty: It’s a practice of being present and receiving information and stories and visual elements and heard elements and keeping everything on the same plane and seeing everything as a potential collaboration. It’s listening and being respectful and retelling these stories and getting people involved.

ML: What are you hoping that people will take away from the Listening Project?

LMK: I want people to take away a sense of being present in time to something that they might not understand totally. For example, at the performance not everything will be in English. We’ll have people speaking different languages, so you won’t understand everything … They have to understand in another way — tone-wise or feeling-wise. And the book, it’s a kind of honoring, really. It’s almost a kind of prayer that we’re making for people, if I can use that language.

It’s so hard now, our lives are so busy, we’re always rushing. How do you stop and take a moment and just be present?

AP: Lynn and I work well together because we have an inherent interest in people and place and those sorts of connections. So for the performance part, I hope that people feel comfortable experiencing a different sort of listening. And from the book I want people to feel like they can ask questions of people they meet, and become involved in their neighborhood.

ML: Did this happen in the Mission organically through the work you were already undertaking, or was it a more intentional directive to study the cultural and auditory landscape of the Mission in particular?

LMK: I think it grew organically due to my knowing this neighborhood really well. One could do this really in any neighborhood, but this neighborhood is particularly vibrant.

AP: I grew up in San Francisco and I had never really been in this area until I started graduate school. It was this time when all of these artists were moving here, and the topic of gentrification keeps coming up and there was all this change happening. And as we kept coming back, there were more and more coffee shops and restaurants opening up, and giving us an opportunity to explore what was happening here, and to ask people we were meeting on the street what’s going on for them.

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