Confluence: An Eastlake Studio for Community Design is a site to pass through. A waystation for individuals and ideas to cross paths on their way to where they are going or didn’t yet know they intended to go towards. The Studio develops space where, as writer Teju Cole says, people feel “amenable to arrival and to escape, where a stranger has a chance to feel less strange.”
Confluence: An East Lake Studio for Community Design develops sites for ideas and people to intersect and circulate. We founded the studio on the principle that development should be a process of caring for and cultivating neighborhood vitality and social landscapes, of which buildings are just a part. We call this process Social Craft and it takes place through engagement that is explicitly non-transactional: community celebrations, art-making, neighborhood publications, and other media capable of communicating and connecting people across experience and desire.The process centers the necessity for looking, listening, and communing across experiences and identities as its central mission.
We are not a service organization and we don’t use needs or deficits-based language and thinking to inform our work. Our commitment is to the people and communities that give life and complexity to Lake Street Corridor, in particular the 9th Ward. We feel our community is oversaturated with basic needs-fulfilment organizations that work to develop people and sites of commerce which very rarely recirculate resources back into the ward. There are few third places, makerspaces, and forums where ideas can be exchanged and where neighbors can articulate and then build the futures they desire. Our practice is to resource the entire neighborhood with social tools so that public gatherings might allow us to take the conversation beyond basic needs and towards a shifting and expanding of power, democracy, and communal living.
Using interdisciplinary arts and community organizing informed approaches, we support and advance the ideas of people in the ward through building and facilitating Social Labs: participatory design spaces, learning gatherings, and sites of creative experimentation where people can exchange ideas and tools, articulate and prototype their visions, engage in artistic and cultural production that sustains place, and contribute towards expansive leadership that can sustain the neighborhood socially and economically. It is holistic work engaged with our immediate social ecology, a model for other possible worlds and neighborhoods alike.
Our core belief is that the development process becomes meaningful and effective when people feel empowered to voice, discover, build, challenge and re-imagine their diverse intentions, desires, and needs. We are artists, cultural workers, educators, community organizers, place-keepers and makers who forge social tools and growing publics where our neighbors can become stronger advocates, architects, administrators, and elders of the communities we build together.
Our name and mission is inspired by our lives and the geography of the Twin Cities: our Studio members live in and at the edges of the 9th Ward Lake Street Corridor and collectively we live at the physical intersection of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, which itself is a stolen territory at the intersection of colonial, indigenous, and diasporic cultures and timelines.
The work of Confluence Studio, co-founded by Sam Gould & Duaba Unenra, is formed out of the initiative Beyond Repair. The Studio looks past the rhetoric of “people and places that need fixing” to support ideas of collective learning, community control, and the harnessing of the radical imaginary.