Interview by Evil E.
Yvonne Shortt is the head of a social practice non profit studio called RPGA Studio. She has been working in NYC with a focus on revitalizing spaces, transportation safety, garbage, inspiring youth, and commercial corridors for 10 years.
Today I had the opportunity to sit down with Yvonne Shortt and discuss her role in the NYS Pavilion Project. The work her studio –RPGA Studio– is doing around the NYS Pavilion in the field of community engagement is innovative and effective. It really is a novel way to engage the community.
How did RPGA Studio get involved in the NYS Pavilion Project? People for the Pavilion and the National Trust for Historic Preservation came to us and asked us to do some programing around a competition to get residents in the borough to rethink some of the uses for the Tent of Tomorrow and the Observation Towers at Corona Flushing Park. Because we are a social practice that works in design, technology, art, and education I knew I wanted o work on this project. Plus the NYS Pavilion had sentimental value. My uncle, who passed several years ago, told me as a child about his visit to the Worlds Fair and how it inspired him to work in technology bridging the gap between the hearing and the non-hearing world.
How did you incorporate these tools into programming for the NYS Pavilion? We decided to have 5 stations. The first station was setup with several laptops so people could vote for their favorite NYS reimagined Pavilion idea. After people voted, they were more familiar with the Pavilion because they spent 20 minutes looking at many ideas uploaded by others.
The second station was meant to help the community reimagine the possibilities from a land use perspective. We created a virtual reality video around the NYS Pavilion where we educated people about the NYS Pavilion from an architectural and historic perspective. Then, the VR installation reimagined the use of the space. People got to use an incredible new technology to see the Pavilion reimagined. People were inspired after using the VR technology. They were ready to come up with their own ideas on how the space could be used.
At the third station we had two physical models created using a 3d printer. The first model was a tactile piece to show the Tent of Tomorrow in its current form. The second model used kinetic motion to reimagine the Tent of Tomorrow from an architectural perspective. We asked ourselves how could we keep the core of the building but use architectural concepts to turn it from a passive structure to a more active structure? We knew we needed to keep the Tent of Tomorrow structure but we added a couple of additional pieces to make the structure able to engage with visitors. We also had a 3d printer on hand to discuss how we created the models and bring awareness to the community on new technologies, something the World Fair did in 64/65.
Next, at the fourth station we had stereoscopes. They basically showed two additional functional uses for the space of the Pavilion but used technology invented in the 1800’s. This demonstrated the need for old and new technology. It was also meant to parallel the need to remember the past as we move forward in the future. The nostalgia was palpable for older adults when they saw the stereoscopes.
At the fifth station, we had 5-6 designers proficient in CAD. Community members were able to sit down with the designers and reimagine the two structures. Imagine having ideas and someone on hand with the skills needed to put them on paper. This installation was also meant to democratize design, to make it accessible for the every day person, by having the designer there to be used as a tool for the community. We also put our cad design template online for people to modify and submit for the competition.
I not only had the opportunity to interview Yvonne but also visit her installations in LIC, the Queens Museum, on the streets in Queens, and at Corona Flushing Park. The installations were amazing because they engaged participants for between 20 minutes to 2 hours, could grow or shrink depending on the location of the installation, could be installed on the streets of Queens as a pop up or in a museum, and most importantly made the community feel like they mattered. BRAVO to the RPGA team! One can tell they put a great deal of time and effort into engaging the community.
About Evil E.
I’m studying Urban Studies in school. 6 months ago I came across the work of RPGA Studio and knew I had to help them get the word out about their tiny nonprofit doing so much good in the world. My goal is to make sure people know about Yvonne and her organization so people know quality is never measured by size only tenacity of spirit, ability to dream big, and willingness to work incredibly hard. If you need to engage community you need RPGA Studio!