We believe that philosophy is grounded in the here & now and its questions (the things with which it is concerned) are extremely practical & relevant. Our community endeavors include a range of philosophy in the community activities designed specifically around the interests of community members. Some of these are ongoing; others are structured to be stand-alone.
From local shin-digs and collaborative efforts like our upcoming Live Theater & Community Discussions series, to our ongoing Thinking About Place and What Say You? programs, our community endeavors are all about you (and philosophy, of course!).
“Thinking About Place”
(A Collaborative Venture with Historian, Artist & Urban Designer Dennis McCahon)
When we get that “sense of place”, what’s going on? What are we “sensing”, and to what extent might it be a shared sense, something we can compare ideas about as we consider Helena’s future?
This is an experiment. Consider this your invitation to take part. Walk routes you like, and think about why you like them. What draws you on? Take notes. If enough curious folks do this, we can all get together and share our observations — once group gatherings are OK again — and see where it leads. How might sense of place be helpful to the growth and preservation of Helena? We can have some useful fun with this.
This project invites people to explore Helena afoot & consider questions about “place” – an oft overlooked but critical element to the understanding and appreciation of a city and its history. A space is abstract; a place is a space with meaning. From its historic storefronts and iconic architecture to its meandering natural walls and pathways, Helena is packed with “place.” But why? What is it about Helena that continues to call out — not as a dot on map but as a unique lived experience that beckons and makes one feel at home? — Dennis & Marisa
Below we offer hints about where you might walk and what you might think about during this experiment, but please feel free to disregard our hints, or argue with them. Follow your own lead. That’s what critical creative thinking is about.
Helena by Foot
First, we’re pretty sure that “sense of place” has much to do with how we experience our unique built surroundings within their unique natural context, and that the experience is most accessible on foot.
So, we suggest that one of your walks be entirely within town — maybe in one of our historic districts or someplace else where the architecture seems intent on getting your attention — and that another walk cross from within town to some point that feels “out of town” — maybe across the interface between old Helena and our public open-lands.
- In both cases think about the shape and “feel” of the spaces you’re walking through, and about how the spatial sequence unfolds as you go along. Think about what you’re walking toward, among, past, between, under, etc. Think about the topography underfoot and the lay of the land. Is there a sense of elevation, slope, enclosure, edge, etc? Are you entertained by the lay of the land? If so, how and why?
- Do you take delight by what’s built on it? If you like walking among Helena’s old buildings, for example, is it because of the history? Or is it the character of the architecture itself — style, scale, texture, materials, workmanship, etc? What holds neighborhoods together? How “pedestrian-friendly” is the infrastructure?
- Think about the landmarks and viewpoints and transition points by which you navigate. Are transitions clear and inviting? Do glimpses of open land in the near distance — Mount Helena, South Hills etc, — bring on a welcome sense of proximity to the Montana countryside? Can you walk to it?
Helena by Sight
Second, note the sights that strike you as being unique, in any way, to Helena — sights essential to your mental image of the place. These might be the “iconic” sights, or “evocative” ones. They might be lucky visual accidents, or oddball juxtapositions. They might be sights that are surprising, quirky, peculiar (in any sense of that word), amusing, beautiful or engaging in any other way. Use whatever adjectives come to mind.
- We’re betting that by walking around out there and thinking about Helena in this way, and then getting together to share those thoughts, we can begin approaching “sense of place” in terms realistic enough to enter into consideration of Helena’s future growth and preservation.
To join in, contact:
⬇︎DOWNLOAD WALKING NOTES ⬇︎
Some Questions to Consider (from Sept. Drive-In)
- Do you think that a person’s appreciation of a “sense of place” must necessarily involve an understanding about that place? Or can the recognition of a sense of place happen with little to no knowledge about what is being looked at/experienced, etc.? For example: Gertrude Stein’s “there is no there there” has been used as a description for placeless spaces. Can place be recognized just by looking at it…in the sense that it’s either there or its not? Or is some sort of special knowledge required in order to recognize place?
- Insofar as our sense of place is connected to our environment, and insofar as our environment is constantly changing – can any one location really have an enduring sense of place? Or will this always be fluid? Can you think of an example of a place you have been to that seems to defy this….and, if so, how so? What sorts of things might contribute to an enduring sense of place?a space, spot (be that a coastline, or building, or a city, etc.)
- Can a space/location/building etc. have a sense if place while at the same time being unremarkable, less than breathtaking, and common? Can you think of an example of this here in Helena?
- Must a sense of place evoke a sense of contentment? Or can it evoke a sense of discontent? Is there a space/spot/building/other here in Helena that you can think of that has a sense of place to it….but evokes feelings of discontent?
- What “place” ingredients are involved in what makes Helena, Helena?
⬇︎ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ⬇︎
“The Power of Spaces” (TED Radio Hour)
~Architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri explore the power of spaces with NPR’s Manoush Zomorodi.
“What Makes a Building Beautiful?” (A Why? Radio Podcast)
~Philosopher & jazz musician Jack Russell Weinstein explores beauty, design, and more with Sarah Williams Goldhagen~
“A Live Theater & Community Discussion Series”
(A Collaborative Venture with Helena Avenue Theater & Raven’s Feather Productions)
Be it past or present, near or far, we our all bound together and connected in deeply human ways. This three-week live theater and community discussion series explores this connection by looking at community from the context of war.
Each weekend will feature live performances of playwright George Brant’s Grounded –a monologue style play that revolves around a female drone pilot as she struggles with the realities of combat & strife, at home and abroad. Starring local actress Katy Wright, produced & directed by Ross P. Nelson (of Raven’s Feather Productions), and hosted by Pamela Mencher (of Helena Avenue Theater).
In addition one community discussion, featuring guest discussion leaders and a facilitator, will also take place. Building upon questions raised by Grounded, our conversation will explore the profound and oft painful terrain of human experience from the context of war and conflict. In the process, we’ll consider various perspectives on community & conflict as experienced and lived by:
- active-duty members and veterans;
- family members of active-duty and veterans, and;
- the community at large
Our community discussion will be structured in a way that allow opportunities for people to reflect upon community and the ways in which (through sorrow, despair, love, joy, and hope) we are all kin—bound together in various and deeply human ways. Through compassionate and thoughtful conversation, the series provides a means by which to gain new perspectives and understanding & foster community across generations, place, and experience.
People of all ages and backgrounds are invited to participate. Live shows are ticketed through Helena Avenue Theater. The community discussion is free. Community members do NOT need to see the live performance in order to participate in the discussion (though doing so will certainly add to the experience).
- Show Dates: 2022 TBD
- Community Discussion Date: 2022 TBD
More information to be added as programming unfolds.
“What Say You?”
(Philosophical Musings with Dr. Barry Ferst)
“What Say You?” is a fun and casual internet-based philosophy in the community activity inspired by our belief that physical distancing need not equate to social distancing. Each week philosopher Dr. Barry Ferst will share some of his philosophical musings on our Merlin Facebook page and invite readers to comment and discuss.
Ideas and dialogue can be shared in a variety of ways. “What Say You?” is one way to do this and a casual means by which to explore philosophy with a guest scholar on-line. Think SNL’s “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy”….only with somewhat more gravity (maybe). Learn more here!
Past Community Endeavors