We believe that philosophy is grounded in the here & now and its questions (the things with which it is concerned) are extremely practical & relevant. With this in mind, we love to partner up with Helena area businesses and individuals (as well as business and individuals across the state) to bring philosophy to the streets in creative & engaging ways! From local shin-digs and collaborative efforts like our “Big Ideas by Little Philosophers” television-classroom series to our Thinking About Place project, our community endeavors are all about you (and philosophy, of course!).
“Thinking About Place”
(A Collaborative Venture with Historian, Artist & Urban Designer Dennis McCahon)
This is a good time for a bit of urban introspection. With so many usual activities on hold, it’s a good time just to
get out and walk around in Helena, thinking about “place”. 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 ⬇︎
⬇︎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~
“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!
“Big Ideas by Little Philosopher’s” (BiLP)
(A Collaborative Helena Civic Television & Cottonwood School Venture)
“Big Ideas by Little Philosophers” (BiLP) is a dynamic, philosophy-inspired television-classroom series designed to help youth share their big ideas with the world. A collaborative venture with Helena Civic Television and Cottonwood School, the program combines classroom and one-on-one mentorship, pedagogy, philosophy, and theater. A mash-up of Mr. Rogers, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and Socrates, the BiLP program aims to highlight the joy and fun of doing philosophy and the rich philosophical terrain available to and present in our youth.
Other Community Endeavors
- Earth Day Expo: Helena Community Resilience Project (Spring 2016)
- Downtown Helena First Friday with Aizada Imports: Friendship & Love (Summer 2016)
- Beat the Heat Philosophy Party (Summer 2016)
- Life Enrichment & Wellness Program for Seniors at Touchmark on Saddle Drive (Spring 2017)
- Flamenco Night at Free Ceramics: Celebrating Music & Community (Spring 2018)
- Science on Tap: Three Thought Experiments that Revolutionized Science (Winter 2019)