Current Projects


Detroit

Detroit

Ghana ThinkTank and the Oakland Ave Land Trust

Detroit faces the same dilemma as many cities across America: How can neighborhoods revitalize without displacing the people who live there?  How can communities remain cohesive when migration and mobility are such fundamental American values – and often an economic requirement?  Outsiders are both a threat and a necessity.  Artists are often used as the first wave of gentrification. 

Our public art project uses a development project as its medium to unravel the various dynamics in play when outsiders participate in the “re-vitalization” of Detroit.  The Ghana ThinkTank has teamed up with Detroit neighborhood organizations to form a land trust and pursue a model of development that seeks to prioritize retention of neighborhood residences and businesses in the midst of a gentrifying neighborhood. The deed will restrict speculation and create affordable housing. To do this we will be capitalizing on resources often looked upon as threats - Islamic culture, Immigrants and well-connected White New York Developers.

Our Detroit partners are responsible for renovating the commercial and residential structures, while Ghana ThinkTank is focusing on using the now empty space between those structures as a site for community organizing through architectural intervention, working together to create an affordable, sustainable, Detroit-owned urban land trust. 

To that end, we are working towards sustainability in three ways:
-Cultural Sustainability - maintaining the importance of the neighborhood's rich cultural history and demographics
-Financial Sustainability - developing a framework that ensures local ownership and affordability
-Environmental Sustainability - rebuilding the structures such that residents can live as self-sustainably as possible, by creating systems that allow the building itself to provide food, energy and water for its residents, to minimize their reliance on external companies and financial systems

The focus of the project is an Islamic Riad: communal housing around a central courtyard.  A set of abandoned buildings and a vacant lot in the North End neighborhood will be transformed into a small cluster of homes and businesses around a central courtyard with a shared entrance. 

The idea comes from a think tank in Morocco, who responded to the US problem of social isolation and segregated communities by pointing at our architecture.  They observed that the American dream of the single-family home meant that neighbors were separated from each other. Even in cities, we managed to create isolation by giving everyone their own entrance. Because of this, neighbors living next door often don’t know each other. 

In contrast, they said, Moroccan architecture created community. Urban or rural, the riad (shared courtyard) gave people shared entrances to their homes. “You need to make your architecture more like ours.”  So working with the neighborhood organizations NEWCO and the Oakland Avenue Artists Coalition, we will be implementing this Moroccan solution. We are envisioning a beautiful and unique building that reflects the process — Islamic arches and arabesques intertwined with and imposed on Detroit brick.  

We have several guiding principles and goals for the project:

  • As outsiders, Ghana ThinkTank has no ownership or financial stake in the real estate development aspects of the project.
  • Housing will be priced affordably for local residents, with a clause limiting the price at which any unit can be rented or sold, so as to combat speculation.
  • The solution from the Moroccan ThinkTank will be enacted so as to encourage a tighter sense of community, using communal entrances and shared spaces to help turn this complex into a social/commercial entity.
  • Residents and businesses will be selected for this project based on their ability to create a self-sustaining hub, which can serve as a spark to help radiate further population in the immediate area. Currently, there is only one inhabited house on the same block as this structure, and only one on the block adjacent. By selecting businesses that serve the needs of locals, and residents interested in preserving the history of the neighborhood, we hope that this structure can become a center for a growing neighborhood. 

At this stage, Ghana ThinkTank has given a no-interest loan to our partners so that they could purchase the property required for this project. They already have a list of tenants interested in renting the property once renovated. After working together to finalize architectural plans, we built a prototype Umbrella Vault in the summer of 2016, and began to rehab one of the homes.

This Ghana ThinkTank project is in collaboration with the Oakland Avenue Artist Coalition and NEWCO (NorthEnd Woodward Central Organization), with support from Creative Capital, SUNY Purchase College, SUNY Buffalo, SUNY New Paltz, the SUNY Arts and Humanities Network of Excellence, and Eugene and Emily Grant. Thanks to Raphael Zollinger for all his time and talent in the digital fabrication of the project, and Rachel Owens and Reg Flowers for integrating Theater of the Oppressed techniques into community planning parts of the project, and Eric Wildrick for support in fabrication tests. And, of course, Ulysses Newkirk of OAAC and Roger Robinson of NEWCO, whose work and vision in the North End of Detroit founded the principles and energy for this land trust project.

 

Mexican Border

Mexican Border

In 2013, Ghana ThinkTank received a Creative Capital Award for Emerging Fields, enabling them to begin the multi-year ThinkTank at the Border project. In this project, they are collecting problems from civilian border patrols like the Minutemen, "Patriot" groups, and Nativist organizations, and bringing them to be solved by think tanks of undocumented workers in San Diego and recently deported immigrants in Tijuana. 

At this stage in the project, we have met with these opposing groups over 2 years to collect problems and solutions, and are beginning to strategize with the Minutemen groups to implement the solutions from the Immigrant think tanks. Because many people we are working with on this project are operating in precarious legal situations, most of what we are doing has had to remain anonymous, and sometimes even confidential. In an effort to create a public side to this important work, we have spearheaded two more visual and public-facing aspects.

Ghana ThinkTank is working with German designer Adrienne Finzsch to develop a “problem air drop.” Based on her design for international aid drops, we are flipping their intended purpose, dropping packets from an aircraft that ask Mexicans to help solve American’s problems.

In a collaboration with Torolab, an award-winning Mexican art and design group, we have worked with a variety of think tanks in Tijuana to create a border cart designed to help people cross the US/Mexican border. Outfitted with interactive screens, the cart allows people to present problems and give solutions pertaining to immigration and the border, creating a public think tank about the border, at the border.

 

Mitrovica

Mitrovica

As Ghana ThinkTank developed, the collective realized art could be used to create truly unlikely partnerships. The first of such projects was developed in Mitrovica. Subsequent projects include the partnerships across the US/ Mexico Border, African refugees seeking asylum in Israel, and links between the poorest and wealthiest members of Medellin, Columbia.

Mitrovica is a town in Kosovo divided by a river. To the North are the Serbs. To the South are the Albanians. In between is a bridge, guarded by international troops with military vehicles. Following the Kosovo war, Mitrovica became a symbol of Kosovo's ethnic divisions. When Ghana ThinkTank began a project there in 2011, they found people on both sides who had not crossed the bridge since the war began in 1999.

Ghana ThinkTank applied its process to Mitrovica, collecting problems on one side of the Ibar River, and sending them across to be solved.

Problems such as “I don’t feel safe to cross the bridge,” and “I feel like I am a guest in my own home,” demonstrated the war-torn isolation felt by the people on both sides. 

The experience was full of both hope and fear, but in the end, people who had not crossed the bridge since the war began came across to work with the other side.

We are grateful to CEC ArtsLink and SUNY Purchase College School of Art and Design for their support, and Aaron Krach for his invaluable help, as well as our Serb and Albanian counterparts.


 

Westport

Westport

One of Ghana ThinkTank’s earliest projects was based in Westport Connecticut, where they collected problems from this predominantly white, upper-class community and sent them to think tanks in Cuba, Ghana and El Salvador. The solutions proposed by the think tanks, no matter how brilliant or seemingly impractical, were taken seriously and implemented in Westport. 

One recurring problem submitted by Westport residents was about the lack of diversity. “We are mostly white and wealthy,” they complained. The think tank in El Salvador pointed out that there was likely plenty of diversity in Westport, when you consider who was tending their yards and doing their laundry - they just weren’t seeing it. As a solution, day laborers were hired at their hourly rate to attend social functions in Westport.

Other problems included barking dogs and pesticide use. The think tanks suggested renaming a dog "love" to get him to stop barking and a dandelion promotion campaign including dandelion recipe-books, replanting workshops and a dandelion festival.

The resulting art installation was presented during the Optimism show at the Westport Art Center.

 

Morocco

Morocco

In 2013 the U.S. State Department and Bronx Museum of Art selected Ghana ThinkTank to work as cultural ambassadors in Morocco. The project was part of smARTpower, which sends American visual artists abroad to collaborate with local artists and young people around the world on community-based art projects.

Ghana ThinkTank commissioned a local painter to depict his perception of American problems on a donkey cart that was then converted into a solar-powered media center and teahouse. Traveling through rural villages in the cart, Ghana ThinkTank asked locals to help solve problems that were submitted by Americans. 

Moroccans focused on Americans’ social isolation: “Your problem is your architecture,” some said. “Each family is separated from others.” Their solution: Stop the American obsession with single-family homes, and instead build Moroccan-style Riads, which are comprised of shared housing surrounding a common courtyard.

This project has become the most far-reaching of any of our efforts so far, turning into what will be a 5 year project in its own right as we implement the Moroccan think tank solution as an engine for stimulating cultural end economic rejuvenation in the north end of Detroit.  Click here to go view the Detroit project.

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China

China

During the 2011 Hong Kong/Shenzen Biennial, Ghana ThinkTank assembled an octagonal wooden tube meant to be a knock-off of a pneumatic fender for a shipping freighter, clad in 32 chained tires. 

Each tire had a screen with videos of Chinese citizens voicing their problems. On the tail end, visitors were able to add their own problems through a video booth. The pod was surrounded by satellites that presented Ghana ThinkTank’s work in other cities.

This project provided an anonymous way to discuss the issues Chinese citizens face today, in a country where speaking out politically can have serious repercussions.

 

Germany

Germany

As part of the show “The Global Contemporary | Art Worlds After 1989” at ZKM, problems were collected from the citizens of Karlsruhe, Germany and sent to think tanks in Ghana, Mexico, Serbia, Cambodia and the Gaza Strip for resolution. 

The solutions involved hiring Africans from a charismatic church to attend German social functions, pitting neighboring yet disconnected communities against each other in street chess, organizing a real-life telenovela that included a cheating husband, a bitch slap, and a jello fight, and arranging Parkour lessons to show the citizens of Karlsruhe that no city lacks topography.

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The installation was built in a former equestrian training center in the suburbs of Karlsruhe, piled onto a trailer built to transport small airplanes, and towed by a bright orange vintage Ford Transit to the ZKM Contemporary Art Center. 

The installation involved a landscape-like series of bevels crafted from synthetic aged wood, populated with a vintage cassette player full of funny, dirty stories told by elderly Germans, manikin-tops in t-shirts, and a machine for collecting problems that asks “WAS IST DEIN PROBLEM?”

 

Netherlands

Netherlands

Ghana ThinkTank was invited by the Museum De Lakenhal to travel to the Netherlands to spark a dialogue about the problems and concerns of the citizens of Leiden in regards to globalization. The project coincided with the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and the problem most-mentioned was the discrimination of Muslims and the rise of intolerance in the Netherlands. 

Solutions proposed by several of the think tanks in Islamic countries called on the Dutch to reconnect with their history with Islam and how it helped foster tolerance during the nation’s founding. (A crescent moon sits over the top of city hall).  Ghana ThinkTank sought to bring the tolerance represented by Islam and merge it with a symbolic beacon of tolerance in the Netherlands. They found it in the Anne Frank House.

The result was Monument to the Dutch, an installation that was part of the Global Imaginations exhibit at the Museum De Lakenhal. The centerpiece was a re-creation of the Anne Frank House, depicted as an Islamic prayer room, and featured a video of the think tanks discussing Dutch problems and historical placards linking Islam and the Dutch history as a tolerant nation.

 

African Refugees

African Refugees

Ghana ThinkTank projects in the Middle East focus on facilitating contact between groups that are historically or politically polarized. 

In 2014, Ghana ThinkTank was invited by curator Maayan Sheleff and ArtPort Gallery in Tel Aviv to create an interchange between African refugees seeking asylum in Israel, and local residents who resented their presence.

Working with Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers along with local Israelis, they organized think tanks that collected problems from residents of the neglected neighborhood of South Tel Aviv as well as African refugees living in that same neighborhood. They asked each group to solve the problems of the other.  Community members, the organized think tanks, and local organizations created plans to implement the proposed solutions.  Solutions included an all female civilian patrol outfitted in uniforms of African cloth (image)

This effort to create constructive contact between groups was featured as part of a Tel Aviv-based art show “The Infiltrators.”

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Austin, TX

Austin, TX

In 2015, The Fusebox Festival, working with the City of Austin and thinkEast Developers, through a grant from ArtPlace America, commissioned Ghana ThinkTank to help interrogate people's assumptions about the roles they play in the gentrification process.

After several months of interviewing people concerned by, or involved in the process of, gentrification - including developers, community activists, new residents, long-term residents, city-councilors and small business owners – Ghana ThinkTank devised a way to activate this process publicly. We built a candy-looking folding cart mounted on wheels taken from a girl’s bicycle, with two benches facing each other. Each bench was labeled with an obnoxious LED screen in bright green pixels, giving audiences two options of where to sit: "GENTRIFIERS!" or "GENTRIFIED!" and linked to its own custom app.

Those who identified as GENTRIFIERS sat at the “What’s your Austin Problem?” app, where they were instructed to record their personal problems with Austin.

Those who identified as GENTRIFIED sat at the “What’s Your Solution?” app, where they could swipe through a growing list of 100+ problems people had submitted about Austin. 

This was an attempt to apply the flipped power dynamic, central to the Ghana ThinkTank process, to Austin in an accessible and localized way.

The cart traveled to parts of Austin known for gentrification. Some neighborhoods were on the verge of gentrification, and others had entirely been changed over to craft beer, lattes, yoga, and prix fixe farm-to-table menus. 

It asked neighbors who are unwittingly competing against each other, sometimes despite their best intentions, to recognize the effects of their housing decisions.