Real / Symbol is three part podcast that explores the real and symbolic questions of land and gentrification and displacement in an urban context.
Real / Symbol a project of artist and researcher Alison Merritt Smith and has emerged from my work as a community organiser, artist and researcher in the North East of England for over a decade. Alison uses the context of her work with Shieldfield Art Works and Dwellbeing Shieldfield in the council estate of Shieldfield in inner city Newcastle which is experiencing gentrification and displacement due to the impacts of urban development.
Real / Symbol invites you into layers of conversation, storytelling, poetry and reflection with a variety of voices – local residents, activists, researchers, artists and theologians. See below for information on each of the episodes. Or subscribe to Real / Symbol wherever you get your podcasts.
In this episode we start at the beginning by exploring how the process of development has deeply affected neighbourhoods like Shieldfield. We include conversations with Shieldfield residents about the emotional effects of development on their everyday lives and sense of self and how these processes have caused not just physical displacement but also emotional and spiritual displacement.
We also ask you to consider how the processes of development are affecting your community. How is it preventing certain communities from flourishing? How can you call attention to what is happening?
Contributors to this episode include Shieldfield residents Val, Sharon, Mahamat, Haley, Sheryl, John, Ronnie as well as contributions from Loretta Lees, Chris Jones, Willie James Jennings, Darren McGarvey, Alastair McIntosh, Julia Heslop, Hannah Marsden, Lydia Hiorns, Gemma Herries and Alison Wilkinson.
In this episode we delve deeper into how our ideas of place and land profoundly shape how we think about what it means to begin the processes of repair and healing from the violence and poverty of displacement.
We explore how the value of land goes way beyond its financial or economic value but that it is central to our understanding of what it means to be human, what it means to relate to the non-human and how we might relate to God in the place in which we find ourselves.
We explore further the connections between displacement, land, gentrification and colonialism and drawing on notions of commons from biblical theology to indigenous wisdom, we will begin to reconstruct a more hopeful vision of connection to land, place and community.
RELEASED IN AUTUMN 2023
In our final episode we look at how communities are cultivating a collective sense of right to the land through creative and symbolic practices of everyday life.
We will look at how symbolic and real acts of defiance, survival and hope. This episode will particularly explore how communities in Shieldfield and other working class communities practice what writer bell hooks describes as “rituals of regard” through practices of digging, weeding, self building, walking, listening, brewing, seed saving, foraging and trespassing.
We particularly explore the work of two community organisations Shieldfield Art Works (a project of the Methodist Church) and Dwellbeing Shieldfield (a charitable cooperative led by Shieldfield residents)