Buildings, street corners, schools, churches, parks, and trees; all can be “places” — sites that get woven into the fabric of daily routine and imbued with personal and public memories. Unfortunately, such places sometimes become taken for granted. If that happens, memories fade, places become endangered, and the genius loci — the general locale’s “spirit of place” — suffers.
How can we retrieve and share memories about local places before they are lost? Which ones seem to be essential to a healthy genius loci? What are the stories specific to them? Host a community “cognitive mapping” workshop and let’s find out! During this three-hour morning or afternoon workshop (which works best when there are between 15 and 20 attendees), participants get to draw and explain to a workshop partner a personal sketch map of their neighborhood, town, or city. As one participant speaks, the other listens, takes notes, and asks questions. Then, the roles are reversed. Each pair is then guided through tasks that culminate in the collaborative writing of stories about valued places within the community. All participants can then give readings of their stories in this small group setting, accompanied by a background PowerPoint slide show (that the facilitator prepares while the pairs are writing). After discussing themes and issues that seem to tie the stories together, we will discuss what the author-artists could do next with this creative work. Is it suitable for a public reading to a larger audience, an exhibition, a website, a publication?
By the end of the workshop, participants will have identified valued places within their community, told and heard stories about them, pondered, laughed, and perhaps even cried over the condition of genius loci. All this, while encountering firsthand the idea that cartography can be both mapmaking science and emotion-laden, life- and place-enriching art.