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Place-making in Indigenous Communities in America and Australia

"It isn't the final thing, it's part of something else...It's more about what that affords people coming together, doing something differently, all that kind of design process work"

Dr Samantha Edwards-Vandenhoek recently returned from engaging in Indigenous 'place-making' and community participation with the Indigenous Design and Planning Institute at the University of New Mexico, USA.

'Place-making' involves social art initiatives, informed by co-design processes, which seek to empower communities and improve general health and social wellbeing.

"Place-making isn’t focused on the outcome, but rather the process," Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek says, "It’s about what the execution and story sharing affords people. It’s a highly charged space."


In Albuquerque, where the University is located, Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek drove thousands of kilometres across the Navajo Nation visiting pueblos in order to document street art and any traces of ‘place-making’ practices.

"Going to New Mexico was about building links with the university and what they do, and attempting to feed in some of that knowledge and work they're doing into my own projects in Australia," Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek says.


Samantha also spent time documenting the Painted Desert Project: an initiative that connects public artists with communities through mural opportunities on the Navajo Nation. Communities in the Navajo Nation experience very poor economic development, among other problems. The Painted Desert Project aims to reimagine public spaces and empower the community.

"Being there really shows what place-making can accomplish. That's the design connection - understanding how things like public art and placemaking are designed and changes people's perceptions of their environment, which can then lead to greater things."


The work the university and Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek are doing is part of something greater.

"It isn't the final thing, it's part of something else. A lot of people will think my work is just about murals and street art but it isn't. It's more about what that affords people: coming together, doing something different, all that kind of design process work".


While in the States, Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek also presented her own research on placemaking at the university and at a design conference in Boston.

This knowledge will inform Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek's design-led place-making work in remote Aboriginal communities in Ramingining.

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