CONTACT: Lee Fearnside

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Facebook's engineering department calculated recently that humans were now 3.46 degrees of separation<> from one another. They based this on statistical analysis of their unknown and privately held big database of the privacy of their 2 billion users. After more than 25 years of the Internet, the way people talk about "community" is different.

Sibling artists Lee and Andrew Fearnside are investigating how people have created change in their communities. Too often we hear people say that their "small" actions don't matter in this age of Big Data and dispersed communities, but through this project the Fearnsides want to show how false that claim is. What inspires change-makers to make change? How do they start, and how do they keep going? How do they see their work fitting in with their idea of what community is, and what a community should be?

Lee and Andrew Fearnside interview community change-makers, from a range of fields, whom they are personally connected to, however tenuously, to discover how people today are thinking about community and social change. These change-makers then refer others to the Fearnsides, until we’ve created a web of interconnected people working with community. The participants include a political candidate and Trump accuser, an urban planner, a human trafficking victims advocate, an immigration lawyer, a poet, a Franciscan nun, and more. Excerpts from the interviews are paired with art made by the Fearnsides, and collectively the book creates a portrait of community in American today.

Community can be defined by place, identity (internally and externally assigned), affinity, affiliation, among other things – community is far more complex than surveys like the census can portray. We are on the eve of the 2020 census when our community will be counted and categorized. The results will be used to determine funding for education, infrastructure, and employment, as well as determining how many Congressional seats each state will have. This census will have to contend with changing technologies and controversial mandated questions. The 2020 census will have new or modified questions ask for people to identify their citizenship status, have write-in sections for origin within white and black racial identities, and differentiating between opposite-sex and same-sex couples, in addition to questions about disability, fertility, commuting, home heating fuel, and others from previous censuses. Does the census really give us an accurate portrait of our community? Is community created as much by chance as by these other factors?

Lee and Andrew Fearnside published O! Relentless Death: Celebrity, Loss and Mourning (Chimera), winner of the IPPY “Independent Voice Award” in 2019. Lee Fearnside holds a MFA in photography from Rhode Island School of Design. She has exhibited in museums and galleries across the country including the New York Hall of Science, the Midwest Center for Photography, and the Toledo Museum of Art. She lives in Toledo, Ohio. Andrew Fearnside is a New Mexico painter guided by spiritual practices and relational theory. He holds a BFA in painting and drawing from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and his work has been in juried shows in Denver and Houston and exhibited in numerous venues in Albuquerque, where he lives.


Celia Williamson, founder and president of National Research Consortium on Commercial Sexual Exploitation.

“I think community is people who are part of your tribe. There's one big deeper tribe like humanity, human rights, social justice. There's only justice and injustice. So we agree on justice, but we have different definitions of it. In the deeper meaning, humanity and human rights and kindness is something we all agree on, even if on the surface level you forget that this is inhumane. Let me help you remind you of that, because you're a part of the community.”

Holly Harriel, urban planner, independent consultant working on university-community partnerships, anchor institutions, civic engagement competencies and urban community transformation.

“Community is very contextual. It differs. But it has to be for me a space where people can be their authentic selves in their complexities, in their nuances. That is a fundamental piece of community for me. If someone feels they can't bring their whole selves to a space, then what are we doing?

We have to stop trying to make things be comfortable and easy, and grapple with the things that are much more complex and that create tensions. Make us feel uncomfortable. That's a part of being authentic.”

Rachel Crooks, higher education administrator, political candidate, Trump accuser

“I think part of what is essential to community is a sense of belonging. A lot of times that happens by natural proximity, in the ways that you normally think about community, as in a geographical area. But I think it’s more complex than that, I think that sense of belonging and community can happen with people who are nowhere near you in proximity and just share the same values and are perhaps on the other side of the world.

I like to think, because I grew up in this general area, in this community, so [I thought that] those people know and respect and believe you when you come forward with a story like that but of course that’s not necessarily the case. It was a surprise to know people who knew about my encounter with Trump long before he was a presidential candidate but still sided with him, or still wanted to vote for him. On the flip side you find people through other ways that do have your same values and beliefs and who 100% believed you and reached out from places all over the world.”

Reem Subei, Staff Attorney, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality

“It is my belief that everyone is given something for a purpose, and that God does not love any one of us more than the other. When you look at life, you see that some people have been given so much more than others, and it is my absolute belief that they were given that for the purpose of sharing it and for the purpose of giving it. They were not given that so that they can sit and enjoy it all by themselves in their little corner. I'm Muslim so I believe in the ultimate justice of God, and there's no other sensible way to understand the world other than to believe that if you have something, you are required to share it and if you don't share it, then you are committing sin.

And really, for me, this goes way past religion, and religion is my foundation, but even if it weren't for that, how useless do you have to be if you don't care to help others accomplish the same lifestyle that you are able to accomplish for yourself, because you didn't really accomplish it for yourself by yourself. Somebody helped you along, directly or indirectly. Somebody set the path for you. It's not really giving back. Giving back implies that you're generous and that you're doing someone else a favor, when in reality you're not doing anyone a favor. That mentality is very flawed and actually toxic because it leads to people expecting something in return and it leads to people thinking that they're better than others.

It's beyond even a mandate. If you don't live that way, then your life is worthless.”

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