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Stories as Circles. Sounds as Stories. Circles as Sounds.

Thoughts on a public art project…

I feel a deep sense of responsibility to be an active voice in my community. This is what led me to volunteer for Lancaster City’s Public Art Department. Two years ago, the Community Foundation began funding a project to create platforms of discussion for under-represented people. I didn’t know exactly what that would look like, but I knew I wanted to be part of it. I grew up on South Queen Street and I wanted to highlight neighborhoods similar to what I experienced growing up “South of King Street”, which has become a geographical and social divide between Lancaster City’s economic development and its most impoverished neighborhoods. I couldn’t help but focus on the idea that this dividing line will reveal great stories. Before I fully immersed myself in my plan, I had the pleasure of meeting my fellow project committee members, as well as the artist, Stuart Hyatt, who was commissioned for the project. It was then that I remembered what we were all here for: public art.

After multiple discussions and sharing of ideas, Stuart unveiled his plan to create the Lancaster Sound Map. The scope of this sound map was Lancaster County, not just the city, and I swiftly re-evaluated my role as one of many perspectives. After all, I have always valued public art for its inclusiveness in both its audience and its mediums. This project has used audio recording, personal interviewing, photography, written narratives, and illustration to tell stories. He involved many people in this process, including artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers.

One piece that has come out of the sound map is an album, titled Born In the Ear, which is a musical narrative of what Stuart has called a “long epic walk through Lancaster County.” As I listen to the album, I can immerse myself in this “walk.” I imagine myself traveling through alleyways, one-way streets, and low hanging trees, past corner markets, barber shops, and red brick facades, extending to gas stations, strip malls, and pitted parking lots, widening to factories, parks, and campuses, passing mega-bus shoppers, family-packed minivans, horse-and-buggy carriages, and heading out to fields, barns, and rolling hills.

Gascot Blog imageI have learned much about the little-known medium of sound maps, how they create a sense of place, and how they can be used to tell stories. One way we can describe this sound map as public art is through the phenomenon of concentric circles. Concentric circles are, by definition, circles with a common center, like when a drop of water hits a larger body of water and it send ripples out from its center.  Lancaster has a center, and when the people of Lancaster voice their stories, they begin spreading circles, reaching other people, and reaching other centers. This creates a resonating force; this creates opportunity for another center to begin vibrating, voicing, resonating. The beautiful part about Born in the Ear is that it embodies the art of storytelling. Physically, it is a vinyl album with concentric grooves. Aurally, it is sending out sound waves as music. Artistically, it is Lancaster County as a resonating story.

When I began advocating for this project by talking to people about it, I never knew where to begin. At one point, I almost lost my voice, which may have been preferable to fumbling through a fractured narrative of what the project encompasses: it is multi-media, multi-sensory, multi-faceted, and multi-directional. As with many things, the Lancaster Sound Map’s most challenging element was also its most valuable. Afterall, how can we tell the stories of Lancaster County without using multi- to highlight our vast and diverse experiences?

Thankfully, I did not lose my voice while talking about this public art initiative. In fact, I have rediscovered the power of voice. I have confidence in this album to serve as a resonator for myself and the many other Lancastrians who shared their voices. I encourage you to explore Born In the Ear, the sound map, and the photos. I encourage you to think about how we can use sound to heal. I encourage you to be a center that resonotes in powerful concentric circles.

By Arielle Gascot, guest blogger



Arielle is a Lancaster native and is active in public art and community engagement.