A Community Handmade Book Project by Studio PAUSE for the Gates of Ballston Apartments, Spring 2020-2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic surged and the world grappled with its consequences, I watched AHC Inc’s resident services team work tirelessly to provide essential services to their residents since March 2020. Studio PAUSE is in the Rinker Community Center, in AHC Inc’s Gates of Ballston community, and by September, uneasy in my “non-essential” status, I watched how the Studio community found ways to connect with their creative selves—desperately trying to make sense of it all—and sharing their stories and art with me. I wondered if I could help by taking these possibilities, the inspiration, and the hope to others. What if we shared everything we did when we paused in 2020 with the residents of the apartment community? If they could not come to the studio, as the community center was closed to the public, could we take our stories to them? Could the space become a book? We have made community book projects before but never one this big, for this many people. Still, the pandemic was a unique and terrible thing. This might be when such a project would be most useful. I shared my idea with Susan Davidson, resident services director, AHC Inc. Here’s what she said:

“The coronavirus enforced a pause that none of us were prepared to take. And the effects of this disruption in our routines, in the way we ‘live,’ have been at times devastating. A crisis is always difficult to navigate; an international crisis impacting us all is new territory with no roadmap to follow. Our residents have experienced illness, loss of income, loss of education for their children, and an uncertainty that the future will be brighter. The civil unrest in our country on top of the pandemic only added to the daily burdens of our residents. How do we cope? How do we carry on? How do we thrive in the midst of such uncertainty? The answers are to be found in a realm beyond language, I think. Through poetry, song, art we can all tap into the strength at our core. Our stories of perseverance serve others who are trying to find their way. Our creative expressions can calm others and teach them how to express at a time when many feel numb. There are many examples to be found in this time when ‘We Paused,’ and our families have much to share.”

– Susan Davidson, Director, Resident Services, AHC Inc
Studio Pause 2021 intern, Ella Endo, is an artist. So we decided to ask her to create the map of the community which will go on the cover of the book We PAUSEd! Read Ella’s reflections on Arlington, her internships, and the projecthere.

The Project: We are so excited to announce this project, We PAUSED! for the Gates of Ballston apartment community. With funding from Virginia Humanities, we will be creating a unique handmade book and giving a free copy to each of its 460 households. Read Pressing Pause: A Community Book Project During COVID-19, a Q&A with Virginia Humanities Grantee Studio Pause.

An Invitation to Connect, Reflect, Share!

The Space as a Book: With a cover made from a map of the Gates of Ballston community located in Arlington’s historic Buckingham neighborhood, We PAUSEd! chronicles the experiences of the Studio PAUSE community as they lived through the many changes and challenges of 2020. Even as “the PAUSErs” could not visit the space of the Studio, they stayed connected, and stayed creative as they navigated the unprecedented times of the pandemic. Told in words and visuals their stories will be shared on the inside pages of the book, sewn into the map. They reflect struggles, celebrations, journeys of healing, and inspiring moments of resilience, while highlighting the rich diversity of this community. We PAUSEd! is 2020 documented by children and seniors, internationals and Americans, in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

Community Bookmaking: Copies of the book will be handmade by the Studio community and the public who want to join in, in safe ways. The project will include interactive elements, a website, online content, and events as well.  Email me to join us!

Interactive & Accessible: They will then be distributed to each apartment in the community. Residents will be invited to share their reflections, writing, art from the pages of the book with us so we can create a show in the empty studio. A summer Zoomception will bring us all together so we can celebrate the project.  

A Community Collaboration: AHC Inc., an Affordable Housing Corporation, has been providing essential services to their residents who include low-income families, immigrants, and people of color. As they navigate the tumultuous times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Studio Pause is available to provide additional services that are beyond AHC staff’s capacity, specifically those aimed around social-emotional wellness, healing, and self-care through storytelling and art. We believe that We PAUSEd!–A Community Handmade Book project could offer our residents a creative outlet to express themselves and connect with their community in this time of need.

Why Everybody’s Stories Matter

“When we find or create a space in our community where we feel safe and comfortable being ourselves, we can connect with others in beautiful ways. When we connect with different people through art and stories, exploring what makes us similar yet different we change, and our community changes as well! Then our cities can be places where we all can thrive.”

– Sushmita Mazumdar, project director, Studio Pause.

“The giving and receiving of stories is the core of community. We are stories. Our bodies, hearts, and minds are shaped by the telling and listening to the stories of our families, our communities and our collective global experiences. We transform ourselves in the telling of stories, and when we conjure our narratives as offerings to others. We are vulnerable. In return we are gifted empathy, laughter, questions, and even quiet knowing. Images, jokes, eulogies, poems carry our voices and nurture us and each other. The act of listening to and witnessing the lives of others opens us to profound lessons and commonalities.”

– Susan Sterner, project humanities scholar

Meet the Team!

Studio PAUSE celebrates the talents and expertise of everyday people. Our translators are native speakers, and engaging in this project was a way for them to connect with other PAUSErs and try something new. We PAUSED! is the first multi-lingual book of the Studio! The project team is a great one and we will keep adding their names and photos to the Team page as the project progresses. For the Spanish translation of the team bios click here!

This project is made possible by Virginia Humanities. Virginia Humanities connects people and ideas to explore the human experience and inspire cultural engagement. Headquartered at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia Humanities works to serve Virginians in every corner of the Commonwealth. To learn more, visit VirginiaHumanities.org

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