This summer, The SPACES Artist in Residence program at The Village of Arts and Humanities, a unique civic practice program that employs neighbors to work alongside artists living in the heart of North Philadelphia, makes a further leap in its methodology with the introduction of “System Zero: Tools For Happy Art Workers,” an art project created in collaboration with artist Grimaldi Baez and neighbors Stan Ward, Ant Carr, and Will Reid.

In previous residencies, SPACES matched artists with interested neighbors. For the first time in four years, SPACES is funding a full neighbor/artist collective that arose organically from the work of a previous project. This marks a milestone in the program and neighborhood’s joint capacity to collaborate on art-making in service of the surrounding community.

The System Zero group first met when Baez served as a community organizer for 2016-17 SPACES International AIR. After the residency ended, the group continued meeting, to share conversation about employment, relationships, the criminal justice system, and their lives. In June of 2017, SPACES awarded the group with the seventh SPACES Artist Residency — funding for the group to work together for 20 hours a week, as well as materials and equipment.

“System Zero” indicates the group’s purpose: to use their artist home as a “system zero,” a kind of glass-bottomed boat through which to observe and intervene in the systems that structure their lives. Baez leads the group in imagining how their existing knowledge and skills, as well as the resources of The Village and the community around them, can be used as tools to serve their needs and the needs of their neighbors. Together, they seek to use art-thinking and art practice to answer the group’s foundational concerns: how to earn an honest living and create a life of integrity.

Their first project in a series of problem-solving actions has been the refashioning of their studio space on Alder Street into a house of two functions: a first-floor workshop and a second-floor meeting house. In this transformed space, collaborators are able to explore open-ended area to develop practical technologies with limited resources, and moments of self-discovery by living into radical creativity.

You can find them here building furniture and aquaponics systems with found materials, discussing social issues in and outside of the neighborhood, and planting a garden of adopted trees in their backyard. Through mediums such as family photographs, a rowhouse, discarded metals and conversation, their residency project, System Zero, seeks to encounter and create opportunities for art-thinking and art-making, revealing alternative realities which circumvent institutional limits and structures.

The System Zero home will be open for public programming, meetings and discussions beginning in September 2017.