Historically, the megaphone has been a tool for people to express their opinions, their wishes and their needs. Instrument for Listening is inspired by this function, but focuses on people who are on both sides of this tool – the ones listening, as well as the ones who are speaking.

The project consists of three main phases: building a sculptural form, which serves as tabula rasa, a space for expression; working with teenagers from the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff to create a pattern that reflects their life and the life of Hispanic community in their neighborhood; and interviewing community members, including dancers, artists, journalists, mothers, teachers, musicians, and business owners, to capture stories, opinions and dreams in the most objective, documentary way. The fourth, symbolic phase of the project is directed towards the listener, hearing the interviews from the megaphone, which are transmitted through an audio system inside of the sculpture.

Making art with community involvement, especially a community that the artist is not a part of, is a process of constant learning where preconceived notions are often challenged. My original idea for the sculpture involved the use of traditional Mexican basketry as, for me, this represented the roots of the community. When I realized that many Hispanics in Dallas do not connect to this ancient Mexican tradition, I adapted the project.

The teenagers identified contemporary symbols, including cars, commercial logos, a basketball and skateboards to represent their lives. When interviewing adults, I found that the participants had a deeper connection to their language and traditions. Their stories had similar theme: a wish for a decent family life; honoring cultural traditions and language; and a desire for recognition and understanding. 

Realizing that a true portrait of the community would include the contrasting symbols of the teens and the adults, I reconsidered the exterior design of the megaphone. Thus, Instrument for Listening exists in parallel to the function of an actual megaphone that broadcasts various themes, questions, stories and voices from one source. Spreading out to a broad space where thoughts and questions provoke other thoughts and questions.

Instrument for Listening was produced and shown as a part of Make Art with Purpose - MAP in Dallas 2013. This work would not be possible without generous help and support of many people and organisations: especially Janeil Engelstad from MAP, Shannon Discroll and Kayli Cusick from Oil and Cotton, Heyd Fontenot from Central Trak, Susan Roth and Jordan Roth of RO2 Art, John Siggins, Big Thought, Martin Valko (Valko and Chavez), Ministery of Culture of Slovak Republic, Oak Cliff Cultural Center, Downtown Dallas Inc., Pamela Miller and many others who helped with the process of creation installation and storage of the work.

Special thanks to all the people who contributed to the work as participants: the students of Summer School at Holmes School in Oak Cliff and all the people who were interviewed.

Instrument for Listening installed at Belo Garden Park, Dallas downtown, 2013