Friday, December 8, 2023


“The world will never be the same.” -Lin Manuel Miranda

You will leave a legacy. Whether that is large or small is of no significance, it is safe to say that the world will not be entirely the same as it was when you came into it as it is when you eventually depart. No matter what happens during the ensuing years, lives will be touched and moments altered. We are, each of us, forces for change. We alone choose how to use this power so casually handed to us.

Billie Tsien works with her husband and partner Tod Williams. At present they are focused on the Obama Presidential Center which will be located on Chicago’s south side. She considers this a project based in optimism and based in people. Tsien considers architecture in general an act of profound optimism. She says that architects all, in some way, desire to make a better future.

The center itself reflects Obama’s extraordinary presidency. The first and foremost motivation behind the center is for the people to engage in civic life to shape their lives and future. Presidential libraries and museums, Tsien says, have always had early lives in which many visit, followed by a diminishing return as time goes by. In this case the archives, which have long been a tradition in presidential archives, will be digitized. This is in part because Barack Obama was one of the first leaders during the truly digital age.

By digitizing the archives, the center strips the traditional alienation that shrouds most physical archives. Most of the time the general public are not allowed to involve themselves in the physical archives of a former president but in this case many of them will be digitized and therefore more accessible.

The center will also include program rooms where members of the community can come to learn. This includes an auditorium for performances, a teaching kitchen, studios to do podcasts, a productive garden and much more. For these reasons, this is a center and not a library in that the motivation is future focused.

The physical space is located in a park on the south side of Chicago near where Michelle Obama grew up. The park itself has undergone many changes and has been used over the years, it has not been particularly well used. The Obama Center hopes to change that.

Part of the center will create a topography in the hillside of a previously flat park in which one can walk (or when there is snow, sled) on the top of the buildings without realizing one is on top of a building at all. It is the hope of all that this center will help to revitalize the neighborhood in that residents will have access to the park without the need to cross six lanes of traffic. The center is intended to be democratic space.

To hear more about Billie Tsien’s work, listen to the complete interview.

Alice Sheppard lives and works in Los Angeles, California. At the time of interview she was involved in rehearsals for an intimate showcase that considers disability as innovation as opposed to a hindrance. For this project she has been “dancing her heart out.”

For the aforementioned project, Alice performed and spoke as part of the overall product. She combines her performances with decks of slides that explain the project itself and the roots thereof.

In terms of “disability as innovation,” Alice says that most people are used to thinking about disability as a private medical situation that is often framed as personal tragedy. In fact oftentimes a disability does not define the individual affected, but is considered as a definition by those around them. Through her work, Alice pushes back against this to say no. I am a person first. She also posits that by restoring the function of mobility, one returns a person to who they are in the social consciousness. But she strives for a point where people can be who they are without having to consider this detail.

All of this informs how her performances play out. Her company articulates some of these ideas by choreographing dancers living with disability in such a way that asks “can you?” In this way they are constantly in a push of physical exploration wherein they are continuing to understand what their bodies can do. Very often this results in surprising creative potential in part due to accommodations due to their particular disability.

A larger question is how to think about access and aesthetic. How does each performer’s ability make the work aesthetically accessible? It is important for performers to feel as though they have a home but at the same time the work must be accessible.

To hear more about Alice Sheppard’s fascinating take on the work she creates, listen to the complete interview.

A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:

Do not assume that a quiet life has no meaning. There is meaning in even the smallest gestures.

Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.

Books to Read

What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. Billie Tsien is a voracious reader. At the moment she is involved with the book Ohio by Stephen Markely. Alice Sheppard is a great fan of Scandinavian noir detective fiction.


Pilotenkueche, located in Leipzig, Germany has many opportunities for artists, enthusiasts and curators. To learn about their offerings, check out our latest opportunities blog post.

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