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Ingenious and interactive pay phones dial into the sounds of Third Ward's history

Ingenious pay phones dial into the sounds of Third Ward's history

TresPhonos pay phone Project Row Houses
Pick up one of the “TréPhonos” receivers to hear the sounds of the Third Ward. Photo by Jeanette Degollado

Starting this fall, there will be three pay phones in the Third Ward area. Before you start wondering why do pay phones still exist in 2018, keep in mind that these aren’t regular pay phones. You can’t call anybody on them. What you will be able to do is pick up the receiver and basically listen to the Third Ward. And that is what “TréPhonos”is all about.

“TréPhonos” is community installation project where several neighborhood artists and activists have come together to present a unique, audio history of the Third Ward through these regenerated pay phones. Each payphone will have a different theme: TréSonik is a series of ambient noise and sounds unique to the Third Ward area. TréMixTape is anthology of sound styles, featuring music from such artists as Big Brandon Willis, T Lee, and Blessed Child 100. Finally, TréSankofa is a documentation of historical and contemporary Third Ward influencers.

This project began earlier this summer, through a series of conversations and meetups on the streets of Third Ward. “As we work in a community, we move collaboratively — we share ideas, experiences, skills, and knowledge,” says social sculpture artist/painter/photographer Jeanette Degollado, one of the artists responsible for the project.

Degollado, along with collaborative duo Julian Luna and Matt Fries, worked in partnership with a trio of “ambassador artists”— filmmaker/photographer Marc Furi Newsome, musician Sunny Smith and artivist Kofi Taharka — who represent each phone. “We have managed to create a feedback loop, where community self-determination, artists, activists, and Third Ward residents are both the input and output, informing each other, creating synergy.”

These phones can be accessed at three, very specific locations: S.H.A.P.E. Community Center on Live Oak, Wolf’s Pawn on Emancipation and Crumbville — home of Ella Russell’s delicious cookies, cupcakes, and other baked goods — on Elgin. Says Degollado, “Naturally, we thought of S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, which has been in existence for over 49 years — and celebrating this year their 50th— Wolf’s Pawn, [because it’s been around] for over 60, and Crumbville, because of its importance to the food movement and reinvestment in locally owned businesses in Third Ward.”

While the installation officially starts on September 1, you can get a taste of the project with “TréPhonos Love: We Sound So Good on the Phone, happening Friday, August 24 at Project Row Houses (which supports the project and will provide bike tours when it starts). This evening will feature talks by the artists and ambassadors, as well as live performance from Lewis.

As long as these pay phones function properly, “TréPhonos”  will always be around, hopefully to inspire more people to make some bold, creative moves in the Third Ward community. “We want to engage the community in a new way,” she says. “TréPhonos is about building, about establishing and re-establishing value, about enriching and identifying the resources that already exist in the community. It is about creating a network that facilitates self-determination in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Without the collaboration of the storytellers, the musicians and the sounds of Third Ward, there is no context, no content.”

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TréPhonos Love: We Sound So Good on the Phone” is on Friday, August 24, at Project Row Houses, 2521 Holman. 6-8 pm. Free. 

The TréPhonos” runs September 1 through December 31. Look for the phones at Wolf’s Pawn (2701 Emancipation Ave.), Crumbville (2316 Elgin St.) and S.H.A.P.E. Community Center (3815 Live Oak St.). For information, call 713-526-7662 or visit the official site

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