Some mantras have been around for so long, we lose concept of their origins, context and meaning. Instead they become a tired cliche entrenched in banal colloquialisms.
"Walk a mile in someone else's shoes" falls in that category, suggesting that it's often our nature to judge before understanding. To form opinions before listening. And to impose value with the absence of empathy.
The saying's origins stem from English, Portuguese and Chinese proverbs and it's appeared in our everyday lives via everything from an ABC News series in 1961, a Depeche Mode single in 1993 and a 2010 family film by a similar name.
Add Hear Our Houston to that walk a mile in someone else's shoes list. This collaborative and participatory arts initiative shifts the journey (the walk) to one that illuminates the cultural worth of Houston's physical surroundings through personal, illuminating narratives. Conceptual artist Carrie Schneider first talked about Hear Our Houston to the public during a surprise show-and-tell chat at the TEDxHouston symposium in June.
"Houston has such a devotedly independent spirit that it is easy to feel isolated," she says. "When I return home from places that are saturated with that overwhelming feeling of being one in many — places where public transportation, crowded markets and active walkable streets are common — I am struck by how, in Houston, you feel like people only appear when you drive up to them and access them."
Hear Our Houston acts as a web-hub that hosts site specific eight to 20-minute audio walking tours created by anyone with a story to tell and a sound recorder to use. It's a fully interactive website where visitors can browse, search and download content, converse about the tours they've taken and upload their own tours.
What's in a walking tour?
Yogi Indre Rapalaviciute weaves introspective beauty and hilarity in her Montrose walking tour titled "We are All Weird Birds," finding beauty in the singing of birds and the memory of a red cardinal. The smooth concrete catches her attention while the barking of a dog propels the story of running into a naked man along Allen Parkway.
"When I return home from places that are saturated with that overwhelming feeling of being one in many — places where public transportation, crowded markets and active walkable streets are common — I am struck by how, in Houston, you feel like people only appear when you drive up to them and access them," Schneider says.
Longing for her little village in Lithuania, a plane prompts commentary on the hustle and bustle that superimposes a continuous hum on the urban city.
Beginning at Lawndale Art Center, street artist Daniel Anguilu and Alex "PRIMO" Luster — best known for his documentary Stick 'Em Up! — uncover the practice of legal and illegal street artists and narrate the tradition behind many hidden creative centers in their walking tour.
The Washington Corridor may be known for weekend debauchery, but for artist Raul Gonzales, it's a way to memorialize his journey from his pizza delivery days at Candelari's to an established personality in Houston's art scene. Mingling stories of cop encounters and a hit and run, he adds character to otherwise quiet, narrow and unassuming streets.
You can also learn about the music scene in Montrose with musician Pete Gordon, listen to stories of the historic Third Ward with Ayanna Jolivet McCloud and Tierney L. Malone, and explore the greenery of North Boulevard with entomologist, dancer and banjo player Lara Appleby.
Walking as a radical act
"Houston is a pedestrian-hostile place where walking is nearly a radical act," Schneider tells CultureMap. "Though cars may be a faster medium of transportation, you miss the charm, quirkiness and real life feeling of walking. When you see someone walking in Houston you roll down your window and ask what’s wrong."
Like most passionate art endeavors, Hear Our Houston emerged from the artist's own lifestyle. Schneider started walking from her abode to the medical center where her mother was hospitalized with terminal cancer.
"Houston is a pedestrian-hostile place where walking is nearly a radical act," Schneider says.
"All of the projects I make begin with a personal ritual," Schneider says. "For me, walking was a break, a pause, a breath. At the same time I was constantly listening to audiobooks, to hear any story but the one I was going through at the time, and to remember how my story fit into the bigger picture."
For Schneider, this collection of tours celebrates life's journey, without being a reserve of consumable tourist hotspots. It's a medium to discover meaning in details otherwise forgotten or never noticed.
"When you tell your story, you are healed," she says. "Though I am not telling my story, I am giving others a forum to do so. I thought of the many people who come to Houston from all over the world and experience what I experienced. When you connect with others, life gets better."
There is a long ongoing history of change in artistic mediums, with a flux towards participatory works beginning as early as the 1970s. Art is no longer just a commodity. It is the connection that's sought after. It's the difference between consuming art or experiencing it.
"I think of art as the way humans are able to construct meaning, the same way rituals and ceremonies embody what's significant," Schneider says.
Do you have a walking viewpoint you'd like to share? She welcomes your contribution. Recorders are also available for loan from Hear Our Houston.