Scoria x Public Lab
Grassroots community organizing
and DIY citizen science in
Organizer • Kite Production • Educator • Researcher • Designer
Techniques + Tools
Public Lab Aerial Photography Plans, DIY kite building, DIY cartography
Butte, Montana is a special place. A town out of time, Butte still functions like a mining camp. Most Montanans only know Butte for its mining history, birthplace of Evel Knievel, and it’s undrinkable water.
Butte, however, is most known for its pit.
The Berkeley Pit used to be a mountain. Now an open-pit mine, this landmark has been slowly filling with groundwater that has been polluted from the mine works.
I moved there to work with a now-defunct artist residency, Scoria. Our first artist was Mathew Lippincott from the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS, now Public Lab). Public Lab made Butte a partner site for their programs.
Public Lab creates DIY environmental monitoring kits anyone can build and use. During Mathews residency in Butte, we built DIY aerial photography rigs to map geo-social change.
This work was heavily tied into the community. For these maps to provide data over time, citizens had to take an interest. We taught many community rig-building sessions, photo hikes, and meet-ups. Below is a map from the Centerville neighborhood.
On the edges of Butte's open pit mine, Centerville is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Centerville is home to the first Cornish architecture in America. Part of my work with Scoria included the establishment of a community organization in Centerville. This photo is from a New Year's Party where we gathered photos and documents from the historic neighborhood. Attendees ranged in age from 8–100. Older adults pointed out their former neighbors and family members in the photos. One such photo sparked a group sing-along of nearly forgotten neighborhood drinking songs.
In 2012, the leadership of Scoria transformed the organization into a community art space under a new name. In its original conception as an artist residency, Scoria operated out of an underused historic building. Our goal was to activate this building and surrounding lots. We ran a gallery of local and traveling artists' work and held live performances and community meetings. The above photo is from one of the first First Friday gallery shows. The artist was Montana native Adam Lynn.