PEC works with partners in the Circuit Trails Coalition to create outdoor spaces that are inclusive and welcoming to all, a commitment that has led us to forge new partnerships and seek out creative approaches to engaging trail users.
One such innovative effort is TrailOff, described below in a guest post by project creator Adrienne Mackey, Artistic Director of Swim Pony Performing Arts. Supported by PEC and employing a diverse team of Philadelphia writers and artists, Swim Pony set out to create an immersive trail experience that would resonate with historically underserved and underrepresented communities. We invite you to explore the Circuit through their eyes by downloading the TrailOff app and following along on foot.
For those outside of southeastern Pennsylvania or with otherwise limited access to featured trail locations, check out Swim Pony’s series of TrailOff video adaptations:
- The Way Sand Wants For Water by afaq, Cooper River Trail
- River Devil II: The Return by Carmen Maria Machado, Schuylkill River Trail: Manayunk to Shawmont
- A Sycamore’s Psalm by donia salem harhoor, Perkiomen Trail
- Deeply Routed by Denise Valentine, Tacony Creek Trail
- Where The Light Won’t Go by ari, Chester Valley Trail
As an artist, I have always been interested in the way storytelling can challenge an audience to think about a familiar subject in new ways. Listening to a story is at its core an exercise in empathy: by lending attention to someone else’s understanding of the world, the listener is gifted the opportunity to understand it anew. Conversely, when a person doesn’t see their stories reflected in the places they are present in, it can implicitly feel as if they aren’t as welcome in that space.
In 2017 I began conceiving of an art project that would blend my love of nature trails, my profession as a creator of interactive performance works, and my social justice mission towards greater equity and justice. As a distance runner, I loved listening to narrative podcasts while out on long jogs but always craved for the stories I was hearing inside my head to be reflected in the world around me. Too, when I instinctually thought about what a “nature person” looked like, I could tell that the story I carried in my head quickly defaulted to an image of someone white, middle class and able-bodied.
I wondered if an evocative story might be an opportunity to reconceive the default narrative of these spaces and ideally welcome new audiences to them. Carrying this seed of an idea, I connected with PEC to see if they – as stewards of the Circuit Trail network – might be interested in collaborating on a project that used stories as a bridge to connect new audiences to these invaluable resources.
Listening to a story is at its core an exercise in empathy
Over the next three years my company, Swim Pony, worked with PEC to produce a project that has been one of the most meaningful collaborations I’ve ever experienced. The result, TrailOff, premiered in September 2020 and featured 10 original audio dramas, each written by a phenomenal local author who is connected to a community traditionally underserved by experimental art and environmental programming. Whether it’s traveling the Chester Valley trail imagining a walk to the Aztec underworld or a comedic, an Afro-futurist climate apocalypse mystery or a meditation on Indigenous wisdom past, present and future, TrailOff’s stories highlight features of the landscape, encouraging listeners to imagine the world around them from each writer’s unique perspective.