Symphony of a City Credits


Symphony of a City

Symphony of a City, an interactive cross-platform documentary project by Liz Canner and John Ewing, was designed to explore a new form of community engaged media. Over 50 groups from across Greater Boston were polled about what pressing issue they felt the media had overlooked.  It was 5 years after Boston had eliminated rent control and 80,000 low-income housing units had gone up to market rate.  Across the board, the groups asked us to focus our project on the housing crisis.


The groups were then asked to nominate dynamic individuals that represented different positions on the housing crisis.  Eight extraordinary citizens were selected to wear tiny video cameras on their heads and document life and housing from their perspective for a day. This was years before the GoPro was introduced so we had to invent our own wearable camera.  The wearcam participants included a homeless person, a multi-millionare landlord who organized against rent control, and the former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee. The project premiered at the 2001 Boston Cyberarts Festival where over the course of two days the videos the participants generated were streamed in real-time on the Web and presented as large scale outdoor video projections on the facade of Boston City Hall.  The video from each of the participants was juxtaposed so that at any given moment four stories, four lives, four perspectives on the housing crisis and community building were in view. The project expanded into a gallery installation, an experimental single channel documentary and an interactive online documentary.



Symphony of a City presented a new form of vision where the camera became the eye view of the subject themselves.  As the directors of the quotidian, each participant framed their life how they wanted.  The project was as much about how each person was viewed in their community, as it was how they saw themselves and narrated the tale and demonstrated how the housing situation affected them.  Some chose to pretend the wearcam was not present while others decided to use the opportunity to present a creative tour of their lives.  



The project resulted in generating much-needed media attention and public discourse about the housing crisis.  Symphony of a City was featured on the cover of The Boston Globe Calendar with a long article about the project that delved into the housing crisis.  After the first night of video projection on Boston City Hall, The Boston Globe responded by starting a 5 part investigative series on the housing crisis and the devastation the city faced from the loss of rent control.  A number of the key participants in Symphony of a City were featured in the series.  In the end, the government allotted more money for low income housing.  We worked with City Life/Vida Urbana and students at Harvard to create a website for tenants at risk that explained their rights.  In addition, the landlord featured in the project offered Mike Murray, the homeless student, an apartment at a vastly reduced rent.


Large scale outdoor video projection on Boston City Hall

Boston Cyberarts Festival, Boston, MA 2001

Installation, Harbor Gallery, UMASS/Boston, Boston, MA, 2002

Coolidge Corner Cinema

Boston, MA, 2004

Installation, Light Factory Gallery, Charlotte, NC, 2004

Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival

New York, NY, 2005

Art in the Public Sphere, University Gallery, UMASS Amherst, MA, 2008