Photo Essay: Seeing Local Systems in the Winston-Salem Community Innovation Lab

The Community Innovation Labs program addresses tough social challenges in local communities by deeply integrating artists, artistic experiences and cultural organizations into rigorously designed and facilitated change processes. In our two pilot sites of Winston-Salem, NC and Providence, RI, we commissioned local photographers with ties to the community to produce original art in the form of photo essays. We intentionally commissioned local artists in order to bring greater visibility to their work and to create space in the collaborative Lab process for them to grow and share their own artistic practice. This photo essay by Christine Rucker from Winston-Salem captures and documents the first Winston-SalemLab workshop on Seeing the System. Read more about our Labs here.



I value the craft of visual storytelling. I began my career as a photojournalist at the Winston-Salem Journal as a staff photographer. I enjoyed photographing the community around me and capturing connections and bonds between people.  I am now an independent photographer—and while storytelling is still the foundation of who I am as a photographer—I specialize in work with non-profits. I was commissioned to document the two pilot workshops for our local Community Innovation Lab and produce an original photo essay from my perspective.

I was a little unsure how visual this project would be but was very interested in the idea of bringing artists and community leaders together to explore ways to facilitate positive change and make our community better. I not only enjoyed photographing the workshop and the learning journeys, but through the process, I saw other perspectives on race, culture, and social inequity that I had never really experienced before. So I was able to document the workshop visually, but also personally take away a new way of seeing our community here in Winston-Salem.

My first photo essay is below. Take a look and share your thoughts and comments below, and stay tuned for my second set of photographic experiments. – Christine Rucker.



01_DSC0027Winston-Salem Lab participants explored a new approach to examining their unspoken fears, concerns and questions about the Lab in an exercise called Cynics vs Believers. They stood back to back and took a few breaths before turning around and practicing questions and persuasive conversations with each other.


03_DSC4198I am always attentive to how people use their hands to communicate when I photograph groups. I found this image to feel a bit like a dance with participants meeting each other and talking about expectations about the rest of the workshop agenda.


04_DSC0053After the Cynics vs Believers exercise, the group discussed their views in a role-playing exercise about how the Lab could be implemented in the community.


05_DSC4218Wesley Days, Process Facilitator with EmcArts gave an animated response to questions.


06_DSC4356Participants broke up into small groups to discuss how they, as artists and community members, will be working together to address local and structural inequities in income, employment and wealth.


09_DSC0219Participants formed small groups and created skits to demonstrate how we all experience common pitfalls of systems, and how we all assume different roles when confronting community challenges and co-creating solutions.


12_DSC0069Lab members break and socialize.


13_DSC0116I was drawn to the play of shadow and light while participants explored relationships between community, distance and space during the workshop.


15_DSC0269Learning Journeys are a way of experiencing the local system through the lens of different stakeholders. With a facilitator, Lab Members went on journeys to local spaces and connected with stakeholders where they live and work. Here, Lab Members went to a grocery store that caters primarily to the local Latino community in order to shop and prepare a meal for a family of 4 under $40.00.


16_DSC0306Lab Member met employees and volunteers at a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store as part of a Learning Journey.


17_DSC0352Using a systems-thinking model, Lab Members worked in small groups to consider not only recent events, but underlying patterns, trends, policies, structures, assumptions and values that drive local system dynamics and maintain economic inequities.


19_DSC0377In preparation for the next Community Innovation Labs workshop, Lab Members brought up difficult questions, dilemmas and paradoxes to consider.

Read our blog series on Community Innovation Labs that documents our journey from conception to design through piloting.

Christine Rucker is a professional photographer in Winston-Salem, NC who was commissioned as a local artist with the Community Innovation Labs. She previously worked as a photojournalist with the Winston-Salem Journal for ten years.