About The project

In Our Backyard is a community engagement project that was created by artist Roni Chelben as part of a unique Artist in Residence opportunity with the City of Tacoma. Produced during the summer of 2018, In Our Backyard included a series of traveling community events that brought people together for conversations about homelessness, its causes, challenges, and possible approaches. Each event featured a participatory performance created and performed by individuals experiencing homelessness in Tacoma, as well as a video art installation presenting conversations between housed and homeless residents, hosted in each other’s backyards. The project brought the experience of homelessness to the forefront, with the goal of sparking a conversation and public awareness around the challenges of homelessness and the social responsibility of the community at large towards its homeless residents.

About artist Roni Chelben

Roni Chelben is an artist based in Austin, Texas, originally from Tel- Aviv, Israel. In 2013 she had the chance to learn and get to know people who experience homelessness in Austin, and together with them, to establish Gathering Ground Theatre, a theatre group that utilizes performances and other artistic forms to advocate for the homeless community and their rights. Roni is a practitioner of Theatre of the Oppressed, and focuses her energy on promoting social justice through her art and political advocacy. Roni was honored to spend the summer in Tacoma, immersed in a great community of people, homeless and housed, to create In Our Backyard. She had an extremely insightful, empowering, and emotional experience and she is thankful for everyone who welcomed her into the community and who shared their talent, time, and energy to help make this project a genuine expression of the residents of Tacoma. She hopes this project helps educate the general public about the current local and national crises of homelessness.


In 2018, the City of Tacoma engaged Roni Chelben as an Artist in Residence where she was embedded within the City, working collaboratively with staff to find creative ways to address homelessness and related issues in Tacoma and lead community engagement projects to create a more empathetic relationship with community members who are not experiencing homelessness.
This project was funded by the City of Tacoma’s Neighborhood and Community Services Department, in partnership with the Office of Arts and Cultural Vitality.

Project team and partnerships

Project Director: Roni Chelben
Project assistants: Michael Sherman & Randy Prince
Communications & Outreach Specialist: Tanya Tran
Graphic Design: Randy Prince & Michael Sherman
Events Coordination: Kristin Luippold & Kristy Loppnow
Documentation: Kris Crews, Patti Ramos, Kristin Luippold, Eyal Weinberg
Website design: Sara Madandar

Actors & Writers: Colleen Cline, Kevin J Moriarity, Kristy Loppnow, Jan Lassen, Julie Wetmore, Mila Roe, Scott Stanley, Stefanie Glover, Tiffany Bibens, Thunder
Additional Text: Thunder
House Manager: Colleen Cline
Masks: UWT Professor Tyler Budge and students in Reconstructing Self In Art class
Music: Bruce Haedt

Videography & Editing:
Michael Ball
Installation Design & Tech Support: Matt Daugherty & Michael Sherman
Participants: Angelo AJ Harris, Colleen Cline, Evan Candoo, Jan Lassen, Katrina Wedgeworth, Kevin J Moriarity, Linda Black, Lisa Mansfield, Markeys Harvey, Michael Sherman, Patricia Lautenschlager, Rodney Williams, Roni Chelben, Thunder, Virgie Harris, Virginia Crittendon


The Tacoma Homelessness providers forum, City of Tacoma Public Works Department, Glazer’s Camera, Gefen Publishing House, Erik Hasstedt and Safe Streets Team, Kristin Luippold, Maggie Stang, Brenda Bacon, Colleen Cline, Adriana Abramovich, David Johnson, Sarah Stutzke, Bruce Haedt, Marilyn Bennett


In Our Backyard was a result of great partnerships with local organizations, homelessness services providers and art institutions around Tacoma. These partnerships were crucial to the success of the project and enabled the participation of people who experience homelessness in every stage of the project, helped the project reach far into the community, and made In Our Backyard a true community project involving people from across Tacoma.