August 17, 2016

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Lara Stein Pardo’s Mapping Arts Project



What are you working on—on the side?

I think I should first start by saying that I don’t see my projects as ‘side projects,’ even if they aren’t what I work on every single day. As someone who works across fields of art, anthropology and the web, all of the work I do is broken down into ‘projects.’ I work on them to varying degrees depending on the needs of the project, external factors like collaborative deadlines or grant deadlines, and a general timeline for a project’s progress.

In any case, the project I’ll share with you is Mapping Arts Project. It is a project, mapping cultural arts histories of cities through places where artists have lived and worked. Currently, the project includes three cities—Miami, Providence and Denver. Chicago is coming soon. We are in the middle of a big design transition. As we added Denver to the project we knew we needed to overhaul the searching and sorting features. We took the time to do UX research and testing that revealed some areas for improvement in the visual design and user flow throughout the site. We are making changes now, so the site will continue to look and feel different (and work even better!).

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

In my daily life, the projects I’m working on take center stage. I have a fairly typical weekdays work week, with the occasional extended hours for a big push on a project, a guest lecture, or a grant proposal. On a daily basis, I use Google Calendar to plot out time to work on Mapping Arts Project, and all of my projects. Mapping Arts Project is collaborative, so depending on the task, say research or coding, I’ll work with others to define a timeline and benchmarks. Then, I work in times into the weeks ahead for the work that needs to be done. One thing that helps me manage my time is to set up calendar alerts for the goals and benchmarks, or even a reminder to check in with collaborators.

Why have a side project?

For someone who has a full-time gig where they are working on someone else’s project, I can really see the value in having a ‘side project.’ It’s yours. It’s a place to learn, grow and have creative control. I’m in a different kind of position at the moment. All of my projects are truly my own. Perhaps that makes them all side projects, or a lot of sides that make the whole. I will say that there are times when I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue to grow Mapping Arts. Say, if I hit a stumbling block in terms of funding. But, the project itself is important to me; the significance of mapping out hidden histories and making artist visible for the role they have played in creating the places where we live and visit. The driving force in Mapping Arts—the idea of linking geography, art and history, inspires me to breath new life into it as necessary.

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Images courtesy of Lara Stein Pardo.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.


This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.


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