Upham's Corner Online

UrbanSites @ the Strand Collaborative, February 15, 2012

Posted: February 21, 2012    Nancy J Conrad

The UrbanSites @ The Strand Collaborative meeting took place on February 15, 2012 at the Main Street office.  The group had a chance to meet the five (5) Emerging Leader Team members from U-Mass.  They also spent considerable time learning from Liz Carney (DotArt) about art in public spaces. 

The UrbanSites mission is to use art to revitalize Upham's Corner and to turn it into an arts destination.  While this is part of a 3-5 year plan, still under development, the group wants to get started introducing art into Upham's Corner as soon as possible.

Barbara Lewis brought up the Brooklyn Academy of Music as a model and Melodi Greene talked a little about the Strand.  Most of the time was spent exploring how to involve and engage the community in the new Upham's Corner world of art.

Jackie Lindsay expressed a concern:  The Upham's Corner history binder shows a pattern of reports, recommendations and inaction.  She issued a challenge:  To ensure that the past is not repeated, put as much energy into understanding what went wrong as into moving forward.  Ensure this group takes center stage in success.

Jackie Lindsay:  The primary mission for the UrbanSites group is to use the arts as a catalyst for Upham's Corner neighborhood revitalization, both economic and community and to develop Upham's Corner into an arts destination.  Of course the Strand is a major component of this effort. 

Barbara Lewis helped explain.  In the early stages (Fall, 2011), the group was Strand-centric in its focus but began asking "What about the community of Upham’s Corner? Where do they fit? If the focus were to change to Upham's Corner, then what would be the place of the Strand in our mission?"

After some reflection, the group opted for the broader perspective: “on the setting, not on the stone” - on the economic viability of Upham's Corner with the Strand in the focus but not the exclusive focus.   “So for me, it's about making Upham’s Corner a vibrant part of Boston.  How do we do that through the arts?”

Jackie also expressed a caution to the group, raising it several times over the course of the meeting.  The Upham's Corner history binder shows nothing but study after study, each with the same set of recommendations but nothing ever getting done.  "What is key," she said, "is to figure out what it's going to take to get this done."

She challenged the Emerging Leaders Team and the Collaborative.  "We have to make sure that we are zeroing in on understanding why past recommendations were not followed / implemented (the past), and do this with as much energy as we use to develop our ideas of what we do want to get done (the present).

"We don't want to be just another report to be added to the Upham's Corner binder.  It's like a dustbin that collects the great ideas that we feed ourselves.  We don't have to reinvent the wheel but we want to be the ones that don't make it into the binder. We want to make it onto centerstage.  Everybody knows about it.  Everybody's engauged with it.  And we get it done."

One of the ELP members who is a business owner, spoke up "from a business perspective.  Your mission statement is very business community oriented.  Someone from the business community, like an investment bank, should be on this task force.  I have done research on other arts models and having a financial institution representative on the task force is a very important part of getting things moving."

Melodi Greene, Strand Manager, talked about the Strand Theatre which reopened in 2004.  The City operates the building and we are venue.  In 2011 the Strand had programming 127 days out of the year which is good.

Many of the Strand offerings are not advertised because they are strictly local to a particular ethnic community or programs for youth or functions associated with community organizations and non-profits.  In 2012 the Strand will be doing a lot more advertising to show how much is taking place there. 

Michelle, who is not from Upham's Corner, said she knows about the Strand Theatre in Upham's Corner.  From a PR or reputation perspective, the Strand Theatre IS Upham's Corner and must be included as an important part of the collaborative's mission statement and goals.

In addition to the Apollo Theater mentioned in the 2004 Strand Task Force report, Barbara asked the group to consider the Brooklyn Academy of Music as a model.   In New York the arts and entertainment district is in Manhattan.  So the Brooklyn Academy of music building is located outside of the main entertainment area in New York.  That's comparable to what we have in Upham's corner.

What BAM represents to me is an organization that took its resources and invented for itself a role that became worldwide.  And that is what I hope we can do here in Upham's Corner.  I am hoping that we can brand ourselves as a place that attracts people not just from Boston but becomes a place that people from all over the country and the world would want to come to.

Brooklyn Academy's theater looks architecturally similar to the Strand in the sense that it has retained aspects of the old and the new.  I think it can ultimately visually represent a useful model.  It also involves dance, opera, film, drama, performance.  And they hae a café where people come to talk about food.

Max MacCarthy introduced Liz Carney who works for DotArt and will be included in future planning sessions as a resource for “art in public spaces.”  

Use nontraditional space for galleries, she said.  Make banners to display in the street to feed our minds and our eyes.  As an example “In 2003 we had children doing hand-painted banners painted with acrylic – they lasted for years.”

Too often artists are viewed as isolated and separated and locked up in their studios. Plan to have the art making happening while the event is taking place.  People want to see the art being made.  Also locate it within street level view of people.  $5000 a year will go a long way towards getting half a dozen or more artists to create windows displays in the community.

How can we get started?  How can we start using art to seed, to market, to create the buzz?   What is clear is that we need to have a lot of little events and a lot of follow-up. People will start to sense that something is different. If we have enough art activities, maybe the neighborhood will get associated with the word "art." 

Here is an affirmation for this group.  Art in public spaces are events that we can make happen.  All of these can take place while we are involved in long-range planning and gathering up the resources we need to make a significant difference.

Community outreach is essential to get people to attend.  Using the computer only to notify people doesn't work because many Upham's Corner residents don't have a computer and they don't speak English.  Reaching across cultural and language barriers is essential. 

Start with all the local organizations including non-profits and neighborhood groups.  Even that isn't enough because most residents have no contact with neighborhood organizations.  You have to be able to contact the residents directly.

It's not enought to engage people once an event has been planned. Involve people from the neighborhood and ask them what they want.  If they are part of the planning, then they're more likely to embrace it and participate in it.  We cannot make up what they need.  We need their input.

Another way to reach people is through the event itself.  When you have artists working in the street, kids will just automatically walk up and say:  "What are you doing?"  If you are making art in the public space, you are naturally engaging other people.  It's not like you're knocking on the door, you are naturally attracting people to you.

Nancy Conrad asked that the arts be considered in the context of life stages beginning with the young – the arts in education and people involved in learning throughout their lives.  Begin by learning art, then creating art and finally teaching art.

Melodi emphasized the importance of engaging members of the community.  "I have a lot of friends who live here.  They don't hang out around here and they don't go to events here.  They don't go to events at the Strand. So it is hard to get the locals involved. 

Artist studios are viewed as isolated.  What exactly takes place behind those doors, right behind the secret walls and all the little cubicles where they do their art? You want to get the people who live here, who do their own art, to come out and participate. 

When you plan an event, ask what it will take to get the people in the community engaged and looking forward to the event?  Also, how do you get them looking forward to a repetition of the same event so you can build a reputation? Is a pop-up gallery enough to do that?

An idea might be to have an open flea market or a farmers market - something visible to people in the street.  We could have artists of all kinds at tables.  People can get used to doing things in the community.

So the idea the flea market where you have people in the community bringing out their own art in whatever the form - any little creative thing that they make.  You have to use a language that communicates what is meant by art and encourages them to participate.

You can call a lot of things art.  You can bring forward the concept of art as a big movement.  If you get people so excited that they return, they will bring more people and get more people involved.

Putting out art in public spaces eventually changes how people think about art.  If all they're seeing right now is nothing but chain-link fences then if you replace that by chain-link fences broken up with pieces of art, theirs mind will automatically adapt to the presence of that art.

We want to move from the showcase of art to the making of art and the interaction that takes place around .  Especially if you're also doing art and it is somehow integrated into our lives, that leads to Upham's Corner becoming an arts destination.  If you ask yourself where else in the city of Boston does a place like Upham's Corner exist?  The answer is: It doesn't.

So out thought process turns to asking:  How can we brand this area?   In addition to the outreach, the art becomes the experience people have as they walk through the streets.

Once we have some experience with the community, it will allow us to develop a strategic initiative that starts to showcase artists that are from this community.  Whether or not somebody speaks the same language, people are going to be drawn to it.

This is all like seeding a garden.  Using the term "pop-up art" is probably inappropriate.  Better to say "art in public spaces."  So it's all happening in the neighborhoods of the community and the art will start to connect the people.

Working on a piece of art will almost be like walking the dog.  It causes people to connect with each other.  It's the cumulative effect.  So Upham's Corner needs to become that one community of Boston where the answer to the question: "What experience did you have when you went to Upham's Corner?"  is "That's a great place for the arts!"


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