Reflecting on CCX: Olneyville Square and the Creative Economy Award

Chris Ackley
Stewardship Program Manager

I was a little nervous about coming to my first CCX conference a few weeks ago up in Keene, NH.  No, it wasn’t because the arts community is a particularly intimidating bunch, or because us Rhode Islanders are a particularly intimidated bunch when it comes to traveling out of their county.  My concern was 24 beautiful flower baskets that had been hung in Olneyville Square the day before the conference.  Usually, I like to be around to keep an eye on the baskets right after they go up—make sure they are watered adequately, make sure they don’t suffer from the “curiosity” of people passing by.  However, the scheduling was not ideal, and I had to leave the care of the baskets in the hands of our ONE Neighborhood Works team. 

I don’t know if this would have been a possibility two years ago…but I think that where we are now comparatively speaks to the powers of persistence and forward momentum.  When we began our work to improve the Olneyville Square commercial district, we didn’t have much more to offer than a couple of push brooms, dust pans, and elbow grease; however, being persistent in that effort, and doing it well, has created numerous opportunities and allowed us to engage with a collection of talented artists and designers on various projects to improve Olneyville Square.  Collectively, this effort has put a new stamp on Olneyville Square, and more exciting than any project we have completed in the Square is the reality that we have so much more great work ahead of us.  This brings me back to the idea of forward momentum.  We have worked hard over the past few years and accomplished lots of great work:  Landscaping a trio of neglected traffic islands, beautiful steel-cut banners fabricated right in our Olneyville neighborhood, and custom built planters designed and built by a neighborhood wood-worker to name some of our greatest hits.  Each project is an individual accomplishment and a cause for celebration, but the compounding effect of these works are starting to transform an area, and move the big needle for the good. 

You can also look at what is happening in Olneyville as a microcosm of the Creative Communities initiative.  Throughout the region, so much great work is happening, and the collective impact on cities, states, and New England is undeniable.  ONE Neighborhood Builders are honored, and surprised, to have received the Creative Economy award from NEFA.  And while it is a great honor, and another cause for celebration, we are even more excited that it will help us to advance our next major project in Olneyville Square—a façade improvement that will install a tile and glass mosaic created by local artist Pippi Zornoza on the front of “The Dirt Palace,” a feminist art collective housed in a former library building, in the heart of Olneyville Square.  Not only will this custom mosaic anchor a historic building in a highly trafficked area, but it will also highlight a gallery window that hosts a monthly installation by a wide-range of local, national, and international artists and community groups.  The completion of this mosaic project will be our largest single project to date.  When we started this work four years ago, it would have been hard to imagine completing something of this scale.  However, as we roll down-hill, it’s starting to seem like we are on the right track.  To learn more about Pippi Zornoza and the Dirt Palace mosaic project, visit

When I returned to Providence (with hardware!) after a rewarding two days in Keene, I was even more invigorated to continue this great work. And, of course, all of the flower baskets still looked fantastic.

All photos courtesy of ONE Neighborhood Builders