What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The initial challenge and goal was finding a way to appropriately reclaim and memorialize the site of the rediscovered burial sites which had become a City street with surrounding businesses and residences. We needed to engage members the descendant community and build consensus on an appropriate strategy for closing the street and selecting the appropriate aesthetic treatment.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Once we had a plan, we needed to build political and public will to carry it out which involved a long process of education about the history of slavery in colonial New England, many uncomfortable conversations about race, and raising $1.2M to complete the project. The goals moved from being about raising funds for and completing a physical project to finding ways to bring community members together in a "healing" way--strengthening bonds among individuals, Black and White, in our community.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
This project required many partners, among the major ones: the City of Portsmouth, the Seacoast African American Cultural Center, the Black Heritage Trail, the local newspaper, the public school system, the library, the Portsmouth Historical society and Discover Center, a nationally known African American sculptor, the neighborhood (all of the abutters were significant financial contributors), a landscape architect, archeologists, the state’s historic preservation office, the Music Hall, Strawbery Banke museum, and a landscape/construction firm. The roles included design and planning, including public input; permitting; public education; fundraising; events; construction; and ceremony.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The project relates to Portsmouth’s commitment to telling the full story of our history and our people, including those stories that have remained untold or forgotten, as part of building community identity and strengthening the bonds among community members. Authenticity is the hallmark of Portsmouth’s identity, why local people are passionate about Portsmouth, and a major attractor for tourists and visitors. The African Burying ground story and the story of slavery and the contributions of free and enslaved African Americans were missing pieces. Completing this project at a time of national racial tension was healing for our community. We have also found that pairing arts and history together is a strategy to create deep meaning.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
We were inspired by the major African American burying ground in New York City and by earlier community arts-history projects in Portsmouth that were healing in their processes, especially the Shipyard Project that featured a two-year exploration through dance of the history of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and its meaning to the community.