Pawtucket, RI, RI

Contact Name
Susan Mara
Project Dates
2015 - April 2017
Pawtucket’s urban landscape is largely defined by how three rivers and a major interstate flow through the city resulting in a crisscross of bridges and highway overpasses. Art Bridges Pawtucket is a City-run effort that seeks to utilize Public Art as a way to bring together and better connect Pawtucket’s diverse communities, complex street patterns and patchwork neighborhoods. Our first initiative is to transform the I-95 George Street Overpass with a large-scale installation of public art. This overpass is a key connector and gateway to our city. Art added to the north side of the overpass will enhance the vehicle and pedestrian path over the highway and also be visible to cars driving south on I-95. This work began with a 2014 NEA Our Town grant award.
Project Goals
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 goals of this project included:
1. To improve the pedestrian connection between the neighborhoods and the downtown through the provision of public art along the highway overpasses; 2. To promote the City as a creative community to the state and region; 3. To design and install public art which reflects all of Pawtucket’s diverse communities and cultures; 4. To get community “buy-in” from all of the City’s diverse communities and cultures during the public outreach process.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
These goals have been fairly consistent.
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):
Project partners included the Tourism Council, the School Department, RI DOT, local theater groups, Pawtucket DPW, Pawtucket Planning, local CAP agencies and the Slater Mill.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Pawtucket has invested significant resources in promoting the arts as a means of economic development, while providing public cultural programs and services for its residents. The City has, over the past 40 years, created a number of programs for its residents. This project was intended to provide an art installation which demonstrates the City's commitment to the arts.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
We had seen some projects from the Western US, which utilized Highway Overpasses to help identify their communities.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
The art installation will take place in Spring 2017.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
The project was delayed. The amount of permitting and engineering required far exceeded the original estimates. It was intended to be installed in Fall 2016, but will be installed in Spring 2017.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
There were many! One major one was the capacity of the City to undertake this scale of an art installation. This is the City's first and biggest art project. Other obstacles were disconnect between the artist community and other communities within the City.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The state Arts Council was very helpful in providing technical assistance. The Community Engagement consultant was excellent at reaching out to various stakeholders. One of the local teachers was great about inviting us to his class of sculpture students to interact with us and the artist. The Artist also understood the context and was ready to work in these circumstances.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Network as much as possible with cities, states who have experience with these projects.
Make sure that the artist is fully invested in community engagement.
Create a website, videos, photos - these help tremendously with communication.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
The project is scheduled for installation in the Spring. We believe that it's visibility will assist the City with it's identification as an Arts Community.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
So far, the level of community engagement has been wonderful. There were many new voices at the table.
How did you measure this success or progress?
It will be measured by the success of our community engagement, and also the successful installation of the artwork.
It will also be measured by our ability to leverage this success into future projects.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Connections with the City's new immigrants - adult English language learners. We found a great partner with the Library, which holds classes for this population.
The power of public art as a mechanism for community engagement and outreach.