Norwalk, CT

Contact Name
Jackie Lightfield
Project Dates
February 2015 - ongoing
During 2015, Norwalk 2.0 transformed a vacant waterfront property in South Norwalk, Connecticut into an urban beach open to the public.
This site is also the venue for The Containers, a public art project created by Norwalk 2.0 to empower artists to investigate contemporary culture through the arts. The Containers at SoNo Beach, provided opportunities for people to connect with their creativity, community and history through artistic experience.
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:
Activating vacant land and engaging the local community in an art project was the primary purpose of our project. Temporary public art is an opportunity for viewers to engage in an out of the ordinary experience. The artwork is there as a new introduction to part of the landscape and architecture of the site. Its presence engages people to reimagine, or visualize the site in different ways as it relates to the existing architecture and its attendant landscape or urban-scape. Works that are site- specific also provoke people who experience the space on a daily basis to experience the site in a different way. New audiences, perhaps visiting the site for the first time, are invited to become aware of the cultural heritage and art communities that contribute to the vitality of the Norwalk.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
There were many factors out of our control. The main one becoming mid-project that the State of Connecticut began to view the lot as a staging areas for a major railway bridge construction project and the property owner became enmeshed with eminent domain issues and economic impacts that overwhelmed their staff. We ended up having to move the containers to another site which disrupted many events. We are currently at a new site and continue the project.
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):
We worked with the property owner, an architect who taught the Norwalk Community College Design & Landscape Architecture class, and many local artists to program the site and create a community space.

When we first started on the site, we worked with local businesses to help clear out the 4 foot weeds and overgrowth, level the site, clean up trash and prepare the site for the containers. We worked with Eagle Leasing to transform two basic 20-foot shipping containers into exhibit space, by opening one wall on each container, painting the containers bright pink and then installing them on the site.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The active area of South Norwalk is filled with restaurants and bars. We have been active in repurposing vacant storefronts into arts spaces, and this area was two blocks from that area. By increasing the footprint of arts activity, we solidify the area as being known for creativity and innovation.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
This project came out of creating a more permanent temporary arts space. :) We had leased 4 shipping containers in a previous project called the Freese Park Artist Village, and wanted to tweak the idea into one that could serve multiple locations. By owning two shipping containers we were able to modify them and address some of the issues we had during the Artist Village project.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
We spent six months working on the design and choice of what types of mobile structures we wanted to build. We explored options that included airstreams, trailers, and repurposed trucks. We came back to the shipping containers, because we felt they made a stronger statement about our consumer society.

Once the design was completed we executed the build out and worked with several partners on the containers and finally had them sited at the location in June of 2015. In parallel we worked with partners to secure the site, and clear it and once the containers were installed we added sand to create a beachfront, and began opening the site to the public.

We ran into many difficulties that extended the build out and limited our ability to open several exhibits. One was the lack of electricity. The other was weather dependent. And lastly the uncertainty of the property owner allowing us to extend our occupation of the site created much anxiety. This was due to a state project that involves replacing a railroad bridge called the Walk Bridge. The State proposed to take our site as well as adjacent properties as part of an eminent domain taking, and uncertainty about that caused many things. The larger issue affecting the project was the community aspect as our project was not the only business affected by the bridge issue. We became involved in the community aspects of impacts to the environment and the economic impacts to the community. This is ongoing.

We overcame all of this with a move to a new site across the river, and that was our first experience actually moving the containers, especially to a site that we could not change the grade.

We have made many new partnerships in developing the site and have new exhibits planned for next spring that focus on the bridge that has caused so many problems for the area.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
The containers are now memorialized in all the maps used by the State of Connecticut as they explain their project plans. We think of it as a creative way to inject art (as bright fuchsia pink blobs) into an otherwise engineering focused project. The old bridge, which is historic and iconic is now serving as a catalyst for our programing to encourage artists to document the existing conditions and memorialize the bridge through art.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
The overwhelming logistics of a physical site that we had no control over.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The community who reached out to us and helped us move the containers and find a new site as it was apparent that we were struggling with the old site.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Time tables can change dramatically have a backup plan.
Be creative in how to overcome obstacles, we explored solar power as an example.
Engage with your community to solve problems.
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?
We continue to be engaged and involved in policy with the City of Norwalk and in advocating for community issues through Norwalk 2.0 and its visible Containers. Our location at the foot of the Walk Bridge ensures that we will be a part of that project in its many forms.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
From a goal of engaging with the community and raising the visibility of the arts, we have been massively successful. We were able to quickly organize a pop up street festival to replace a long standing arts festival (The SONO Arts Celebration) that abruptly cancelled their event two weeks out. We could only do this because of the relationships we built during our project and the goodwill the community has for the arts.
How did you measure this success or progress?
The ongoing dialog about the arts and Norwalk continues and our community partners expand.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
We have become more engaged with the commercial boating community and businesses that we didn't know about. A new project has come out of those relationships which may lead to increasing the workforce opportunities in high tech boutique manufacturing and locally made goods. We have worked with our State legislators more closely and feel a sense of optimism that we can change the world.