What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
Through a wide range of innovative programming developed with community partners at key organizations in South Providence, the Nuestras Raíces oral history project (sometimes referred to as “Café Recuerdos”) engaged both Latinos and non-Latinos in understanding a vital part of our state's history, as told by the people who contributed to it, but whose voices are rarely heard. The project in its current form was launched in 2015 and was based in neighborhoods where the greater part of the residents are economically disadvantaged and in need of culturally relevant arts projects that unite them in a celebration of history and heritage. Our challenge was to provide immigrant residents with a greater understanding of how they can connect the place where they immigrated to the place to which they now live in a culturally appropriate and satisfying way. How can we develop community pride and empower neighborhoods to embrace all the people who live there.
RILA's basic goal, through this project, was to be a creative place-maker, to encourage community engagement in public spaces. As such, the arts installation became a temporary café with bistro chairs and tables set up on street corners, in local parks in an effort to engage as many people from the neighborhood as possible. Public engagement became an important part of the process as we further engaged young people in the collection of community stories at various local venues including schools, libraries, community organizations and outside locations located but not limited to underserved neighborhoods. We fulfilled our goal as the installation traveled to six sites in South Providence and had a great impact on a multigenerational Latino community. As mentioned above, it also traveled to three sites outside of Providence.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
In 2016, after a successful run in Providence, the Nuestras Raíces project traveled to neighboring sites in Central Falls, Pawtucket and Woonsocket. While the overall goal of the project did not change, the manner in which we connected with communities outside of Providence evolved. In Central Falls and Woonsocket, we worked with the local high school ELO Programs and met with very recent immigrant youth and, through the collection of oral histories and place making strategies, we interconnected them with people and places in their new surroundings/home in the U.S. In Pawtucket, we worked with Adult ESL classes at the local library in a similar fashion, that is by collecting oral stories of immigration, connecting students to their neighborhoods, and facilitating questions and discussions that answered the question “what is home?” It also changed in the manner in which we connected and presented individual stories: in Central Falls we collected old photographs of local residents, created a series of “fotohistorias” -- four enlarged banners -- and placed them in public view in City Hall. Likewise in Providence, we took a family photograph from a key Latino “pioneer” from our archives and created a fotohistoria mural and placed it on the inside of a local bus shelter in South Providence. All these activities were accomplished with the goal of raising cultural, community and neighborhood pride.
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):
Nuestras Raíces, in the form of the Café Recuerdos coffee cart, launched in 2015 in South Providence, forming a strategic geographic triangle connecting Broad Street, Elmwood Avenue and Prairie Street. South Providence is one of the most underserved neighborhoods in the city with over 65% Latino residents. The project engaged six community partners, including ¡CityArts! for Youth, a key arts community center for youth ages 8-12; Pace Senior Center, whose clients are over 65% Latino; three neighborhood libraries (South Providence, Knight Memorial and Washington Park), where related cultural activities (artist lectures, storytelling, hands-on workshops) were presented; The Leviton Dual Language Elementary School 5th grade class; and in a bus shelter adjacent to the former Fefa’s Market, the first Latino market identified through existing oral histories. Partners in neighboring communities included Trinity Repertory Theater in Downtown Providence, which served a different audience than in South Providence; The Adams Library (Central Falls); Pawtucket Public Library; Woonsocket High School and Central Falls High School.
Additional partners included the RI Public Transit Authority, Central Falls City Hall, the City of Providence Planning & Development Department and local school departments in our target sites. Finally, RILA received support from the RI State Council on the Arts, the RI Council for the Humanities, local banks and businesses.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
This program is in line with RILA’s strategic plan, which includes organizing & implementing new programs and activities that will strengthen our mission and deepen community connections by building partnerships & developing educational programs. The project also contributes to a larger vision of community building by creating neighborhood pride leading to safe places to live, shop and play.
Nuestras Raíces was offered to students in local urban schools, and exposed recent immigrant students and their teachers to oral history techniques. We visited schools once a week and taught them how the art of story collecting and storytelling can provide a sense of place. We were able to offer all our partners, their neighbors and friends who live in the neighborhood where we worked, an opportunity to learn about Latino history. The history panels/mural as they are currently presented in two public settings, have exposed residents of all kinds to the rich history and roots (raíces) of RI Latinos, thus creating a more welcoming, inclusive sense of place for all
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
RILA has had a strong relationship with all partners in that we are the only statewide cultural arts group working toward the enrichment of Latino cultures in RI. Further, our relationship with all of our partners has been strengthened in that we all share the strong belief that the arts and humanities can instill pride in local Latino immigrants, can help second-generation Latinos connect to their heritage, and that it is important to engage non-Latinos in understanding the cultural contributions of Latin-Americans to our overall society. Through the years of collecting the Latino oral histories and sharing them with local communities, we’ve discovered that a project like Nuestras Raíces is the first of its kind in RI. Today it is a model for artists, educators and preservationists, and RILA Executive Director has been invited to share its work in communities outside of RI.