What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
This project was designed to address challenges facing the neighborhood (increasing crime activity, lack of access to high quality arts experiences for those who live in the neighborhood, and the perception that it is an area characterized by decline and disinvestment) and challenges facing New Haven's young people (lack of safe and welcoming places to go afterschool, lack of high quality arts programming, isolation from the city's arts districts and resources, and the perception that young people from low-income communities are on a negative trajectory and have little to offer.) It also seeks to address both the challenge and opportunity presented by the acute racial and economic segregation in New Haven. There are few spaces of any kind that offer ongoing experiences across boundaries of race and class and neighborhood divisions--particularly for those with few financial resources. One key goal was that of creating a space where people could come to hear, learn, and experience high quality chamber music regardless of income, and to see that space bring families and communities together to reclaim the block from both the forces of arts-fueled gentrification and crime- and economic decline-fueled deterioration. Our need to finally find a permanent home (our organization had run programming in different school buildings in an itinerant fashion for more than a decade) presented an opportunity to take on a placemaking project in course of our musicmaking. Over the long term (our kids start with us at age 6 or 7 and stay through graduation), this site will produce (and already is producing!) exceptional young musicians from the neighborhood and others like it who demonstrate what’s possible when we invest in neighborhood youth, and shift both internal and external expectations for the area and its young people. Those who visit us have rich experiences that cross boundaries of race, class, and generation. Impacts that we have already seen over the last decade of our program have been amplified and have taken root on this corner in Fair Haven: we have made a new place through music, and are building individual and neighborhood identity through arts, increasing access and equity, and revitalizing a block in need of music.
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 involved partnerships with the Board of Education (to help with bus transportation for our students to our location), the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, local elected officials and city departments, the management at Erector Square (our landlord!), and support from some of the other tenants--including a local nonproft that provides yoga classes for our students each week and a theater company that lent us the use of their space before our programming space was ready. Another tenant--a luthier--does instrument repairs and helps with instrument upkeep at a reduced rate. Partnerships with local organizations serving the elderly have provided our students with performance and outreach opportunities. Local restaurants have donated food for student events and concert events open to the public, and a local grocery store donates fresh fruit each week for our students' afterschool snacks. The process of planning and implementing our move--from the identification of priorities to the hanging of art by a local sculptor when the final touches were being put on the space--included our students and their parents in focus groups, retreats, and written feedback opportunities.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
This project worked both with and against the grain of the city's larger community development strategy. As a project seeking to create activity and vibrancy through music on a corner of incredibly high criminal activity, we were working in step with the city's community policing vision--and in fact in close communication with the police department. We were also working within the city's vision of building an arts economy. However, we were challenging that vision in asserting that the arts sector should live IN the neighborhoods, not just downtown and near Yale University, and that it should serve the needs and desires not only of those with financial means, but rather the need and desire that every person--regardless of income--has to participate in and benefit from the arts.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
We were inspired by what we saw as the seeds of such a space when--on Friday afternoons--many of our students and their families crowded into one converted garage room attached to our old office space on the other side of town. Previously all of our classes and performances had been in school buildings, churches, and other community spaces. We were everywhere, but also we were nowhere. We decided to hold our group classes and rehearsals each Friday in this tiny space, and we see saw--for just a few hours this week, and in inadequate facilities--the who whole block come alive. You could hear the music from down the block. Parents bought pizza at the place next door. Family and friends crowded in the doorway to listen to rehearsals. It had us imagining what it would be like if we had a space for lessons, performances, community events, parent workshops, and recitals--and also practice rooms, rehearsal spaces, study spaces, classrooms for things like music theory and music history classes. What we envisioned was part conservatory and part community center. All free--as our program has always been--free lessons, free instruments, free concerts. We imagined this could serve not just our 75-80 kids, but their families, and the surrounding neighborhood. So far--two years later--all of that seems to be happening. A new cafe opened up next door. Although crime hasn't stopped, our block is safer--the lights, traffic, and music audible from the sidewalk has changed the character of the surrounding area. We open our doors for recitals and pot-luck dinners. We provide free concert tickets for concerts of our professional Haven String Quartet (our teachers) to all of our students and their families. We also--through partnerships with the New Haven Symphony and others--hand out free concert tickets to anyone who wants them and would otherwise not be able to attend.