New Haven, CT

Contact Name
Mandi Jackson
Project Dates
October 2015-October 2017 (and ongoing!)
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2019
The arts have traditionally had a gentrifying impact on low-income communities. While Erector Square—the complex of factory buildings in which Music Haven is located—is home to two theater companies featuring works by and for communities of color, the development of this area over recent decades has predominantly brought white, middle-class artists and practitioners and their audiences/clientele to this site in the predominantly Latinx Fair Haven neighborhood. Our Placemaking through Music initiative has not only given 80 New Haven kids from low-income neighborhoods a safe and supportive place to make music after school, it has also challenged the conventional arts landscape in the city, and underscored the importance of placemaking to a community’s legibility, viability, sustainability.
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:
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.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
1) Conversations with Board, staff, parents, and students
2) "Vision 2020 for Music Haven" survey--completed by staff, board, parents, and high school aged students
3) Creation of Building Committee, including Board and Musicians and Staff
4) Meetings with City of New Haven Office of Arts and Culture, Mayor's Office, members of New Haven Board of Alders, city's Economic Development Department
5) Meetings with real estate agents and architects
6) identification of ideal location and visits by board and building committee members
7) Collaboration with local architect and Music Haven supporter to come up with ideal build-out for space, including in kind donation of some (but not all!) services
8) Meetings with architects, property management, and potential donors to secure financial support for move, in-kind donations of services, and favorable lease terms
9) Build-out process
10) relationship-building with neighbors, organizations in the area, and possible partners in development of placemaking programs--things to encourage community-building, traffic in and out of our space, resources for families, building of audiences and outreach
11) Ribbon-cutting event!
12) ongoing planning of programming to bring people through the door and get them connected with our programs--volunteer opportunities, concerts, collaborations
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
1) MONEY!!! As an organization that previously had incredibly low occupancy costs because our programming operated primarily out of donated / city-owned spaces throughout the city, the decision to deliberately invest in a project of placemaking (alongside our usual musicmaking) meant that we needed to reorganizing our budget and our staffing to have a long-term way to support a more than three-fold increase in our monthly occupancy cost. We eliminated one full-time staff position and restructured our administrative staffing, and worked hard to increase giving levels of loyal donors.

2) FINDING THE RIGHT SPACE: We needed a large amount of space and many different sound-segregated spaces to hold lessons, classes, and rehearsals, and we needed very low cost per square foot. Average in New Haven is in the $16-20 range. We knew we couldn't afford more than $10.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Our biggest foundation funder, Common Sense Fund, not only provided us with an additional $10,000 in capacity building funds for this project, but also committed to two years of funding rather than their usual 1 year. This was a game changer for us.

Also crucial: The landlord allowed us to spread build-out costs over the life of the lease, and the architect--also a tenant in the same property--did as much as half of the work as an in-kind donation, in exchange for being a named sponsor of one of our concerts of our professional string quartet.

To furnish this space, we benefitted from a game-changing donation from IKEA! But we had to spend LOTS of hours putting together furniture. Fortunately some of our students and their friends needed community service hours.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1) Relationship-building with neighbors (businesses, organizations, residents) and local officials and city offices is CRUCIAL
2) Even if it is your top priority to be a welcoming and inclusive neighborhood space, you need to figure out issues of security and safety. These things involved a lot of potentially unanticipated costs and staffing demands.
3) Get on everyone's map, calendar, and work your organization into every narrative out there about what's going on in your city or town. You can do this with events, but also by inviting key people to visit, hosting meetings and events for key organizations or coalitions, participating in any task forces / committees that are relevant to your field / sector
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?
In October 2017, after more than a decade of running our programming from a small storefront space, and doing most of our teaching and performing at schools and other community spaces throughout the city, Music Haven moved into its new home in New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood—one of the city’s “Promise Zone” areas in which our students and their families live. Now all our teaching, rehearsals, studio classes, recitals, and smaller concerts can happen under one roof, in a 6700sf space with room for all of our students and their families. This enables not only better community building and connections between our families (they come from all over the city, and our students attend more than 20 different schools), but also provides the opportunity for our site to be a true haven—through music---for the surrounding neighborhood, a community in need of such a haven.

Our work is audible from the street, whether it is a morning rehearsal of our professional string quartet (the Haven String Quartet), or an afternoon rehearsal of our youth orchestra (pictured right; below that: homework help in our student lounge), and most of our performances—both Haven String Quartet concerts and student concerts and recitals—are free and open to the public. Our workshops and educational outreach programs, including “Instrument Petting Zoos” at which audience members have the chance to try out all of the string instruments, transform our corner—one historically (and increasingly) plagued by crime and neglect—into a welcoming place of expression and discovery for families.

Our new site, occupying a floor of a former toy factory--with studios, practice and rehearsal rooms, a performance space, study/homework area, and offices—is situated at the outer edge of Erector Square, a complex of artists’ studios and offices that have historically catered to clients and visitors from outside of the neighborhood. We are sandwiched between two large housing projects (in which some of our students live), located on the bus line, and only a short walk from one of the city’s largest public high schools, where many of our high school-aged students attend.

This place that we have created has not only brought our students, their families, and their friends and neighbors through our doors to participate in the arts--it has also brought leaders of the arts community out of the downtown and Audobon area arts district (both isolated and disconnected in so many ways from our low-income neighborhoods) and into our space and into our neighborhood. The new incoming conductor of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra came for a visit to our orchestra rehearsal. Our musicians use their studios to teach their outside private students--most of whom come from affluent suburbs--and those families are now attending concerts and recitals alongside our Music Haven community at our space. Local artists have created work to adorn our walls. A quartet of our advanced students were hired to play at an annual art exhibition in Erector Square, as well as for other paying gigs throughout the city. Now these kids whose only work options were previously minimum wage food service jobs are earning $60-100 in an afternoon to play at cultural events throughout the city. They in turn our excellent ambassadors for Music Haven and for their neighborhoods--defying stereotypes and serving as role models for younger kids. By putting down roots and working to create a real place in our neighborhood, we are having a geographically far-reaching impact as our young musicians--who call Music Haven home--take their talents out into all parts of the city. We are building new audiences for classical music throughout the city as well.

Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
It is successful because we have managed to create a place that is home for our students, families, and musicians, and also welcoming to the rest of the community. The daily traffic of kids with instruments and people attending recitals or concerts has changed the character of this block. The primarily white and affluent artists who rent other spaces in the building now see our kids and their families as part of their artistic community, and many have attended concerts or even donated furniture or other supplies. We have been successful at creating one of the few spaces in the whole city that is truly not segregated by race and class, and in which everyone who comes here is equally at home. We also consider it a successful placemaking project in that people who visit don't seem to want to leave, and our students come even on days on which they have no lessons or classes because they want to practice, be with friends, and be safe and supported.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We conduct annual anonymous comprehensive online evaluations with all of our students and their parents, get audience feedback, hold focus groups (with the help of a professor in the psychology department at the University of New Haven), and debrief all events and programs with our staff on a regular basis. We also meet with property managers, city officials, and organizational partners regularly.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
100% of our first cohort of students graduated from high school last year and were all--every one of them--accepted into 4-year colleges. They are all in college now. In following up with them, more than one talked about how the creation of this place in the last year was what got them there--because they had a place to go, do homework, encouragement to stick with their instrument, a place to practice, a welcome space with supportive adults. This placemaking project led us to the development of programs to help kids with college essays and applications. The space provided the opportunity for a practice boot camp for students auditioning for college scholarships and programs. We did not anticipate the deep impact the creation of this place would have on the academic success of our young musicians--most of whom had been with us since age 6 or 7, but only in the last year did they have this PLACE of their own.
CCX Workshop Handout