Boston, MA

Contact Name
Lori Lobenstine
Project Dates
Fall 2012-Winter 2013
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2013
As a member of Upham’s Corner ArtPlace, DS4SI engages artists, residents and merchants in imagining new possibilities for the Upham’s Corner neighborhood of Dorchester. We work with local artists to create pop-up exhibits that bring people together in new ways. Our 9-day Public Kitchen (Fall 2012) engaged over 500 community residents in an imagined public infrastructure that could make their daily lives more vibrant, affordable and healthy. Our week long Making Planning Processes Public exhibit (Spring 2013) invited hundreds of community members to step into the planning that is going on around them, making it accessible through integrated community signage and performances, hands-on technology and interactive sculptures that engaged people of all ages in seeing themselves as planners.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
Our aim is for creative placemaking that is rooted in Upham’s Corner’s history and diversity. We believe that deep local resident and business engagement is critical to ensuring collective ownership, the hallmark of any sustainable, long term change.

Specifically we want to:

• Use art and design tools to engage a wide diversity of residents in imagining new possibilities for Upham's Corner, including underutilized public spaces
• Use interactive pop-up exhibits to inform and engage the community in neighborhood revitalization planning processes and in their own planning and making processes
• Ensure that arts and cultural programming in Upham’s Corner is designed and led by local artists, residents and merchants
• Evaluate and document best practices in using arts to build neighborhood engagement and vibrancy
Have they changed over time?
We continue to learn all sorts of things that help us improve our approach, but our goals are still largely the same.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
Upham’s Corner ArtPlace and DS4SI have a broad cross-section of partners, and this is no coincidence. We believe that long term success will be based on the partnerships that grow or deepen through this process, whether they’re partnerships between local artists and merchants, between businesses and nonprofits, or between the city and local planning efforts.

Some of the key partners are the lead partners in Upham's Corner ArtPlace: The Boston Foundation, Upham’s Corner Main Street, and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. Other key community partners in our Public Kitchen event included The Food Project, The Shirley Eustis House, Haley House, and City Growers. Our commissioned artists are always key partners and collaborators. An MIT Co-design class, through the Center for Civic Media, partnered with us on our Making Planning Processes Public exhibit. And we had great partners and teachers at the city planning level for our MPPP exhibit, including members of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Department of Neighborhood Development and Strand Theater. Our funding partners have included The Boston Foundation, ArtPlace, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Communities Creating Healthy Environments initiative and The Praxis Project.

Our primary stakeholders include the diverse population of the Upham’s Corner neighborhood, including artists, merchants, elderly, youth, immigrants, etc. If UCAP doesn’t succeed in engaging these stakeholders at a high level, the community will not have their say in the development going on around them. Deep local resident and business engagement is critical to ensuring collective ownership, the hallmark of any sustainable change. With our commitment to creating a strong community foundation, we hope to ensure that a lot of the programming, awareness, and energy extends well beyond the ArtPlace grant period and becomes a core element of sustainable, community-centered development in Upham’s Corner.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
For each pop-up exhibit, DS4SI leans on local artists and community partners. Here are some main steps we take each time:

• Commission artists to co-lead the project with us, including making sure to spread the word about the commission in many “nontraditional” art spaces, and seeking out local artists, artists of color, female artists and other undervalued artists.
• Work with community based nonprofits to host the project and related events and help us spread the word amongst residents, artists, merchants, youth, elders, etc.
• Make sure that our exhibits are welcoming and engaging for all—-across languages, ages, experience levels, learning and teaching styles.
• Make sure each exhibit has built in ways to collect community members’ input, and commit to sharing back what we learn with the community and relevant city officials.

As a member of Upham’s Corner ArtPlace we have been fortunate to be able to lean on our core partners: DSNI has used its long term relationships with the community to engage residents in each of our events, and Upham’s Corner Main Street has likewise used its rich relationships with large and small local businesses to not just engage business owners in the planning processes but to be able to offer open storefronts for our pop-up exhibits. In turn we have used our relationships with area artists and designers to create spaces that engage residents in new ways of thinking about their community, planning, gentrification and more.

Have they been refined over time?
Our project plan has not changed a great deal over time, although we’ve been flexible to take advantage of opportunities that we didn’t foresee. We also took time to refine and clarify the roles of each of the project partners, so that we could be transparent and effective. We also continue to listen to our commissioned artists to learn from them about how best to support them in this strange work.
What were your major obstacles?
One on-going obstacle is finding balance between multiple pressures, processes and partners. For example, finding the balance between taking the time needed to nurture cross-sector relationships and build community voice with the pressures (from funders, residents, and partners) to see concrete results rather quickly. In our mind, the time taken to build community voice and partnerships is critical if we are to succeed at another major challenge: supporting arts-led economic development without setting Upham’s Corner up for gentrification.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
So far we feel the following pre-conditions have helped us succeed:

• Our partners are committed to the importance of taking the time to seed and cross-fertilize relationships “on the ground” and to following the leads of local residents, artists and merchants.
• Many of our partners and some of our artists have long histories of working in the Upham’s Corner neighborhood, so we began the process with many deep personal relationships, trust and willingness to work together.
• The diversity of our partners and artists has meant that we have been able to quickly engage many different elements of the Upham’s Corner community (youth, artists, residents, merchants, policy makers, etc).

What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project? *

• Engage artists at every level. It’s not just about performances or signage, but about how they look at things. An artist will bring a different sensibility to meeting facilitation, city-planning, relationship-building, etc.
• Start earlier than you think! Artists keep asking that we put out our commissions earlier. We are learning that the process of widespread dissemination of the commissions combined with giving applicants a good amount of turn around time and us a solid selection process always takes longer than we imagine.
• Whenever possible, have project managers who are deeply rooted in the topic area and the community. Our project managers—part-time paid interns who are very familiar with the community—have been invaluable in working with artists and co--developing the content of our pop-up exhibits.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Creative community building takes many forms, but one unusual element we’d like to highlight here is our interactive “pop-up” exhibits that help engage a wide cross-section of residents, artists and merchants in imagining new possibilities for their neighborhood. For example, this past fall we hosted a 9-day “Public Kitchen” in Upham’s Corner. The main hub of the Public Kitchen was in the UCMS office in the heart of Upham’s with events stretching down Dudley Street to the DSNI Greenhouse and farmers market. Inspired by the family kitchen as a gathering place, Public Kitchen invited Upham's Corner and Dudley Street residents to feast, learn, share, imagine, unite and claim public space. Over 500 people joined us as the Public Kitchen launched a week of fresh food, cooking classes & competitions, a mobile kitchen and Hub, food-inspired art and much more. Many residents marveled at how food brought them together with neighbors or nearby business owners who they’d never met or spoken to. Building on this success, DS4SI designed an interactive pop-up exhibit for the spring which focused on making planning processes public and accessible to Upham’s Corner residents, artists and merchants. Again, hundreds of residents got to come together to imagine new possibilities for themselves and their neighborhood.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We feel we are on track to meet our goals in terms of the quantity and diversity of community members who have come through our exhibits, the ways that they've been able to share ideas with each other, and the ways we've captured their ideas to give back to the community and to local policy makers and planners. We are still working to get better at press outreach and evaluation.
Were there unexpected impacts?
One thing that has surprised us so far is how much hunger and momentum there is for creative placemaking. Each time we’ve put something out into the community, we’ve been amazed at the scale and diversity of the turnout and at the way folks jump into building relationships and wanting to move things forward. For example, the mobile kitchen that we built for Public Kitchen events has already been borrowed five times for other local community events; the first community meeting that we had overflowed out of the UCMS office with over 50 participants—the week before Christmas; and over 450 community members attended The Nutcracker at The Strand through the growing relationship between the Jose Mateo Ballet Theater and DSNI, who were able to offer free tickets to community residents.
CCX Workshop Handout