What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
Goal: Improve mental health, physical health and social well-being in the six towns that comprise the community, through African diaspora arts and culture programming.
The project’s four sub-goals are:
Improve mental health in the community by:
(a) reducing social isolation among newcomers to the community who are people of color, especially African Americans and African immigrants;
(b) providing affirmation and promoting healthy self-esteem for African Americans/Africans through positive and empowering representations of the African diaspora of art, culture and people; and
(c) addressing and healing “White fragility” linked to White residents’ feelings of guilt, anxiety or fear as they witness changes in the community’s racial, religious and ethnic diversity and become more aware of white privilege, implicit bias and institutional racism;
Improve physical health in the community by:
(a) providing opportunities for residents to engage individually and together in indoor and outdoor physical exercise, and healthy eating practices.
Improve social-well being in the community by:
(a) creating positive connections between community residents across differences in race, ethnicity and religion; and
(b) expanding the professional networks and income-generating opportunities for artists of African descent in Vermont through engagements at the Clemmons Family Farm.
Increase impact through the synergies between mental health, physical health and social well-being by:
(a) fostering emotional attachment among community residents of all colors to the Farm as a “safe haven” and an inspiring place where they will experience a loving, multicultural community,
(b) grounding the health benefits of engaging in arts and culture in a sense of place.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Fostering social justice was not initially an explicit project goal of the A Sense of Place project. Social justice has, however, always been an implicit part of the Clemmons Family Farm's overall mission to preserve a rare African-American owned farm in the face of rapidly diminishing African-American owned land assets and to focus on the promotion of African-American and African Diaspora art, culture, history people and history in a state that is majority White. Social justice issues are becoming more explicit as the Farm expands and deepens its collaboration with Black artists in Vermont and its work to bring people together as a loving and supportive community across differences of race, culture and national origin. The need to provide a safe and inspiring space for community healing around racism is increasingly emerging as an important goal for the A Sense of Place project. For very different reasons, White and Black residents are stressed, angry and overwhelmed with the current climate of hate crimes, racial discrimination and race-related violence in our state and nation. The arts and culture programs offer an avenue to foster healing and a healthier community. The role of arts, culture and a meaningful place owned by African Americans in Vermont, a predominantly White state, is becoming more vital than ever.
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):
During the first year of project implementation, a wide array of organizations and individuals have been involved in the project implementation. The Clemmons Family Farm implements the A Sense of Place project in close collaboration with Champlain College, who provides technical support in the project’s media and communications component. In 2018, the A Sense of Place project partnered with nearly 40 collaborating artists of African descent. A 3-day creative placemaking event, including a design charette for one of the Farm’s historic barns, was led by Ms. Zena Howard. Ms. Howard is a distinguished FAIA-Architect who is one of the team of architects who led the design and building of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC. INSPIRIT a dance company, an African American-led Vermont non-government organization, co-led the creative placemaking design charette with Ms. Howard. Over the three days, more than 100 American/African Diaspora artists and White American artists, Vermont architects, barn preservation experts, local government officials, African-American/African Diaspora girls from middle schools, academicians, a number of Vermont’s arts and culture leaders, and other residents of the local community came to the Farm to learn about the plans for the project and to brainstorm on the redesign and future use of one of the historic barns on the Clemmons Family Farm as an African-American/African Diaspora visual and performing arts community venue. Other partners from outside of the usual creative sector who engaged in the creative placemaking event include the Vermont Chapter of the American Association of Architects, the Vermont Historic Preservation Division of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. In other project activities, our partners from outside of the creative sector include the Vermont Humanities Council, who co-funds the Farm’s annual humanities speakers' series. The 2018 series featured young spoken word artists of African descent who are residents in the surrounding community. Also in 2018, the Charlotte Library partnered with the Clemmons Family Farm and Champlain College to develop an exhibit and visitor engagement booth at the Leahy ECHO Center in Burlington in honor of Martin Luther King Day. Local grade schools, college and universities participated through their community service days to provide in-kind support to the project in a variety of ways- from helping to film and photograph some of our events, to sharing news on social media, to helping inventory and pack some of the African crafts on the Farm, to helping conduct our visitor survey. Charlotte community members volunteer to give tours of the historic buildings and the art on exhibit, and to greet people who come to the Farm for the weekend arts and culture events. In the agriculture sector, the project also intensified its dialogue with the Vermont Department of Agriculture, the USDA, and the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) in 2018 to plan ways to engage "New Americans" (residents of African origin who have recently immigrated to the US and Vermont) in our agriculture and culinary arts programs. Through the USDA, the Clemmons Family Farm received a grant to build a hoop house in 2019. We are planning for this to become a new creative placemaking venue for our community to learn about African American/African Diaspora foods, beverages and spices along with the many cultures, peoples and histories of these foods. Growing horticultural crops used in African-American and African Diaspora cuisine will be a vibrant addition to our culinary arts program and will build a strong link with the agriculture sector. The project has also engaged in dialogue with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to explore an initiative to cultivate "teff"- an indigenous Ethiopian grain that is nutrient-rich and gluten free. It is best known as a grain ground into flour to make "injera"- the spongy flat Ethiopian traditional bread. Teff flour can also be made into the more commonly-known bread, rolls, and other flour-based products on the US American market. Small plots of teff were planted on the farm in 2017 with very good results. In the coming years, the project aims to partner with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, the USDA and Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) to provide opportunities to farmers of Ethiopian and other African origins to cultivate teff and integrate its use into farm-to-table culinary events at the Farm. We are also in dialogue, as mentioned elsewhere, with the Vermont Agency of Transportation and private sector transportation companies to see if we can come up with a sustainable way to help more artists, farmers and visitors who do not have their own means of transportation to reach the farm.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The 2016 Chittenden County Environment, Community,Opportunity and Sustainability (ECOS) Plan includes a discussion of public health research that provides evidence that people who don’t feel connected to their community have a greater risk of depression, illness andaddiction. The Plan notes that in Chittenden County, where the overall population is 91% White, People of Color, especially those who are newcomers to the community, are vulnerable to social isolation. Within the socio-demographic context of a predominantly White community with a low but gradually increasing level of racial and cultural diversity, White residents and People of Color can face different challenges tied to their mental health, physical health and social well-being. The A Sense of Place project leverages the position of the Clemmons Family Farm as one of the few African American-owned farms in the state (it is also one of just 0.4% of such farms in the entire country) and its tradition of offering opportunities for community residents to experience African diaspora arts and culture on the Farm, to address some of these challenges. It is critical to note that the A Sense of Place project does much more than simply offer entertainment or "events". Every program is part of an intentional strategy to develop a loving and supportive multi-cultural community by addressing areas of mental health and social well-being that are closely linked to race, culture, identity, empathy, dialogue and relationships. The events are designed to initiate new or deeper relationships between people that represent just the beginning of an experience and that will continue to develop after they leave the Farm.
The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The "A Sense of Place" project relates to the Chittenden County Economic Development plan in that it seeks to improve community health in all three components (i.e. physical, mental and social well-being) through its African-American/African Diaspora arts and culture programs.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Shelburne Farms, located about 10 miles away, is an inspiring model for this project in that it was once a private-owned farm that transitioned into an educational center and a public space for recreation and culture. However, the inspiration for this project really came not from a project or a place but rather from two specific time periods in history: 1960's and 1970's Vermont, when the Clemmons family- African-American newcomers in an almost entirely-White rural community- found ways to connect and build loving relationships with their local community through informal arts and culture events held on the Farm- the family also connected through farming and cooking together- sharing African-American and African Diaspora cuisine with local residents- many of whom had never met a single person of African descent before coming to know the Clemmons family. Back in the 1960's and 1970's- before cable television and digital phone technology, residents used to enjoy socializing in each other's homes, walking together, spending informal time together- more than they do today. Through the project, we are striving to help residents return to these community-building practices. The second historic time period that has inspired this project is the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's: a time of discovery and exuberance for Black artists who created a rich, immensely creative and profound movement of music, writing, theater, and dance-- a movement that was closely connected to the Black Pride movement, civil rights activism and the social justice movement. It was a time of an explosion of creative and intellectual productivity in the Black community that fostered hope, excitement and economic empowerment for African-Americans and Africans on the African continent. Importantly, the Harlem Renaissance had profound and positive changes in White society and in the collaborations between Black and White artists and intellectuals. The Harlem Renaissance (as we know you know) grew out of the poll taxes beginning in the late 1800s, Jim Crow laws and the oppressive discrimination of the South that prompted the Great Migration to the urban areas in the North and Midwest that began in the 1920s. The current socio-political climate in the US, with the increase in hate crimes, the racial profiling and violence by police, the attacks on the right to vote, and so on are reminiscent of these times. We are inspired that out of the oppressive social context of the 1800s-1920s the Harlem Renaissance emerged as the creative and intellectual response of Black people, creating new economic opportunities and a far more culturally enriching and just society. The A Sense of Place project strives to foster the creativity, learning and multicultural community-building as a way to respond to and overcome social injustice.