Providence, RI

Contact Name
chris ackley
Project Dates
April 2012--present
In 2012, ONE Neighborhood Builders embarked upon a project to comprehensively develop the Olneyville Square commercial district. Through beautification efforts, marketing and branding, merchant organizing, and capital improvements ONE NB and our partners have created meaningful changes in the perception of Olneyville Square for both community members and the larger Providence population. Significant emphasis has been placed on working with local artists on amenities such as banners, planter boxes, trash cans, and signage. Our most significant piece of artwork, a large tile and glass mosaic, was unveiled in October 2015 and has created an anchor work of art for the neighborhood. This was a long and complicated project, but well worth the wait.
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:
ONE Neighborhood Builders looked to involve the Olneyville arts community in the larger revitalization of the Olneyville Square commercial district. The neighborhood had so many incredible assets, but suffered from a bad reputation due to the efffects of decades of disinvestment. Our goal was to highlight the strengths and potential of the commercial district as a symbol of the larger neighbohrood.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
We realized that there were some aspects of commercial district redevelopment that we could control and others that we could not. Learning to tell the difference and maximize our effectiveness in those areas has created more impact.
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):
ONE Neighborhood Builders and the Dirt Palace were the two main partners in this project. However, additional funding and technical assistance for the project came from Rhode Island Housing, Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, Providence Art Culture Tourism and even NEFA through their Creative Economy Award!
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Physical Fabric was identified as a major community development strategy by residents and stakeholders as pat of a comprehensive community study in 2009. Many of our efforts have been guided by the idea that residents want Olneyville to look better, and to take pride in the place where they live.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Downtown Providence has been very active in the last several years installing significant public art pieces. These place making initiatives put a signature on certain areas and quickly become functional points of reference as well as local points of pride. We had been successful in incorporating the arts community in smaller-scale projects in Olneyville, but saw an opportunity to create our own signature art piece in the mosaic project.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
A local artist came up with the concept and design for the project, then it became a matter of fundraising, and finally the logistical challenges of dealing with permitting, contractors, deadlines, etc. around installation and completion. Finally, we were able to unveil the completed project as part of a community block party to celebrate the new neighborhood addition together.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
With any project, no matter the size, there are setbacks and unforeseen circumstances. The bigger the project, often times the bigger the setbacks. This created many challenging situations that involved extra time and effort to resolve.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Fundraising was a major obstacle. Then, dealing with all of the strings attached to different funds such as Davis Bacon regulations, building code violations, and environmental factors.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Working with partners who had different sets of contacts and relationships that were able to provide support and technical assistance during the different steps of the process.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Keep lines of communication open between all parties involved.
Try as best you can to think through all aspects of the project before implementation
Celebrate the accomplishment with the community
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?
The larger Square One Initiative has made a definite impact on the area. We have formed stronger relationships between the business community, the prevalent arts community, and neighborhood organizations. Whenever possible we try to have these groups interact together. By helping to change the perception of Olneyville, we change the behavior of both residents and outsiders.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We consider the larger Square One Initiative a success because it continues to function four years in. Local businesses support the efforts and new projects have been layered on existing conditions year after year. We consider the Dirt Palace Mosaic project a success because it happened! Also because our interviews with the community overwhelmingly show that they appreciate the completed project.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We conducted neighborhood surveys at two separate points in the project to asses peoples perceptions about the commercial district--if they thought things were getting better in Olneyville, and if they thought Olneyville Square looked like a nice place. In both cases they said yes more often after the completion of the Dirt Palace Mosaic and other projects. We also asked patrons of the Square if the Dirt Palace Building added value to the Square both before and after the mosaic project and patrons said yes more often with the completed mosaic in place.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Based on the success of our Square One Initiative in Olneyville we are now trying to launch a similar program in another Providence neighborhood. We have another major project in mind and are currently recruiting partners and looking for funding.