Portsmouth , NH

Contact Name
Cathy Sununu
Project Dates
Summer 2011
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2013
Real Estate, Design
'Street a.k.a. Museum' was an exhibition of street art presented by the Portsmouth Museum of Art during summer 2011. Because it was an exhibition of street art, it was important to present the work in context to maximize the value of the exhibition. As such, the Museum worked with private property owners around downtown Portsmouth to obtain permission to use their buildings and properties as "canvas" for the artists to present their work. The works created became part of an outdoor downtown walking tour.

The tour impacted the community in several different ways. It brought visitors to downtown Portsmouth; it stimulated the most vigorous dialog about public art and art in public; and it re-invigorated interest in specific neighborhood revitalization projects.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
The primary goal for the museum was to educate the public with regard to street art. NH is a primarily suburban and rural state and street art doesn't get much exposure here. This was an opportunity to present it here in NH and it was important to give it context by presenting it as one would see it in an urban environment. However, it became clear that this was also an opportunity to highlight forgotten and abandoned spaces. We used the artwork to bring people into neighborhoods prime for revitalization.
Have they changed over time?
The exhibition ran for 18 weeks, then ended. Some of the artworks still remain, others were removed. The exhibition stimulated other similar activities with similar goals and re-invigorated revitalization efforts.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
The Portsmouth Museum of Art is a private non-profit. The key partners in the exhibition were the private property owners who offered their properties as "canvas" for the exhibition. There were also several corporate sponsors. The City of Portsmouth also played a role is helping to facilitate some of the logistics involved in allowing the exhibition happen.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
Artists were selected by the museum.
Sites around downtown Portsmouth were secured.
Artists were assigned locations for their works.
Artists were brought to Portsmouth to create the works.
These were mapped and tour guides were trained to perform the tours alongside the in-museum portion of the exhibition.
The City of Portsmouth was kept apprised every step of the way.
Along the way there were numerous details around logistics, equipment, permits, etc that had to be addressed.
Have they been refined over time?
As in every project, we learn things that might be improved on next time around.
What were your major obstacles?
Assembling the resources for this type of undertaking in a small community was a challenge - both financial and otherwise. Because nobody had ever undertaken anything quite like this in Portsmouth, there was no "blueprint" to follow. Many people could not quite envision what this would look like. As a result some potential funders were reluctant and many private property owner were reluctant to allow their properties to be used for the exhibition.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Getting the "blessing" of the city helped in some case to to get some property owners involved who were on the fence. Persistence in working through the details, spending time and helping to educate potential partners was very important.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Start well in advance of the exhibition, have a clear plan and get your stakeholders, particularly city officials, involved and on board early in the process.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
This projected stimulated the most vigorous dialog about art in public that has ever happened on the NH Seacoast and perhaps even in the state. For a community with a fairly new public art ordinance, this helped advance the conversation and broaden people views about art in public. In addition, it reinvigorated community redevelopment efforts. By using art to bring people into disadvantaged neighborhoods, it reminded people of what might be possible in these areas. One tangible result is that the City of Portsmouth and the Cultural Commission have revisited their commitment to this end and have made it a priority on which they will focus the next two years.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The incredibly vigorous dialog met the Museum's educational goals and the renewed attention to neighborhood revitalization is a larger city objective that was met.
Were there unexpected impacts?
While we expected the exhibition to generate some dialog, it was unexpectedly vigorous and generated an enormous amount of publicity, nationally and even some internationally. The impact went far beyond our local community, putting Portsmouth NH on the cultural map.
CCX Workshop Handout