Ferry Landing

Old Lyme, CT

Contact Name
ana m Flores
Project Dates
June- September 2018
Tags
Placemaking/placekeeping, Land conservation/use, Cultural Heritage
The Old Lyme landscape, with its conjunction of river, marshes, fields, and forests served as the inspiration for the American Impressionist movement in the early 20th century. I saw a connection between the sustained gaze of these artists and the extraordinary efforts in conservation in the area. “The artists gave the land value for its irreplaceable natural beauty and since the mid 1960’s Old Lyme citizens have responded and worked tirelessly to preserve some of the habitats that lured artists there. The project, Vision Boxes was installed in four special sites in town which addressed this history. The vision boxes were with community partners including local artists and land trusts. The boxes were also interactive, they each had a journal so the public could reflect and respond.
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:
1. To celebrate how the arts cultivate our appreciation of beauty and wonder in the natural world around us and how its impact goes beyond making beautiful objects. Old Lyme provided an excellent case study of how artists in the community made the community aware of preserving the beauty that the artists found there.
2. The Arts can help us see the beauty and diversity of the natural world. If we appreciate something we begin to care for it and this leads to stewardship.
3. Using the arts as a tool to enhance our understanding of the world around us, and as a means of engaging more actively and profoundly with our local landscape.

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):
1.Artist/ coordinator: Ana Flores- responsible for design and coordinating the project with the partners
2.Land trusts: Old Lyme land trust, Old Lyme Open Space, - they each granted permission to use their sites and also were wardens for the boxes.
3. Other partners: Lyme Art Association, Conn. Dept of Energy and the Environment, they each gave permission to use their sites and also were wardens for the boxes
4. Students from Lyme Art Academy helped with installation of the boxes
5. General Public interacted with the boxes by going for walks and responding in the journals
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The project celebrated the importance of open space and the means by which those places have come to be protected. The Vision Boxes reminded people that beauty in the natural world is a solace and irreplaceable- and that artists and writers are often the first
to bring that to public awareness.
The project was also an example of how ecological art and design can illuminate narratives we might otherwise overlook or not be aware of.
The public engagement in the project also promoted health and wellness by encouraging families and individuals to take a walk, and to reflect and respond in the journals. Numerous people told me they had planned a special day to take a walk with their families to see the boxes.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Much of the land and townscape of Old Lyme felt like a 19th century painting. It made me curious to find out whether the fact that the town was known as an art colony where American Impressionism began affected the look of the area 100 years afterward. By investigating this I discovered the links between the art history and the conservation history in town.

My design for “Vision Boxes” is an evolution from another project that I have done over the years called “Poetry of the Wild” which combines working collaboratively with communities to do creative placemarking . The place markers are “poetry boxes: made by local artists, citizens and students which feature poems by local writers and poets . The poetry boxes are installed to make walking trails and each box has a journal for public comments.

Old Lyme’s history of land conservation added a new and interesting layer of seeing how the history of artists in the area and land conservation had braided together. The first example of this kind of connection in this country happened with the Hudson River School Painters. Their work recording the sublime wild places of this new country and helped create an American identity. Their paintings also inspired policy makers to conserve large tracts of land in New York state and out in the West. The first concept of a national park came from the artist George Catlin, a painter who painted the Native people in the West in the mid 1800’s. Catlin was witness to how quickly the land was changing and the demise of the tribes.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
•Walking in the land
•Connecting with the community
•Reaching out to partner institutions and groups
•Continually working on the design of the vision boxes which include being public friendly.
•Getting permissions to install at sites around town
•Outreach to artists in town who wanted to get involved.
•Construction of boxes
•Casting the eye motif which was part of the design
•Recruiting student volunteers for installation of boxes
•Doing public lectures about the project
•Recruiting volunteers that monitor the box and notebooks- called them "Visionaries".
•Doing opening event mid way into the life of the project
•De installing the project
•Planning exhibits and conference events to promote the project
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
The last stage that was designed was to auction the boxes and use the funds to bring urban youth out to the nature refuges of Old Lyme to
do a walk and learn to draw in the field. This stage is in limbo because the University of New Haven is pulling out of the Lyme Art Academy.
To go around this I will be having an exhibit and a talk at the Public library in Old Lyme and try to work out a way or a new connection to
complete the design with urban youth coming out for a field trip and having a drawing session.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
I was initially not getting any community interest from the emails and letters sent out announcing the collaborative community engagement. I think it had to do with the timing and the fact that I was an outsider. It was also a hard winter, and people were either away or not ready to think about a project that was based on walking the landscape.


Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Having two community residents who did respond right away and really believed in the project helped me get over the hump. They were committed to making the project happen and and were persistent about making personal phone calls and visits to get other institutions and individuals interested and involved.
With their efforts and the weather finally warming up in late March I had enough community engagement to move forward. The more people and partners got involved the more others wanted to be a part of it. Because it got off to a slow start I also put back the starting date. The dean of the School, Todd Jokl was very good about reminding me to be flexible and persistent.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1.Have a core group of residents in that community who really believe in your project and have the connections to a broad network. They will know the temperament of the town– its strengths and weaknesses. They will know who to go to for land permits.
2.Make sure you work with a realistic budget and procure the funds ahead of time.
3. Have a team of citizen wardens who watch over these installations, its just one more level of getting meaningful community engagement.
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?
Numerous people who visited the boxes told me that they were very glad to know the history of both land conservation and the artists who were influenced by those places. It reminded people that we should not take open spaces for granted, they also saw the role of artists in community in a new perspective- they don't just create beautiful paintings or things, by promoting the value of beauty, their vision makes us
more appreciative and aware of the world around us.
I believe that the people who visited these boxes have a greater appreciation of how their open spaces are actively curated and don’t happen by chance. They are there because of many factors, including hard diligent work from citizen- stewards.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The state of Connecticut Dept of Energy and the Environment was really excited about the new insights into visitors to their site, they hope to continue this idea by making their own box. The Land trusts whom I worked with were excited to hear from their visitors and that the project encouraged more visitors to walk their trails and discover these sites. For all of these partners, working with an artist was a new thing, they all emerged feeling that the project really promoted each of their missions and gave them new tools to think about for public outreach.
All of the monitors of the boxes reported enjoying their semi-weekly walks to check them and to look in the journals.
How did you measure this success or progress?
1.The number of entries in journals and the fact that several of the notebooks were replaced three times because there was so much activity.
2. The fact that the State of Connecticut and the land trusts saw the value of doing a project like this and began to think about new ways of public outreach and getting people out to benefit from these open spaces. In order to promote this further I will present this at a conference for land trusts, and as mentioned, there will be an exhibit at the Old Lyme Public library.

Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Doing this project has honed my continuing interest in place making, it has made me more committed to illuminating stewardship. From my history of working with and being acquainted with land stewards they are usually older and very reticent about sharing how much they have personally done to put land aside. They see this work just a part of their citizenship and they do it quietly and often “below the radar”. Unfortunately their ethics are getting rarer in our contemporary world. Fewer young people are growing up deeply connected to nature and opportunities to develop that "sense of wonder" which Rachel Carson attributed to her own passion for the environment.
I believe the arts can serve to promote this more intimate connection so that we continue to develop future stewards.