Last year, we announced a Social Practice Initiative of Living Resources and Grand Central Art Center. Living Resources, a outreach of a California-based nonprofit organization, teamed up with GCAC to provide a pilot-program grant and housing to community-driven “creatives” (artists, architects, social activists) – the original call that was sent out can be found here (http://www.grandcentralartcenter.com/?p=2800).
Specifically, the “creatives” selected for the grants were awarded a one-year opportunity to engage the residents in one of two affordable housing communities in Southern California and Arizona, to ignite social change through sustainable practices and programs. The communities to be engaged included Warwick Square Apartments, a 500 unit family property located in Santa Ana, and Whispering Pines Apartment, a 325 unit family property located in Phoenix. The creatives selected were given housing (or a housing stipend), a working stipend, and a small budget to execute their projects.
As a pilot program, we want to give the projects a little time to unfold, a chance to connect, and some space to develop before we began to share the projects through our social media. We are now at the moment when we are ready to begin sharing some of the activities that have taken place to date.
Through our open call Living Resources application process, we selected three “creatives” to receive the pilot year grants. The artists selected to engage with the residence of the Warwick Square community were the Santa Ana local based creative team of Angelica Gomez and Joseph Linnert. Selected to engage with the residence of the Whispering Pines community was Phoenix based artist Erin Sotak.
Angelica and Joseph’s Warwick Square proposal revolved around the development of sustainable gardens created in multiple location of the property. They hit the ground running, organizing a community meeting in October and sharing their vision with residences excited to participate. They introduced themselves to the community and shared their diverse backgrounds, explaining the roles they foresaw taking as garden coordinators spearheading the project. The team introduced a few community collaborative partners invited to the meeting who they felt could be involved in the project and bring greater resource and outreach. They shared a few movie clips of community gardens that have been created nationally. Angelica and Joseph asked the residence in attendance four simple questions: 1) What is your vision for the garden? 2) How do you see your role in the garden? 3) What knowledge do you have that you may be able to contribute to the garden? 4) What tools and resources do you feel are needed to develop a sustainable garden? And during the meeting they broke into small group conversations to discuss overall vision and planning.
In November, they organized a second community meeting. They took walks around the complex with residents of the community, working to identify the perfect locations of the gardens to be developed. Sharing the expanded vision, Angelica and Joseph talked about plans of moving forward together, addressed concerns residents had and the visions they all shared for what a successful garden would mean to each. They began early programs of the garden with residents, like there Adopt a Seed project – starting the process of planting that would then be transferred into the garden. They held series of fun creative workshops with arts and ceramics, as well as workshops on nutrition and planting techniques. They have been collaborating on-site with the Project Access resource center, which has been at Warwick for many years, serving the community as a resource for education, employment and empowerment.
With the two sites selected for gardens, and with the support of the property owners and management teams, they began the process of clearing the plots. They began successfully working with the residents, a great group of community volunteers, and the recent addition of an student intern from Cal State Long Beach, to clear and prepare the sites. Through a generous donation of Home Depot, they were able to secure landscaping bricks and began the process of building the raised garden areas.
And over the last few weeks, they have been active with the community in planting the first of their two new collaborative garden. It is really beginning to take shape!
You can follow the progress of the garden through the Warwick Square Community Garden Facebook page, online at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Warwick-Square-Community-Garden/724290180992148
Mean while, over in Phoenix, Arizona, Erin Sotak has been busy working on community engagement strategies to get residencies out and more active in the Whispering Pines complex. The apartments are a more recently acquired property of the ownership team, so the resources available in Warwick, such as the Project Access resource center, were not in place upon Erin’s arrival. The landscaping of the property was extreme desert minimum, with very little shade, outdoor activity area or places that encourage resident to be outside and gatherer.
Erin began to talk with individuals, the adults and children in the complex, and work through dialogue strategies to engage the residence more completely. She used the community newsletter to do a more formal introduction of herself and her background, sharing a little of her desires for her engagement.
She began to organize community gathering events – Ghostbusters movie night, a Halloween party, bingo nights, and Pre-Christmas they had a visit and portrait event with Santa, with final portraits printed and distributed to the children and parents.
In the apartment the residency program provided to her, she created a gathering and creative activity center for the youth of the community, as they continue to do daily activities – coloring, drawing, making Christmas ornaments, Valentines cards, paintings, stain glass tissue vases, reading club, countless board and card games. She has also be encouraging more outdoor activities with in the community, organizing games of hide n’ seek, manhunt tag, four square and kickball. In the front office of the complex they developed a community library, with residents not only borrowing books, but donating them as well.
The children in the community have also been active with the beautification of the complex, completing a fence for a garden area and planting succulents over their holiday break. A new matching bench was installed adjacent to the garden.
The youth designed garbage cans for the apartment complex, with the first donated steel drum receptacle recently completed – anyone who desired to participate drew a “litterbug” on the can and signed a promise to not litter. The drawings were so charming, Erin is developing a plan to transfer them to archival drawing paper and frame them for the community.
Erin has also been taking advantage of the institutional resources that exist within a close proximity of the complex, arranging field trips for the youth of the community. Most recently the group visited the Arizona Science Center for the day, getting a tour and hands-on experiences. Just this week they scheduled a visit and tour of the Phoenix Art Museum – with education department kindly waived the entrance fee for the group.
Erin has been listing carefully to the desires of the community and is in the process of gathering and reviewing bids from contractors for the creation of a basketball court-play zone area. She has been using her skill set from years of creating community-based projects to work toward the donation of the equipment and installation needed to make this a reality.
As the property begins to develop its own Project Access location, Erin has been working hand-in-hand with the onsite director of the resource center, developing further strategies of bringing community together for more successful and sustainable outcomes.
To date, everything seems to be moving forward in extremely positive directions and we are excited to see where our creatives-in-residence and their community collaborators journeys lead together. It definitely has been a learning process for all involved, and knowing it would be, we left a lot of openness and flexibility in the process on the front side. The GCAC and Living Resources teams are proud of how the pilot program has developed to date and are already in conversations about moving things forward, so we will be sure to let you know more details once we are ready to make them public.