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Engaging communities + Grant recipients

Nipmuc Design for Empowerment

For over 30 years the BSA Foundation has awarded grants to support public education programs in Massachusetts related to the built environment. University of Massachusetts Amherst—a 2015 grantee—received a grant to support Nipmuc Design for Empowerment. The project engaged in a regenerative and hands-on design process for community empowerment, towards the creation of a Nipmuc Community and Education Center. Learn more about Nipmuc Design for Empowerment here.

Nipmuc Design for Empowerment's summary of the program:

  • Hands-on workshop and planning event with the Nipmuc community
  • Informational posters for use by the Nipmuk Cultural Preservation group
  • Hands-on 3/8” concept model for a largely hand-buildable 4000 sf building
  • Professional video documentation of proceedings (ongoing, see below)
  • Successful application for a UMass Public Service Engagement grant ($12k awarded May 2016)

Who was the audience and what was the benefit?

The hands-on workshop and planning event (May 1, 2016) involved about 20 people to plan, of which about 12 were able to attend on that date (many members—even the youth—work long hours and on weekends, with many other volunteer commitments). The core Nipmuc community in the Worcester area is about 100, the regional community about 1000, nationally about 3000. Workshop participants, while not as numerous as we had hoped, were very interested and enthusiastic, voicing willingness to help recruit for subsequent events that we have scheduled—a core of volunteer leaders. Coverage of the event went to more than 700 members who follow the NCP Facebook page. While it is clear that building widespread community involvement will take time and incremental steps, this grant and workshop has clearly put the community in position to receive further grants and to gain visibility and other kinds of support, which will in turn build their self-confidence in moving the process forward.

Image courtesy of Roberto Mighty.

How did this program meet BSA Foundation funding goals?

We achieved the first four of the foundation goals in what felt like an appropriate way: Elevating understanding of architecture and the built environment; of the process of planning, design, and construction process; providing hands-on planning and design opportunities for a wide range of individuals and awareness of the role they can play in all of the above; supporting an extant desire for environmental sustainability and resiliency in design and community planning. Receiving the PSEG grant embodies one “ripple effect” of the fifth goal, however, continuing work is needed for expanding engagement and empowerment within and beyond the immediate community.

What was the final product of your BSA Foundation grant-funded program?  

The informational posters were used as the basis for discussion at the workshop, and left with the group afterwards—they have since been displayed at several regional pow wows that are widely attended. Workshop images have been used for on-line publicity and further grant application. The architectural model will be displayed and used for further development in workshops scheduled for Spring 2017. Video work is still in-progress—BSA funds also paid for subsequent video-taping of Nipmuc interviews at a newly gifted land parcel and of a public lecture and announcement of the land transfer in Petersham, Massachusetts.

How did you deliver your program to your target audience?

Via the workshop we substantively discussed community-based sustainable design while cultivating not only a shared love of making, but trust in our emerging working relationship. Loaded with art supplies, we began with mutual self-portraits—scale figures for a hands-on architectural model at 3/8”= 1’. While busily making, we got the group—which included a hospital administrator, teachers, grandmothers, healthcare workers and a truck driver—to imagine doing stuff in a Culture and Education Center, and to reflect them in the figures. Together we then assembled an architectural model based on a module inspired by Native American structures, wrapping up with further discussion about next steps.

Image courtesy of Ray K Mann.

Evaluate how well your program met your intended goals.

The process and products enabled by the grant were a solid first step in face of such a grand endeavor. The perceptiveness and manual/spatial skills brought forth in the working group was fantastic, while also positioning us to receive a prestigious UMass grant which will substantively further the work and pursuit of capital grants and fund-raising in the next stage. It also better prepared the group for when the land gift emerged, enabling us to proceed immediately towards further project planning and full-scale prototyping workshops. The donor was particularly enthusiastic about the collaboration that was evident from this grant.

Provide a brief summary about leadership:

The primary collaborators were the Nipmuk Cultural Preservation non-profit. Fred Nippi Namos Freeman and David Tall Pine White were the primary contacts, though other members were also active in organizing and attending events. In addition I was assisted by Matthew Sutter of 4Mat Design, a graduate of the UMass Architecture Program specializing in Design/Build training, as well as by UMass Honors student Lindsay Todaro. Video-taping and photography was provided by well-known videographer Roberto Mighty, and will be completed as part of the UMass grant for public dissemination.

Additional developements

The seven informational posters are based on the following themes:

  • Past and Present
  • Vernacular Typologies
  • Precedents Research
  • Vernacular Implications and Typologies
  • Sustainable Building Construction Materials and Systems
  • Engaged Design and Construction Processes
  • Strategies and Stakeholders

See event announcements and coverage on:

See mention of ongoing Nipmuc work by Roberto Mighty:

News article about gifted land:

To learn more about how the BSA Foundation is making an impact in communities, please come to BSA Space for a one hour “tour” of BSA Foundation programs. Meet with Foundation leaders and volunteers to learn broadly about the Foundation’s work and its impact. Foundation Conversation meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month. Events are free, but seats are limited. Check for upcoming dates and to reserve your seat.