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Engaging communities + Grant recipients

Nomadic Civic Sculpture

For  more than 30 years the BSA Foundation has awarded grants to support public education programs in Massachusetts related to the built environment. Urbano Project, Inc.—a 2015 grantee—received a grant to support Nomadic Civic Sculpture. Urbano Fellows created a mobile, interactive sculpture which brought art to unexpected urban spaces, engaging communities in conversations about issues that affect their quality of life. Learn more about Urbano Project, Inc. here.

Urbano Project's summary of the program:

The Urbano Fellows, in collaboration with Teaching Artist Salvador Jiménez-Flores, developed the Nomadic Civic Sculpture (NCS), a dynamic and interactive sculpture that brings art to urban spaces that are frequently left off Boston’s beaten cultural path. Its purpose was to engage residents, business owners and civic leaders around issues that critically affect the quality of life in their communities. In 2016 these issues included public school funding cuts, youth violence, identity, and the use of public spaces.

From May 2016–December 2016, the NCS engaged audiences at 7 public events, and underwent several transformations to accommodate the changing themes and to increase the engagement of the audience.

In these various forms, the NCS traveled to locations in Jamaica Plain and Egleston Square, for example, Egleston Peace Garden, Urbano Studio, Egleston Rock Garden (Stonehenge). It also traveled to Kendall Square, at the request of Cambridge visitors who experienced the Nomadic Home in Jamaica Plain.

An important aspect of the 2016 project was the process through which Urbano Fellows developed the the NCS and planned for the seven public events. In January 2016, Teaching Artist Jiménez-Flores started meeting with the Fellows weekly as they developed the concept and design. The Fellows used research on demographics and social policy as well as workshops with leaders in urban planning and economic development to identify the four themes to be explored with community residents. In addition, Urban Planner Carlos Espinoza-Toro (formerly of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Coalition, now of CJET Consulting) led workshops in which Fellows learned more about engaging community partners and civic leaders, identifying possible locations for arts interventions, and the logistics of attaining permits and permission to hold arts events in public spaces. Contributing to the development of the Urbano Fellow’s leadership skills and understanding of civic engagement through placemaking was a key goal of this project.

Who was the audience and what was the benefit?

Six out of the seven NCS interventions in 2016 took place in or near Boston’s neighborhood of Egleston Square, a vibrant working-class neighborhood on the boundary between the Jamaica Plain and Roxbury sections of Boston. Egleston’s population of 6,785 is predominantly Latino or African American and working-class. We estimate that approximately 700 community members of all ages directly engaged with the NCS at these events, responding to it by writing or drawing their concerns and visions for their community, reflecting, and in some cases, making art. Thousands more likely witnessed the NCS as passive observers or passersby. For example, the NCS took part in the Wake of the Earth Festival, which had an estimated attendance of 10,000. Regardless of the event, the pervasive smiles, curiosity and thoughtful exchanges were striking.

One of the early learnings of the project was that given the large Latino population, it was important to present these arts interventions in both Spanish and English, in order to be accessible to as many Egleston and Jamaica Plain residents as possible.

This project benefited residents by drawing them into public spaces, where their voices were heard and could be added to the dialog between civic leaders, academic experts and business owners concerning the future of their neighborhood. For example, Mayor Martin J. Walsh attended the Egleston Winter Festival. This is important because the low-income residents of color in Egleston have sometimes felt marginalized with respect to local planning and decision-making processes. At the same time, they have been concerned with the challenges of crime and poverty on the one hand, and fears of needing to relocate because of gentrification on the other. This project also benefitted the five Urbano Fellows involved. They gained knowledge and skills from community organizers, business and civic leaders, academics, and urban planners on how to use art, research and relationship building to help improve the quality of life in their community. It was empowering for them to see that their work resulted in such a large positive, public response. Fellows felt that that this project enhanced their leadership skills and their understanding of civic engagement through placemaking.

Image courtesy of Urbano.

How did this program meet BSA Foundation funding goals?

The NCS aligns with BSA’s Healthy Cities and Civic & Community Initiatives in that it engages residents to express their own visions of safe, healthy public spaces. Placemaking events featuring the NCS have attracted residents to public spaces, to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of their local environment, and to add their voice in conversations about its design and future. Through this project, Urbano has brought residents of all ages, elected officials, students, academics, business owners and community activists into the dialogue.

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

The Nomadic Civic Sculpture is a dynamic and interactive sculpture that brings art to unexpected spaces that do not frequently have access to the arts. This sculpture is flexibly designed to serve as a collaborative canvass; an interior space which participants may enter and experience; and a traveling gallery and art-making studio. Through seven events, the NCS engaged residents, business owners and civic leaders around issues that critically affect the quality of life in their communities. In 2016 these issues included public school funding cuts, youth violence, identity, and the use of public spaces.

How did you deliver your program to your target audience?

The NCS was designed to be portable. Not only can it be transported in small U-Haul trailer, it is mounted on wheels, so it can be rolled to locations that maximize access. Thus Urbano Fellows brought the sculpture to festivals and events co-sponsored with community partners, as well as to public spaces in and around Egleston Square, and in Kendall Square, Cambridge. Events involving the NCS also took place at publicized events at Urbano’s home studio in Jamaica Plain.

Image courtesy of Urbano.

Evaluate how well your program met your intended goals.

The NCS project achieved its goal attracting large numbers of thoughtfully engaged residents (approximately 700, with thousands more passersby). Furthermore, participants’ oral, written and graphic responses to the sculpture were impressive for their degree of careful reflection and identification with place. This increased as we learned about engaging our audiences even more, for example, making the sculpture bi-lingual and inviting the audience to make art.

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. On the tour, board members and volunteers will tell stories about how Foundation programs, and the power of design, are positively changing the lives of real people. Foundation Conversations are held on the second Wednesday of every month. Events are free, but seats are limited. Check for upcoming dates and to reserve your seat.