Public Spaces. Public Art. Public Engagement.
[UPDATE:] I currently work as Curator of Community Engagement at Public Art Saint Paul doing work that intersects, art, environmental design, and community development.
Here are some of the creative placemaking/keeping projects I have led with my Dept. of Public Art (DPA) colleagues throughout the engagement process from conceptualization to implementation in Binghamton, NY. It has been a pleasure co-managing these incredible projects that brought together diverse people and I hope to continue this line of work here in the Twin Cities! My recent and current involvements in the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Community Advisory Committee, CoCreatz BIPOC Advisory Board for a co-creative space, Forecast Public Art, and Research Assistantship for the Upper Harbor Terminal community engagement have inspired me to explore public art more within the context of landscape architecture, sustainable design, and the radical re-imagination of our current social infrastructure.
Community partners I have worked with for DPA: Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse, Broome County Department of Planning, City of Binghamton Mayor, City Council, VINES, Lee Barta Community Center, Broome County United Way, Northside Assembly, reBOLD Binghamton, Southern Tier Solar Works, BU Fine Arts Society, College Progressives, LUMA, Gorgeous Washington Street Association, Alpha Phi Omega Coed National Service Fraternity, Pride and Joy Families, Identity Youth, Cooperative Gallery.
Blight As Our Canvas
Northside Binghamton neighborhood residents wanted to bring attention to the issue of blight caused by neglected vacant properties. In collaboration with the county, artists, and residents, we created a series of moveable mural panels and installed them onto these buildings. Not only did these installations turn the outdoor space into a gallery, it also sparked conversations in the community about ethical revitalization efforts to help us heal from the symptoms of economic depression.
We worked with the Northside Binghamton neighborhood and pinpointed a vacant building they wish to see repurposed into a grocery store. Here we used public art to inform local politicians the urgency of this issue. Using the community’s input, Dept. of Public Art connected with local artists and painted a series of vibrant and colorful food-themed panels, which we installed on the entire empty storefront. A year later, this project had inspired a local entrepreneur to buy the building and opened a small deli and grocery store! Combating food insecurity with the power of community voice through public art is possible!
Social Justice Activism
Over the years, DPA has created opportunities and platforms for community activists to use art as a megaphone to address various social and environmental challenges and have supported many groups with their profound endeavors in racial justice, public safety, mental health, opioid crisis, food justice, climate change, LGBTQ+, feminism, and more. Some of the projects we organized with these organizations include mural panel making sessions, sign making for civic engagement and political marches, and interactive craftmaking using recyclable materials to highlight our natural resources and its inhabitants.
Everyday we see many reusable cardboard boxes get tossed out onto the curbs and in the alleyways of the city. These materials are particularly great for art-making and prototyping. We hosted a series of indoor and outdoor workshops for all ages to teach community members various objects that can be made using discarded cardboard. Together, we have explored ways to make three dimensional animals, abstract sculptures, signs, block letters, and architectural models using this versatile material. We have seen many future architects among the young participants through this project and thusly initiated productive conversations that revolve around urban design. Studying form and space using cardboard materials should be encouraged in grade school!
A number of outdoor mural workshops were organized at Cheri Lindsey Park, Floral Ave. Park, and the waterfront in Downtown Binghamton to help activate these public spaces with abundant people and create a welcoming environment. Sometimes these workshops are tailored to indoor community spaces that ultimately contribute to the outdoor built environment of our parks and the waterfront. Participants learned how to design, prep the walls, grid, paint, utilizing wood panels and pellon cloths as alternative canvases, and projection mapping.
Design Contest / RFP
Back in 2016, we hosted our first ever county-wide mural design contest for local artists in partnership with the City of Binghamton Mayor. Our canvas was the entire rear center wall of the Binghamton Plaza which sits adjacent to the riverside greenway trail connecting Downtown Binghamton and the city park and is also highly visible from the highway on the opposite side. This involved a series of public engagement events at the Cooperative Gallery to solicit input from residents to help us draft the design guidelines for the RFP.
Public Art Festival
Towards the end of 2013, we partnered with reBOLD Binghamton and launched the “reBOLD movement” through our first ever MuralFest in the Southern Tier region. This mobile event visits different sites each year and primarily focuses on underserved areas where residents are seeking public art as a tool to address community development challenges. By turning it into a festival, we believe this will help everyone develop a stronger appreciation for public art, build acquaintance with the local artists, and be inspired to participate as an agent of positive change.
One of the best things that come out of our engagement experience is connecting with community members with various background knowledge. We use this opportunity to intersect their discipline with public art as we strive for innovation. Most recently, I was a panelist at the Solar Art workshop hosted by Southern Tier Solar Works and the Land Art Generator Initiative. The workshop is a part of the new initiative in Broome County that will introduce the nexus between public art and renewable energy in our county’s sustainable planning. This brainstorm session focused on the adaptive reuse of the historic shoe factory in Johnson City as a renewable energy and arts incubator in hopes of creating jobs and training programs for the local residents.
When we are not making public art, we organize pop-ups in outdoor spaces such as the waterfront for artists to showcase their work, sell, and make their own art in public! The setup varies from live-making at their vendor table to live-painting alongside a band performance on stage. Thanks to our local restaurant sponsors, artists don’t need to pay vendor fees to participate and 100% of the sales goes back to the artists.
Special thanks to the people who have helped capture some of these vibrant photographic moments of public art engagements throughout the years, including the following photographers: Patti Schwartz, Matthew Card, Alexis Pleus, Peg Johnston, Joshua Ludzki, and Mark Urban. Hope you enjoyed these photos!