May

Glass House Collective is a Chattanooga-based non-profit founded to bring life back to Glass Street and Glass Street back to life. GHC gathers talent from in and around the community to develop creative projects and events with the ultimate goal of revitalizing the historic Glass Street commercial corridor.
ArtPlace spoke with Director Katherine Currin about a recent Glass House Collective event.

During the course of your ArtPlace grant, what has been your best event?

Our ArtPlace grant has connected us to a breadth of resources that we otherwise would not have been able to access. Much of that has been directed toward our Feet-on-the-Streets initiative – an ongoing series of creative public events that encourage community involvement. Over the past year, each of our events has furthered our mission in one way or another. But our Better Block event definitely stands out as one of our proudest accomplishments.

Better Block was a daylong event that took place Feb. 23, right here on Glass Street. The goal was twofold: to bring our neighbors together in a profoundly fun and productive way; and to show Glass Street’s incredible potential for transformation. The day featured pop-up shops, live entertainment, art workshops, vendor fair, food trucks and children’s crafts activities. It temporarily changed the face of the neighborhood through new landscaping, crosswalks and café seating. Permanent changes include the installation of banners celebrating the new Glass Street brand, a new community space, and even a second-hand store run by a local resident. The enthusiasm and support from the community was overwhelming; we couldn’t have imagined a better outcome.

How did Glass House Collective come up with the idea for Better Block?

The Better Block project didn’t originate on Glass Street; it has become a movement across the country. Better Block began in April 2010, when a group of community stakeholders revitalized a single block in a vacant neighborhood corridor. The project showed how an area could be revived and transformed in real time.

The Better Block model is free to re-use and build upon, and we thought Glass Street would be the perfect candidate for this kind of event. Although our neighborhood is unique, it faces many of the same challenges that Better Block has addressed in other cities, including safety, health and shared access. So, using previous events as a roadmap, we got to work.

Why was Better Block so special?

Without a doubt, it was the response from the community that made Better Block such a monumental event. For this neighborhood, it has forever redefined the meaning and purpose of a block party. Glass Street was literally swarming with people. All day long, the neighborhood was filled with music, food, laughter, excitement – and a sense of renewal and hope.

It definitely did not happen overnight. Better Block was months in the making: we spent hundreds of man hours conceptualizing, planning and prepping the area. And we couldn’t have done it alone. Contributions from people both inside and outside the Glass Street community put Better Block over the top. We were particularly impressed with the creative and artistic components of the day. The Urban Renaissance Mural Project showcased graffiti as a beautiful and legitimate art form, and it also gave kids the chance to create some of their own. Artist Charlie Brouwer used hundreds of ladders donated by Chattanoogans to create “Rise Up Chattanooga.” For us, the massive sculpture was a reflection of Glass Street – a visualization of the way in which this community is coming together to create something larger than themselves.

What lessons did Glass House Collective take away from Better Block?

Change can happen in a day. Better Block truly transformed Glass Street; while the flurry of activity lasted for just a few hours, this event created an excitement and momentum that is still growing. Part of that stems from the idea that “seeing is believing.” Through Better Block, we essentially brought the future to Glass Street – we were able to show residents and business owners that this is what our neighborhood can look like, every day, if we continue to stay involved and utilize the resources that are available to us.

Better Block Photos (Facebook)

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