April

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 of all kinds with the ultimate goal of revitalizing the historic Glass Street commercial corridor.

ArtPlace spoke with Director Katherine Currin about the ‘Fake It ‘Til You Make It: Using Art to Shape the Narrative of a Place’ session she hosted with Eric Robertson,President of Community LIFT, during the ArtPlace Creative Placemaking Summit in Miami.

ARTPLACE: How can creative placemakers understand and respond to the essence of a place?

CURRIN: It begins with understanding what connects people to a place – its past, present, and future.

To do this, Glass House turned to our neighbors. We gathered images and artifacts – even the most everyday objects – that served as windows into different times. We recorded memories and created programs that helped us understand where Glass Street had been and where it is going.

By focusing on the qualities of life that our neighbors believe will enhance their community, we are driving a story of change and vitality that is honest and rooted in the essence of this place.

ARTPLACE: What are the first steps creative placemakers should consider to transform a place’s image?

CURRIN: Do people perceive the place to be safe, clean, and inviting? These are precursors to vibrancy. By enlisting artists to lead projects that transform the physical environment, we are bringing life back to Glass Street.

These projects include the installation of street lights, benches, bike racks, and bus shelters, reclaiming green space for community enjoyment, and restoring historic storefronts.

ARTPLACE: How can art be used to drive a new story about a place?

CURRIN:In the early stages of a community revitalization effort, never underestimate the power of a temporary installation. In February of this year, artist Charlie Brouwer borrowed 400+ ladders from individuals, businesses, and organizations for a month-long public art project called Rise Up. For Brouwer, it was about offering a contemporary art experience that engaged the public in its making. For Glass House, it was also about creating new connections between people and this place through art. Rise Up was highly visible standing two stories tall at a high traffic intersection reaching people well beyond the original group of ‘ladder lenders.’

Shortly after the installation was in place a visitor came into our office. Since 1998, he has driven through Glass Street traveling to and from work. Fifteen years later and for the first time, he was out of his car experiencing something more on Glass Street. Rise Up was also a destination point for school groups, a set for a local band’s music video, and a ‘bunch of ladders that seemed to be up for grabs.’

The project directly and creatively addressed a hard truth — this is a neighborhood that has been forgotten along the way. But Rise Up tells a different story.

After 30 days, all of the ladders were returned to their owners or donated to Habitat for Humanity upon request by the lender but the experience created a lasting connection.

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