GLASSHOUSE_SEPT

Glass House Collective is a Chattanooga-based nonprofit working to revitalize a corner of that former industrial city. Focused on East Chattanooga, specifically a commercial corridor called Glass Street, the group works to bring “life back to Glass Street and Glass Street back to life” through creative projects and events that animate the space. ArtPlace spoke with Katherine Currin, director of Glass House Collective, about how the organization has involved new skills to help overcome challenges Glass House Collective has encountered while engaging participants in creative placemaking.

Is there a new challenge that engaging in creative placemaking presents for you, your organization and the artists who work with you? Are there new skills required?

It’s been shown, time and time again, that artists can be kickstarters for community renewal. They’ve altered the trajectory of declining neighborhoods and even revived places that were down-right dead. It’s undeniable—artists are agents of change. Yet we continue to leave them off of the guest list when it comes to public interest projects that aim to do what artists do best: catalyze community renewal.

Invitation or no invitation, we’re finding that many artists face overwhelming odds when their work comes to confront a maze of city authorities and mandates—not to mention disinterested neighbors. For artists working on public interest projects, asking for forgiveness often feels much easier and appealing than asking for permission.

Hence the rise of guerrilla placemaking movements like Tactical Urbanism. These movements have continued to validate the power of creativity in the community renewal process, and at Glass House Collective, we believe the time is right to make this valuable role official.

That’s why we’re committed to demonstrating how individual artists and the arts can be embedded in public interest projects. To help us navigate the labyrinth of officialdom, we’ve reached out to past employees of the city and individuals with deep experience in political engagement.

The first phase of our initiative invites individual artists to design and fabricate streetscape elements, such as benches, bike racks and bus shelters. To do this, artists will be challenged to express themselves creatively within parameters defined by the city and neighborhood. Like all public interest projects, these include engineering mandates and streetscape standards.

The artists must also satisfy their clients—in this case, every member of the Glass Street community. Their artworks should emphasize the community’s vision for transformation by working in the realm of public space and streetscape planning, designing guidelines for building improvements, and the establishing a brand identity for the district.

Developing these resources has been a new but not unwelcome challenge. Consulting with architects, landscape architects, designers and artists, we’re creating a framework for forging new partnerships and building consensus with the city—one that could be useful well beyond Glass Street.

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