The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) received a 2012 ArtPlace grant for a project called Soul of Brooklyn Block Parties. The program fosters collaboration between arts organizations and small-businesses in an effort to place arts programming at the heart of community building while simultaneously stimulating the local economy. Soul of Brooklyn Block Parties are a part of MoCADA’s Soul of Brooklyn initiative, which promotes the work of 32 African Diasporan arts organizations in the borough of Brooklyn.

ArtPlace spoke with James Bartlett, Director of Community Programming at MoCADA, about the Soul of Brooklyn initiative and the program’s goals for the coming year:

ARTPLACE: 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?

MoCADA: Absolutely. Creative placemaking is inherently a challenge because it involves reinvention of space. It involves transformation. To engage in creative placemaking is to alter the state of a place. Therefore, we have to figure out how to change a place from its usual form, into a gestalt of creativity that stimulates growth and excitement as well as local economies.

Our Soul of Brooklyn initiative puts arts programming in small businesses throughout Brooklyn on a monthly basis. Each month, we choose a different block in central Brooklyn to host these art parties. So, we have the added challenge of both having to create a new space every month, and of branding Brooklyn as a creative place as a whole.

To tackle the challenge of creating a new art place each month, we connect with local merchant associations and arts organizations who know the areas intimately. We then work with these organizations to identify businesses that will best accommodate performances, workshops, and other activities. We involve the other businesses in the area by working with them to create special discounts, tastings, or raffles to maximize the economic impact of the events. Each event poses it’s own unique challenges. By involving local organizations we are able to navigate these hurdles more easily.

One of the ways we have tried to develop an overall sense of place, despite the fact that our events change location, is by utilizing the internet as a connective third rail that keeps people engaged between events. At each of our art parties we have a photography station where a photographer takes candid portraits of many of the people who attend the events. These photos are then posted to Facebook and people are encouraged to tag and comment on the photos. These portraits have been a huge success, not only because thousands of people view the photos, but also because the many recurring faces add a continuity to the event as it travels from place to place.

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