The Near Westside Initiative, comprised of neighborhood residents and local organizations, is restoring a vibrant urban neighborhood in Syracuse, New York dubbed: the SALT District (stemming from a long history of salt mining in the area). Within the SALT (Syracuse, Art, Literacy, Technology) District, a small neighborhood adjacent to downtown, they are testing the premise that art and culture can unite to create a revitalized community that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but true to the social and cultural values of its residents. Most recently, in partnership with ArtPlace, they have started a new effort called SALTQuarters which will consist of a renovated, formerly abandoned restaurant in the heart of the district into four affordable living quarters for artists, along with three artist studios and a wonderful gallery. As part of the project, two artists in residence will be provided one of the apartments, one of the studio spaces, and a stipend to support their work. These artists, one local, and one national, will spend one year developing professionally and using their craft as a strategy for placemaking in the neighborhood.
ArtPlace recently spoke with Maarten Jacobs, Director of the Near Westside Initiative, about their new project, SALTQuarters, and what is most critical to the success of the project.
ARTPLACE: Is there a new challenge that engaging in creative placemaking presents for you, your organization and the artists who work with you?
JACOBS: One of the biggest challenges that we are facing, as we engage in creative placemaking, is not being everything to everyone on each of our projects. It can often be tempting to squeeze too much into too little; creating a lack of cohesiveness and vision to a project. With many different wants and desires in the community, among residents, artists, and stakeholders, it has been important to remain true to our original vision for SALTQuarters as we get tugged and pulled in different directions.
The concept for SALTQuarters was formed based on a need for more spaces and opportunities for artists to liver, gather, and create their work in a setting that encourages collaboration. Additionally the concept is to use the power of arts to reinvigorate our public spaces by identifying artists, locally, and nationally that have a passion for community-based public art. To stay true to these ideas, the SALT District is working hard to design a space that meets all of those conceptual criteria while also sticking to our mission to create aesthetically pleasing space that are true to the social and cultural values of our residents.
ARTPLACE: Are there new skills required?
JACOBS: The biggest new skill that we are learning is to problem-solve before the problem even arises. What I mean is that we are trying to think through every complication imaginiable, before going to construction on our project, so that we can make the fewest possible mistakes that might cost us down the line (especially when working with a tight budget). The list of complications is long as it will be a space used by may different individual artists, all with different needs and wants when it comes to the way they create their work. This challenge has lead us to work with a variety of artists, in different mediums, to identify their ideal space and spacial needs for the type of artwork they produce. By listening, and taking their guidance, we have avoided making incorrect assumptions and are now able to create an innovative space that will accommodate a variety of artistic means.