WHP_APR

Watts House Project, an arts neighborhood redevelopment organization based opposite the historic Watts Towers, has acquired three neglected houses and is re-creating them as The Platform, an artist work site, programs hub, and exhibition venue woven into the fabric of the area.

Programs Director Trinidad Ruiz updates us on their progress:

This month, ArtPlace asked us to consider three key strategies for creative placemaking. Preceding our response to this question and a week before we posted this blog, WHP’s Executive Director, Edgar Arceneaux, resigned after an LA Times article highlighted residents’ dissatisfaction with the progress of some of the building and home improvements on 107th Street in Watts. Although this is not the forum to discuss or refute what the LA Times article reported, the question that ArtPlace posed was poignant in its timing and its response goes to the heart of what WHP is doing in the community.

On April 9th, Edgar organized a meeting with residents on 107th Street to discuss his departure and the issues raised in the article. I cataloged many of the complaints and a common theme threaded each issue: residents wanted inclusion…to be counted, not only as participants but as active stakeholders in the organization’s well-being and success. A radical shift happened in my thinking about public engagement and the nature of social practice that night. Indeed, what are the three keys to creative placemaking?

In my opinion, the three keys of creative placemaking for WHP are: proactive listening, arts solutions with effective collaboration and effective communication. These are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe each key needs to be turned simultaneously to entice neighbors to open their closed doors and mitigate mistrust. Listening to residents and truly hearing and addressing any voiced issues must be a priority. As outsiders, being proactive by asking questions of our neighbors and encouraging a conversation is our responsibility and one that we have to initiate. Listening allows for appropriate adaptation to situations and it opens the door for our collaborators — be they residents, artists or architects — to find a voice within WHP.

“Arts solutions with effective collaboration” means using an artist’s approach to challenges: pinpointing problems, finding creative solutions and inviting the community to participate. By applying this approach, we open this process of investigation and creative problem solving to our collaborators. As an artist, the art is not in the thing, but in the process. Let’s empower individuals to take ownership of the process and ownership of the solutions. This encourages transparency and we need to be transparent, especially because WHP operates in the community. Inviting more voices into the process can be an enriching experience. The challenge is knowing how to best manage this process. This is an important key for WHP in creative placemaking.

Lastly, ‘communication’ is one of the most important keys for creative placemaking for WHP. Communication with residents, collaborators, neighborhood organizations, local stakeholders, and community leaders is a ‘nuts and bolts’ aspect of community organizing. Ultimately, this is what WHP is doing in the community. We are community organizers but with an art and design approach. Therefore, truly knowing the neighbors we work with and the community around is crucial. Ultimately, the article in the Times showed how important communication is for an organization hoping to do good things in a community. How? It showed the pitfalls of miscommunication.

Lastly, I wanted to leave you with good news. On the 31st of March, WHP, in collaboration with Urban Plunge, organized a major Volunteer Day (see image above). We landscaped the Flower House and repaired the driveway at the Cerant House, plus demo’d the interior of two homes at the Platform in preparation for the rehabilitation coming next month. We’d like to thank Eric Chen, Kassandra Sid, all of the volunteers from Urban Plunge and WHP’s volunteers who came out last month.

Until next month!

Image: Volunteers demo the Platform on March 31st, 2012. Courtesy of Watts House Project

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