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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 Ryann Holmes, Director of Community Programming at MoCADA, about the Soul of Brooklyn initiative and the program’s goals for the coming year:

ARTPLACE: What has been the thorniest issues you’ve faced to date? How have you dealt with it?

One of the toughest issues to date has been around maintaining the vast number of partnerships that are embedded in the Soul of Brooklyn initiative. To implement events, convenings and website updates, MoCADA had to stay in contact with 32 organizations, nearly 10 business districts and business development groups, and over 40 small businesses throughout the borough. These partnerships are at the crux of the initiative’s success, and managing communication with so many groups and individuals posed a challenge at first.

The key to facing these challenges over the past months has been to build solid relationships with the partnering organizations and local business owners. Streamlining communication and maintaining contact regularly has been key in improving the capacity of our partnerships. By holding quarterly convenings with consortium members, visiting local businesses regularly, and working to establish real relationships where all parties involved feel valuable, MoCADA manages an unprecedented number of meaningful partnerships in a variety of communities.

ARTPLACE: What has been one of the biggest lesson learned with this initiative?

Organizing the Soul of Brooklyn consortium and implementing events over the last two years has truly been a learning experience for MoCADA. Because the project has attracted a high level of resources, it has impacted the museum structurally, and forced the museum to deeply consider the initiative’s role in the institution as a whole. MoCADA has learned that off-site programming is crucial for a community based organization, and reaching residents in their neighborhoods is often the most effective way to introduce new audience members to the museum and to the cultural offerings of their community. This has impacted MoCADA tremendously, and has contributed to the genesis of the museum’s new Diasporan Curatorial Model, which seeks to establish MoCADA’s Main Gallery as a central hub, with programs, events, and exhibitions occurring throughout the community. In addition, the Soul of Brooklyn initiative has encouraged MoCADA to expand its programmatic offerings, and for the first time ever, to establish a separate Community Programming Department with one full time staff member, a consultant and a college intern.

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