Art + Ecology Community Campus at Brightwalk located at Historic Double Oaks

McColl Center for Art + Innovation

Funding Received: 2013
Charlotte, NC
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
May 12, 2014

By Lisa Hoffman

Team Brightwalk at McColl Center has been spending the past few months behind the scenes planning the Art & Ecology Campus at Brightwalk. These projects are complex in nature with several communities being served that extend beyond geographical bounds and require extensive research, development, and preparation. We are inspired by the charge to build creative placemaking as a field, and the idea of effective evaluation has taken center stage during this next phase of implementation of the Campus. Our intent is to create tools to ensure sustainability and develop ecological, socioeconomic, and process measurements and strategies. An effective evaluation instrument will help the Center achieve EAIR program goals; communicate to the community about the data being collected and its impact; develop metrics for success, and prove through documentation that environmental artists are catalysts for change as well as effective community problem solvers. In the end, we hope to compile best management practices for the burgeoning fields of environmental art and creative placemaking.

Behind the scenes planning requires a lot of work for this initiative. We are honoring the fact that the Campus extends beyond the geographic boundaries of the communities we serve. We understand that the hard work of building trust and receiving community approval is equally important. Working in a planned residential community with public and community partners, installing site specific ecological interventions, integrating into the fabric of Charlotte community life, and managing the logistics and timing of the project are challenging. During the conceptual phase, all artist presentations were well received, but when the time came for final approval for placement and commitment, new concerns arose. Different stakeholders had different ideas about aesthetics, perception of value, and access. For example, key design factors for each installation are functionality, education, access, and full integration into the Brightwalk community and Statesville Avenue Corridor. Access includes considering pedestrians, birds and other urban wildlife, nearby neighbors, vehicles, and new visitors to the community. Time and its interpretation is another issue (e.g. environmental time, resident time, and artist time—none of which actually align). These timing differences impact project and engagement activities keeping the team mindful that every activity has to be well-orchestrated and communicated, and that expectations have to be tempered. Each stakeholder believes in the purposeful intention of this type of innovation, but that does not negate the fact that this inquiry is open-ended and somewhat experimental. Interpreting, translating and applying fosters an environment where teaching, learning and rapid iteration are paramount. Our strength lies in the collaboration; no single entity involved in this initiative has all the answers. Collectively the expertise of the artists, residents, developers, community leaders, those with a vested interested in seeing Charlotte grow even if it is not their neighborhood, engineers, planners, and donors all help advance the vetting process to achieve consensus.

Recent Wins
Our Artist-in-Residence, Aurora Robson (who we were able to engage through our ArtPlace grant), is nearing the end of implementing her semester long course, Sculpture + Intercepting the Waste Stream at Central Piedmont Community College. Students are finishing their sculptures and preparing for an exhibition and silent auction at Brightwalk on May 7 at the Double Oaks Masonic Outreach Center. This exhibition, entitled “Synthesis,” will bring together people from different communities to celebrate art and science and to raise money to support future stewardship efforts at Brightwalk. Keep track of student progress by reading their class blog.

What are the questions yet to be answered? What details are yet to be examined? What would you like to know? These essential queries are key to the development of evaluation instruments that not only benefit program success but also help other organizations develop standards within their own projects.