West Park Cooperative Community Land Trust: A.R.i.S.E! (Acquire; Restore; Inspire; Sustain; Engage)

Voice of Calvary Ministries

Funding Received: 2015
Jackson, MS
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months

A.R.i.S.E! (Acquire, Restore, Inspire, Sustain, Engage) is a pilot project of the Cooperative Community of New West Jackson (CCNWJ), in partnership with Voice of Calvary Ministries (VOCM).  The goal of A.R.i.S.E! is to purchase and rehab 40 vacant and abandoned properties in order to incubate neighborhood wealth building opportunities and revitalization through innovative, low budget projects and initiatives for youth programming; cultural education; economic generation, housing solutions and recreational space.  

Our target area focuses on a historically working class neighborhood in West Jackson that has overtime deteriorated into an area marred by poverty, crime and disinvestment with numerous vacant lots, abandoned homes and blighted streets. There are roughly 1,200 people living in the boundary area, 98% of whom are Black and 90% living below the poverty line. Our project will also serve all 520 students who attend Pecan Park Elementary School.

Our neighborhood revitalization model is based on building a resident-led, cooperative community and all activities are created and carried out with resident/client involvement and leadership. Our residents engage with these programs through regular neighborhood meetings, weekend workdays, feedback opportunities, one-on-one listening sessions, and consistent value-driven programming for, by, and benefiting members of the community.

This project is led by a CCNWJ resident as the creative director managing all grant projects, along with a resident construction manager overseeing all aspects of property rehabilitation projects. VOCM contributes fiscal oversight and management through its West Jackson office. “Neighbor Labor” will be employed through all phases of development and volunteers will supplement as needed. 

For us, art and culture are an intrinsic expression relating people to place, and taking on a character that is dictated by community conditions given its historical and socio-economic context. Through it, residents share their collective experiences, embrace their past and determine their future together. Seeing their creative and physical labor put to work to transform their community allows the residents to begin to trust in their ability to develop their neighborhood in the way that best represents who they are. This process to stimulate and enhance creative action is art in itself.

Arts and creative action will be infused through seven low budget, big impact rehab projects developed solely by residents as solutions to some of the socio-economic challenges they face. Residents will lead a core group of local artists (trade artists, youth artists, JSU Art Department, landscape architect, interior designer and film maker) who will ensure each project is leveraging the neighborhoods unique resources as creative assets as they begin to beautify and transform their neighborhood from the inside out. Through a participatory design process, which is the actual art seeking to change, not only the look and feel of a blighted neighborhood, but to restore self-reliance, purpose and creative vision. This values-driven artistic process makes transformation accessible and real for residents.

The first seven projects include a house equipped with a commercial kitchen, graphic design studio, meeting area and an outdoor library housed in a 100 year old oak tree trunk; a youth engagement center designed by youth artists; a cultural arts center with a contemporary and primitive folk gallery and bookstore; a folk arts studio with sewing facility, pottery studio, and wood working shop; a neighborhood park with cool landscaping and half-court basketball hoop that doubles as a stage, which will also provide a variety of arts programming. Each project’s aesthetic will reflect the cultural character of the neighborhood. The additional properties will be held in trust and maintained for future development as the community evolves and opportunities A.R.i.S.E!

The success of this project is when A.R.i.S.E! becomes a catalyst for broad resident participation that will instill self-confidence and commitment to transform the neighborhood. Residents’ participation in creating productive places will stimulate socio-economic growth and increase community interaction. With the completion of each pilot project, residents will feel a sense of empowerment throughout the participatory design and construction processes. Once residents learn how to apply their artistic and cultural expression into the aesthetic of each creative reuse strategy then they will begin to understand that they have the ability to lead their own revitalization efforts. Success will be indicated by the reintroduction of community: how residents interact with each other based upon trust, respect and reciprocity. In addition, success comes from wealth building by holding property in trust and by establishing resident-owned micro economic enterprises that will sustain growth, prosperity and cultural authenticity.