Multilectual Daily Online Magazine focusing on World Architecture, Travel, Photography, Interior Design, Vintage and Contemporary Fiction, Political cartoons, Craft Beer, All things Espresso, International coffee/ cafe's, occasional centrist politics and San Diego's Historic North Park by award-winning journalist Tom Shess
Thursday, November 13, 2014
CELEBRATING THE ROLE OF THE CITIZEN ARTIST
Community Development in the Context
of Art: North Park and the Citizen Artist
By Lynn Susholtz and Leslie Ryan
Editor’s note: At this juncture in North Park’s renaissance from run-down to
written-up, it is a good time to refocus attention on artists and the cultural
workers who make communities more livable and lovable today; to ask what it
looks like for artists to invest in a place. What is next?
The New York
Times has declared that North Park is one of San Diego’s “most vibrant and
diverse districts” with what the Los
Angeles Times calls a “hipster vibe.” Forbes
has ranked it one of America’s hippest neighborhoods, home to local, artisan
food, art events sponsored by local businesses and art galleries, historic
architecture, and quirky storefronts.
always a cool place.
Lessons of history. North Park is a redevelopment
success. Thirty years ago inexpensive Craftsman houses were disappearing to
make room for “Huffman six-packs,” a label that accurately described the shape
of the apartments and their developer. There were more bars on the windows than
not, and cars parked on dry front lawns.
In 1978, California’s Proposition 13 had
eviscerated public budgets for parks and community services. City employees
managing the local recreation center considered the assignment to be a
punishment rather than a coveted position, and a small but persistent gang
problem reinforced issues of safety and security for the community.
Craftsman houses are being lovingly restored, bars describe the dozens of craft
breweries and restaurants rather than lock-down façades, and front yards are
carefully landscaped with vegetables or boldly-textured succulents. Pawn shops
have given way to skate shops, and delicious waffles are served in a former
driveway. North Park is a “bastion of creativity” and a success story for the
City of San Diego.
Birth of Success. This transformation, or revolution,
was led by a handful of North Park artists, historians, journalists, businesses
and home owners who had each decided that they wanted to make North Park into a
place worth living in, and by encouraging arts and public culture it would
become a place worth loving (again).
Located at University Avenue at Herman (near 32nd St) in Historic North Park
community we have now is the outcome of decisions and actions made before our
time – it is important to ask about how what we make now will shape the future
of this place. A cross-institutional group of faculty and students contributed
imaginary visions of North Park as a community of very local food production in
Eat Here Now (2012). This exhibit was linked to the garden Lynn constructed
behind Art Produce, transforming an asphalt and concrete parking lot into an
urban patch of guavas, figs, eggplant, basil, and tomatillos. Rainwater is
captured and stored under new permeable paving, providing water for much of the
year, and the local farmer’s market spills over into the garden each week.
in North Park emerged through the efforts of many people. We were part of an
informal group with members who formed and re-formed in various configurations
as opportunities and issues arose in the community. The shared goals were not
wanted a culturally rich place to live and work, with safe streets and schools,
and coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores within walking distance of
where we lived. Believing that communities need physical places to meet and
gather, we started a “First Friday” open house at Lynn’s house and invited
neighbors and local politicians to hash out ideas and concerns and discuss what
we wanted for the future of our community.
theorist Michael Sorkin (2001) has written, “there is simply no substitute for
the physical spaces of public assembly…The internet is great, but it ain’t the
Piazza Navona: free association and chance encounter still demand the meeting
of bodies in space. Embodiment is the condition of accident and accident is a
motor of democracy” (p. 186).
and individually, we made impassioned and repeated suggestions and arguments
for designating and identifying North Park as an Arts and Culture District. In
1998, the title became official, and now is one of the primary elements in the
current draft of the City-mandated North Park Community Plan Update.
advocated for inclusion of artists on design teams, especially on public
improvement projects such as bus stops, sidewalks, bridges, bike racks, and
neighborhood entry markers. We lobbied our council representatives to increase
the funding available for small business owners in the City’s Façade Rebate
Program if an artist was involved in the design process. Art Produce became a
pilot project for including public art in façade improvements, and
subsequently, dozens of storefronts were transformed with paint, new windows,
tile, awnings, and street trees.
and local historian taught us about the value of the front porch as a place to
meet and gather, an insight Lynn applied to the gallery at Art Produce, a long
storefront with art, art-goers, and art-makers interacting with the
street.The gallery became a porch to
the living room of the street, a “pedestrian gallery” that is accessible to the
urban flâneur, and also pedestrian in the sense of participating in everyday
life of the community. The transparency of the façade allowed for art to be
experienced close to home, close to schools, and on the way to the bus stop.
advantage of the police chief’s new interest in neighborhoods and supported a
police storefront in the North Park Community Park, which over the years had
become virtually abandoned except by gangs and illegal activities. With new
sources of public funding available and in partnership with the local community
association, Lynn and Stone Paper Scissors enacted an arts-based curriculum at
the park’s Recreation Center that engaged underserved children and their
families in art, dance, theatre, and environmental design classes, and turned
the center into a vibrant after-school arts place in the process. The classes
contributed to the planning of a new elementary school and playground for the
park, becoming unofficial design charrettes led by children and families from
socio-economic groups and communities of color, and those who were new
immigrants to the region, whose interests tend to be underrepresented in
Parking Lot AFTER 2013
Parking Lot BEFORE 2010
the public funding stopped after four years, Lynn continued to offer free art
classes, and has “graduates” of her classes now matriculating with art and
design degrees from major universities. Lastly, we joined and attended City
Council meetings, the North Park Planning Committee, the North Park Recreation
Council, the North Park Community Association, the Business Improvement District,
the Redevelopment Project Area Committee, and the Sustainable North Park Main
Street Committee. The success of North Park is a story of personal investment
in a place. Being citizen artists meant we adopted not only our poetic licenses
but citizenship in a place.
Side Effects to Success--There are side effects, however, to
success. While funding for arts and culture has tightened in general over the
past decade, we have seen the available public money being directed to other
communities as North Park is left to be nurtured by dispassionate market
bookstores and used furniture shops have given way to numerous brew pubs,
upscale restaurants, and market-rate artist lofts that many artists cannot
afford. Rents overall have increased drastically, and artists are leaving the
community they built for other neighborhoods elsewhere. A thriving business
district is essential for the health and well-being of our community, but
resilient communities are diverse, which means laundromats, pawn shops, thrift
stores, dentist offices, and affordable housing are important too.
cannot single-handedly make a community. Artists grow social capital, and while
social capital generates economic success, the reverse is less often true. In a
recent interview, MacArthur Genius recipient, Rick Lowe, of Houston’s Project
Row Houses spoke of how the era of community arts, when artists were in a
community because they wanted to be part of a neighborhood, has been replaced
with art as a “social practice” that is often more concerned with establishing
credentials than lasting change. “Is social practice,” he asked, “gentrifying
community arts out?”
What is next? At this juncture in North Park’s
renaissance from run-down to written-up, it is a good time to refocus attention
on artists and the cultural workers who make communities more livable and
lovable today; to ask what it looks like for artists to invest in a place. What
is next? In the spirit of Claus Oldenburg’s 1961 “I Am For…” non-manifesto for
the arts, and Tom Tresser’s call for artists to participate in public life, we
offer our own non-manifesto for community development in the context of art,
and suggest that it is time for YOU, fellow artist, to:
Show up at
every community meeting you possibly can attend – especially meetings
concerning neighborhood planning, policy and funding – and stay until the very
end. There is typically a dearth of creative ideas and solutions, and it is
usually the last person in the room making the decisions that could mean $$ to
activate public facilities and public spaces (they are public, after all!)
including streets, schools, sidewalks, recreation centers, and parks. Linger.
Find a porch and sit on it. Get to know your neighbors.
door to children – every child. There are very few free or low-cost cultural
activities available to neighborhood kids, especially teens, who are often open
to a community mentor/artist/caring adult, particularly if there is a cool
place for them to hang out with each other.If they learn to direct their energy towards recreating and bettering
their own community, they will also care for and protect it.
fellow artists (this may be harder than you think), designers, architects, and
other creative thinkers to begin to re-envision and re-consider the
neighborhood. Use your studio/house/yard/garage/local public facilities,
churches, and empty storefronts to showcase local artists, performances,
sustainable environmental practices, and pop-up exhibits.
tree, or two trees, or a tomato so the streets are cooler and more beautiful
and promising, and so others want to be there as much as you do.Put chairs and benches and planter boxes on
the sidewalk for public use.
flexible and do most things incrementally when possible.Remember that whatever has improved (or
gotten worse) will continue to change.
past mistakes, missed opportunities, and successes.
and design opportunities for diversity and equity – social, economic,
environmental and cultural – because laundromats, art galleries, schools,
churches, yoga studios, barber shops, thrift shops, and, yes, brew pubs, all
contribute to a resilient and multi-dimensional community.Remember that someone who makes your
community (or your dinner) what it is, may need what you don’t, and deserves to
have it available in their own neighborhood too.
poet Gary Snyder who wrote “find your place on the planet, dig in, and take
responsibility from there.”
skills you have as an artist and improvise, invent, and take risks. Become a
community resource. Teach what you know; learn what you can; share knowledge.
No one’s going to do it for you, or represent your interests except you….and if
you don’t do it, who will?
About the Authors
Lynn Susholtz has lived in the San Diego region
since 1980 and is the owner of Art Produce and Stone Paper Scissors.Art Produce is an activist business enterprise
and community cultural center that connects artists, cultural organizations,
schools, urban farmers and local businesses. Stone Paper Scissors integrates
community voice and vision into the cultural and physical landscape through
public art and education. Lynn’s studio art practice ranges from mixed-media
drawings to sculptural installations.
Susholtz (left), community artist, and Leslie Ryan, landscape architect, began their
design collaboration in 1995 with a city contract to update the General Development
Plan for the North Park Community Park, awarded to Lynn’s art and education
business, Stone Paper Scissors. They jointly worked on the design and planning
for the park overall; the first phase of construction was Lynn’s design for a
tot-lot and playground. It was the first time an artist-led team was selected
as the prime consultant on a Capital Improvement Project. This was a huge leap
for the City, but not for a community where the artists were seen as more
responsible and responsive to local needs than the City’s engineers.
As a North
Park business and home owner, Lynn has been deeply embedded in the community.
In 1999 she renovated the boarded-up North Park Produce market building and
transformed it into Art Produce, an art studio, pedestrian gallery, learning
lab, garden, and café where the community is invited to contribute to an
on-going conversation about public culture. It since has been recognized by and
received awards from an array of local and national arts, urban design,
educational organizations and public agencies.
is a collaboratory of experiments in public culture. One example is Voices:
Mapping the Hood (2009), an extensive project involving Eveoke Dance Theatre,
TranscenDANCE Youth Art Project, and North Park Main Street. College students
and school kids interviewed new immigrants to the neighborhood, business
owners, long-time residents and visitors, and made collages that collectively
told the story of the place.
created OurSpace, a potlatch or gift exchange, where community members could
share objects, words, and images with each other. Another exhibit, The Future
Imperfect of Cities, Landscapes, and Dreams (2010) opened as North Park
initiated the process of updating its Community Plan. The exhibit integrated a
public discussion and workshop about community development in the context of
art, rather than sidelining art as a separate element of a larger plan.
Leslie Ryan (left) is a second-year Ph.D student in
Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University. She received a
research degree (Master of Environmental Design) from Yale University’s School
of Architecture (2006) and a B.S. in Landscape Architecture from Cal Poly
University, San Luis Obispo (1988). Her thesis at Yale received the Porter
Prize, the top University-wide award for original scholarship on a subject of
general interest. Leslie is the recipient of the Rome Prize in Landscape
Architecture (1995), and has received a Graham Foundation Grant for book
research on the ecological artists Helen and Newton Harrison. Her writings on
relationships between art and land use practices have been published in Places
Journal and the Journal of Environmental Philosophy.
Leslie established Hybrid, one of the first galleries participating in Ray at Night,
a neighborhood art walk that is still going, attracting hundreds of visitors
each month. Her engagement with the arts and culture of North Park has
continued with the co-presentation of exhibits and public conversations at Art
The Fall 2014 issue of CultureWork:
A Periodic Broadside for Arts & Culture Workers focuses on the active
engagement of citizen artists committed to a specific neighborhood in San
Diego, California.How does one grow an
arts organization while also growing and expanding an engaged local
neighborhood through events, exhibits, and aesthetically pleasing experiences
and surroundings as well as public cultural policy? How does one do this in a
way that does not gentrify but that builds over years of commitment to a sense
of place and people, embracing those who live and work there and who seek
expression through dancing, gardening, policy making, and educational
engagement?Learn more about the corner
called Art Produce in the North Park, San Diego neighborhood in which authors
Lynn Susholtz and Leslie Ryan have lived and worked for the past 20 years. –Intro text by Julie Voelker-Morris and
Robert Voelker-Morris, editors, CultureWork