'Placemaking' Invites Collective Stories in Text, Images


In my last blog post, I referenced Art in the Barn as a specific example of the Goshen community giving expression to a variety of voices that make up a wonderfully complex yet harmonious narrative. Before looking at additional examples of local people or work that contribute to this conversation, however, I think it is helpful to first consider the role of placemaking in facilitating discussions about the function of art and design in a given community. Placemaking is a term that was new to me until I began working on my Master of Fine Arts thesis a few years ago. At the time, I was interested in looking at ways in which graphics -- part of our visual language -- serve as communication tools in the environment, and how public art and design subsequently work together.

As I soon discovered, the concept of placemaking creates a framework for talking about art and design in public spaces. More specifically, placemaking is about creating connections to place, revealing meaning about places and spaces that are part of our environment and recognizing the characteristics that mark an environment as unique.

Of course, I firmly believe that art and design can provide a means of connecting us with our surroundings. More than that, though, they have the ability to bring people together in ways that foster connectivity, human interaction and even safety. Whether we are admiring a kinetic sculpture that stands out against the landscape or walking along the millrace, one of our city’s most significant landmarks, art and design are there; they are present in both the foreground and background, supporting us by creating safe places and spaces for gathering, helping us orient ourselves or simply introducing moments of beauty into our lives.

The aforementioned being said, art alone does not have the power to make a space unique. Even within the built environment, there exist underlying narratives, describing—through history and context—the essence of that place. And regardless of whether or not stories have been intentionally or unintentionally dismantled as a result of commercialized messaging and redevelopment, finding new ways of integrating art and design with existing infrastructure is a way to weave disjointed stories back together again.

We have an impressive community of artists and musicians who are already making a variety of contributions. The existing neighborhood signs with accompanying gardens and benches are also evidence of the appreciation people have for their neighborhoods.

However, I would challenge us to think more broadly about what we can claim in the way of collaborative public art or placemaking projects that include more people and tell our collective stories through text and images. Consider the wonderful possibilities, for example, that could result from the development of projects that help define -- in positive ways -- the boundaries of the various neighborhood districts, giving residents the opportunity to make public, visual statements about what they value with respect to the places and spaces that they inhabit.

Let me be clear in stating that as of this moment, I am not volunteering to spearhead such efforts! I have, however, spent quite a bit of time dreaming about what Goshen could look like if we gathered our creative energy together and output our ideas in ways that cultivated civic pride and made the kind of cultural impact that could be felt for years to come.