Art can be integral to community resilience in ways that are often underestimated.
Partnership for Resilient Communities (PRC) project partner Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ) recognizes this, and it is with this realization that the organization applied for a grant emphasizing community-led design.
YMPJ was selected as one of the inaugural partners of the Local Center, a new community design initiative by the Urban Design Forum and the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD). In addition to a grant of $125,000, YMPJ will work with a team of designers and interdisciplinary technical assistance providers and join a cohort of CBO partners to realize its project. With the grant’s support, YMPJ will focus on installing art and hosting events and activities that build and connect the Bronx, NY, community surrounding its Soundview Economic Hub (SEH) site.
Using Art to Strengthen Community
“Preserving and strengthening the cultural presence of diverse South Bronx communities is essential to fighting displacement and building community cohesion and power,” said YMPJ’s executive director David Shuffler. “This project will be developed with local organizations and community leaders–particularly youth–to promote multicultural collectivity, connect residents to each other, and ensure that the future of the South Bronx is driven by the people of the South Bronx.”
The Soundview Economic Hub site is also the focus of YMPJ’s work with ISC as part of the Partnership for Resilient Communities (PRC) project. YMPJ has long focused on activating underutilized public spaces, including the 30,000 sq. ft. highway underpass at the Bruckner Expressway and Bronx River Avenue, that is being reborn as the Hub. Once fully implemented, the site, which features a fenced-off area comprised of four bays, will be a community space that creates social and economic opportunities by offering flexible gathering spaces to meet ever-evolving, community-defined needs.
A Multi-Faceted Approach to Community Engagement
With support from PRC, YMPJ will be boosting its community engagement to ensure the inclusion of input from residents as they continue to plan and implement the Hub. This will include hosting listening and visioning sessions, giving presentations, engaging local businesses and entrepreneurs, and recruiting and convening a community brain trust of up to seven engaged residents to represent constituencies and interests served by the Hub as key decision-makers.
However, through the Urban Design Forum and ANHD grant, YMPJ will be building community in another way–telling and sharing stories of the neighborhoods everyone knows and loves.
“The project will create a series of revolving art installations and activations at the SEH site during development and construction to raise the profile of the SEH and the benefits it can bring to residents,” Shuffler said. “These activities will create enhanced opportunities for local residents to come together, build power and engage in the final stages of planning for the implementation and program designs for the SEH, further ensuring that this asset will best respond to local needs and priorities.”
YMPJ will partner with the Bronx Defenders on this project, specifically its Bronx Leadership and Organizing Center (BLOC)–a collaboration of 40 Bronx-based nonprofits working together to address poverty through a community organizing framework. BLOC will offer organizing training and resources, connection to local artists, and its Youth Leadership Committee to support the building and integrating art, culture, and organizing at the Hub.
The organization is considering potential ideas, including Photoville-style installations, electronic art installations with the added benefit of providing enhanced lighting and safety to the site, and other events and activities.
“YMPJ and key partners will create installations and activations that tell our stories and embody our vision for the future of our neighborhoods,” Shuffler said. “It is important that the community learn how organizing revitalized the neighborhood after displacement and economic disinvestments of the 70s and 80s because it truly demonstrates what is possible now if we continue and expand our organizing roots, post-pandemic.”