Building on Community Pride
Arts on the Block (AOB) has been working collaboratively with the Carroll Avenue Quebec Terrace community since 2010 to create works of art that visually transform the neighborhood, improve perceptions of safety, and strengthen community bonds. This long-term partnership between public agencies, nonprofits, and community members has produced four temporary and two permanent public art projects in the neighborhood to date.
Creating a Plan with the Community
With a gracious grant from Donors Investing in Arts (DIVAs), AOB Apprentice Artists worked hand-in-hand with residents, property owners and professionals to formulate a five-year Master Plan in 2010 for this community, located at the southeast corner of Silver Spring in an area facing high crime rates and violent crime activity. At the on-site YMCA Youth and Family Services (YFS) community center, one of our partners on the Carroll Avenue Quebec Terrace projects, AOB facilitated several charrettes where community members gathered to discuss solutions. Among other needs, the plan emphasizes lighting and community gathering spaces as priorities. The following projects have resulted:
Mosaic Staircases at Carroll Avenue Entrance
Residents reported feeling unsafe near a pair of centrally-located staircases leading into the neighborhood, as gang members from outside the community regularly met there after dark. However, residents also found that the stairs could be a powerful community gathering space.
Accordingly, a 17-year old AOB Apprentice Artist designed a vibrant mosaic work for the staircases, with funding assistance from Montgomery County and the State of Maryland. More than 200 residents and children attending the adjacent New Hampshire Estates Elementary School participated in laying out the tile per the design. Surveys taken before and after the project installation reported a 35% decrease in the number of residents who felt “very unsafe” and a 5% increase in the number of residents who felt “very safe” in their community.
An AOB Apprentice Artist leads community youth in laying tiles for the staircase design
“It is exactly initiatives like this one, conceived by Arts on the Block that demonstrate that despite obstacles, good things are accomplished when we work together.”
– Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett at the stairs’ dedication
Mosaic Address Plaques
In addition to residents’ concerns of feeling unsafe in their poorly-lit neighborhood, public safety officials reported enormous difficulty finding addresses in emergencies due to poor lighting. To rectify this situation, young residents of the Carroll Avenue Quebec Terrace community who participate in the Common Ground program, in partnership with Brooklyn-based Tillett Lighting Design, designed and created beautifully lit mosaic address plaques for Carroll Avenue Apartments. These mosaic and stained glass address plaques allow addresses to be clearly visible during the day and evening while adding color, light and personality to the building façades.
“I helped design these signs, and watching the kids put them together really made my heart feel happy because they were working on something that was going to be a part of our community for a long time.”
– Common Ground Teen Mentor Maria Gomez
Common Ground participants during the summer of 2014 also designed and created a large fanciful welcoming sign for the YMCA community center, considered by many to be the heart of the neighborhood, and four unlit mosaic address plaques. See more photographs and information about Common Ground programming at the Common Ground blog.
Thanks to a generous donation from a Tillett Design supplier, several thousand dollars worth of lighting fixtures were installed in the summer of 2015. These line the mosaic-covered stairs allowing community members to feel safe using the stairs at night. AOB is committed to future artistic initiatives that foster community pride, ownership and a sense of safety.
Current Design Projects: Lightscape Rain Garden and STEAM Summer Camps
In 2015, AOB was awarded resources to design and install a Lightscape Rain Garden fulfilling the residents’ wish for a well-lit gathering space at the Y Youth and Family Services Community Center. The lead architect, landscape and lighting designers met with apprentice artists, property owners, partners and community members to examine opportunities for creative solutions. The community wanted a central, beautiful place to gather both during the day and in the evening, including a destination where they could meet each other on summer nights, host parties, and hold after-work community meetings. The Y staff sought a place for outdoor activities, storytelling and support for their literacy programs. The design team developed concepts, presented to the community, and incorporated elements directly from apprentice design work and community feedback. When complete, the project will include a play area surrounded by an illuminated seating structure encircled by the new rain garden.
The rain garden element of the project provides an opportunity to extend the community center’s after-school learning objectives into a five-week summer camp with arts-integrated STEM activities focused on the science and technology of rainwater retention, stormwater runoff mitigation, and environmental conservation. The Breaking New Ground summer camp program is a five week, half-day summer camp for youth who live in the CAQT neighborhood. Breaking New Ground consists of three days of STEAM programming through which youth explore the sciences around water reclamation, and the purpose, properties, and power of rain gardens. The summer camp builds off the STEAM curriculum that is provided by the Y through the school year, bridging the gap in learning that often comes with summer break. Apprentices will see the site preparation for the rain garden as it happens, learn from the lead architect, Ronit Eisenbach (UMD Faculty), Carla Ellern from the Maryland RainScapes Program, local conservationists, and others, and be prepared to play a leadership role in their new rain garden as it is installed. Building a community partnership with many of the same collaborators of the previous projects, this summer program further allows for continued youth leadership in the CAQT neighborhood. Through this project, youth involved in the design and creation of the installation of the lightscape and rain garden, are also empowered with information and encouraged to become the year-round designers and stewards of the outdoor space and learning environment.
In this new phase, the AOB design team will address the additional priorities expressed in the CAQT plan, including language and literacy, wayfinding, digital information access, and environmental conservation. The proposed design is for two solar-powered library lanterns ‘planted’ in the rain garden, programmed to meet literacy and digital access goals, and designed to serve as a beacon and marker for community meeting spaces. A mash-up of the popular Little Free Libraries and a lighted bollard, our goals are to (1) prototype the lantern design in the rain garden environment, (2) develop appropriate digital content around literacy, and (3) implement an engagement program to help residents adopt library lanterns and adapt to them as functional design elements in their community. The library lantern design will contain physical books (like the little shared libraries) and will also be networked to the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Open eBooks program, an app containing thousands of popular and award-winning titles that are free for kids in disconnected communities. The lantern prototype will also support the educational goals of the summer camp by providing relevant digital content on water conservation and rain garden maintenance. Each unique lantern will use AOB apprentices’ designs for the cutout patterns and engage apprentices in the fabrication/ installation process. The library lanterns will also exploit cutting edge solar technology allowing this new infrastructure to break free of the grid so that they can be easily placed where they are most needed in the community. Eventually the CAQT plan calls for the placement of multiple lanterns at approximately 20 identified low-light sites within the housing complex.