Pop Up Dreams: the Dutchtown Better Block Project
I have attended many community events in the past and throughout the years they have followed a redundant template of perpetual discourse and minimal action. However, the Better Block event in Dutchtown introduced a curious concept: revitalize the community by transforming it for one day. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of a neighborhood (traits that may or may not exist), show the neighborhood its own beauty -- show it what it can become. This was done by creating pop-up businesses in empty/abandoned buildings and highlighting the businesses already open on the block.
I set up an art booth in the Little Red Reading House, an imaginary business featuring local authors. My booth displayed my children's book Collective Face: a Series of Quatrains on Community Building along with my prints and handmade journals. The building the authors were in was once a record store and had been empty for a long while except for recent renovations. Volunteers from the Thomas Dunn Learning Center came and cleaned the interior. They also brought books from their library to sell. It was an inviting atmosphere with a children's section of puppets and books to the golden lights dangling from the ceiling. The authors varied from mystery writers to local historians. Author Susan Wiegand gave away complimentary copies of her book Cooking as Courtship. Vynetta Morrow, shared the poetry she had written and interpreted their deeper meanings.
Outside of the bookstore, people were inhaling the aroma of barbecue floating through the air. There was much to be explored: community gardens, open houses, crafts and chess games. Local artist, Cbabi Bayoc, conducted a mural in the the middle of the street, drawing in youth to participate. There was a woman selling shea butter and a painting that many were collaborating on. It was a compelling sight.
Throughout the day, I heard a question being asked repeatedly in regards to the bookstore. People asked, "How long will you be here?" and we would reply, "Only for today." Their eyes were nests of more questions or simply disappointment. "Just one day?" they asked. I did not know how to feel or how to respond, all that I knew was that ONE DAY had power. Would seeing the transfomation of the neighborhood inspire the community to gather resources to permanently renew the block and more blocks? Would it become something an outsider could abuse? Is it the catalyst to making someday/one day/any day now into TODAY for the positive blossoming of a community?