Collaborating in a Neighborhood through Art
By Stephanie Wise
Outreach and Engagement Communications Intern
A sense of pride in where one lives seems to be an integral part of Columbus's eclectic character. In recent years, numerous organizations and projects have partnered with the Weinland Park neighborhood to foster community - and in turn are impacted by the love the residents have for where they call home.
"There is authentic brilliance in every person in every neighborhood. I am only interested in amplifying what is already there," said Jean Pitman, youth and community programs manager at the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Pitman is directly involved in the Wexner Center/Weinland Park Community Arts Program, which is a partnership with Weinland Park residents and recipient of Ohio State's 2016 Emerging Community Engagement Award. The thrust of the program is to bring community members together to dialogue about what they want the image of their neighborhood to be. Using art as a medium, new perspectives and outlets can be provided for the changing face of the community.
Martin Weston, a resident of Weinland Park, said what Pitman is doing is different and effective.
"That's what I actually found unique to what Jean was doing - she didn't seem to be in a particular hurry, and she wasn't pushy, which I think is the last thing you want to do in a community like this," he said. "People have watched (her) for a long time, and they see that this is somebody we can trust. And that is so important when you are doing community outreach is to gain an intrinsic trust of the individual."
Neighbors, a Story Book and a Billboard
Two of the projects that the program has been part of are the Weinland Park Story Book and the Weinland Park Billboard Project. The story book is a graphic novel of a collection of short stories from neighborhood residents. More than 40 Ohio artists worked together to illustrate the book - with many of them being neighborhood children. Pitman specifically partnered with the teenagers of the area to collect the stories that would be included.
"There was a natural affinity, and so there were some teenagers in the neighborhood who just sort of became ambassadors and tour guides for me and the other teenagers that I was bringing in," she said. "They are also kind of unafraid to approach people. It was great to have the kids do all of that heavy lifting and create those connections, and then it was just my job to be a border collie and keep it organized along the way."
The billboard in Weinland Park was another project taken on and approved by the community. Pitman recalled how the neighbors were embarrassed by the billboard's display of crude images or advertisements for alcohol. Being at the gateway to the neighborhood, Pitman joined the neighbors in a push to reclaim the billboard.
Once funds were raised to purchase the space on the billboard, the Boys and Girls Club and Godman Guild, an organization that seeks to build pathways out of poverty, engaged with local youth and partnered them with artists to develop images for the billboard.
Weston mentioned the influence that the Weinland Park Community Civic Association, among countless other collaborations and projects, has had in playing a role in bettering the area.
"I think the civic association had a hand in all of the art projects that we did," he said. "Jean was very upfront in telling the organization, which is formal and informal at the same time - there is a way of letting residents know that this was going on, to invite their participation. I have lived in six cities in the last 40 years, and I have never seen anything work as well as this has worked and I can truly say it was not something that was top down at any point- it was all bottom up."
Weston, thinking about the pride that he takes in his community, told of what the community used to face.
"When I came on this block eight years ago, I could hear gunfire every night between May and October, all night long," he said. "There were a lot of challenges to just solidifying the community in terms of it being a community where residents could live and feel safe...This is only in the last eight months to two years where people feel comfortable. These art projects help to create this sense among the residents that this is an important place."
Pitman spoke with confidence about how she felt that nothing needed to be added artificially to the community, only that the natural abilities needed to be discovered and encouraged.
"Working with what is already intrinsically here - the gifts and the talents and the brilliance that is already here. We don't need to bring anything; it is just a matter of fostering what is already going on," said Pitman.
Contact: Jean Pitman, Jpitman@wexarts.org
Program website: http://wexarts.org/weinlandpark
Digital Version of the Weinland Park Story Book: http://wexarts.org/media/weinland-park-story-book