The arts have long played a role in Schenectady’s development, and organizers of the Northeast & Mid-Atlantic Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit hope to expand that role.
The summit is set to take place Monday, April 18 – Friday, April 22 in Schenectady as well as online, bringing together civic and cultural leaders from around New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. It will be followed by a community art-making event on Saturday, April 23.
Creative placemaking is the process of helping communities strategically engage local arts and cultural activities to address social, economic, environmental and cultural issues. Creative placemakers focus on inclusiveness and social equity and work with community members to respect local history and protect local cultures.
Lorraine Morales Cox, who chairs Union College’s Visual Arts Department and is a co-executive producer of the Summit, is well-aware of the impact creative placemaking can have. The professor started teaching a class on the topic in 2020, after spending much of her career addressing issues of racism and sexism through research and writing.
“I really want to impact communities. I want to transform lives; I want to encourage students to actually not just read about racism, but actually do something about it,” Cox said.
Creative placemaking creates opportunities for change and often includes community-based learning and participatory art projects.
Cox collaborated with John Delconte, founder of Troy-based consulting company Smallwander, last fall to propose the summit be held in Schenectady. Their proposal to Creative Placemaking Communities, which produces the summit, was picked over other larger cities.
“This is an amazing opportunity for people of Schenectady, the Capital Region, New York and other states from Maine to Virginia to meet, collaborate and advance their awareness and professional development related to the role of arts and culture in supporting community and economic development. This will be an incredible catalyst for future activity in the Capital Region,” Cox said.
“We’ve had a decade and a half of systematic investment here starting in downtown,” said Schenectady City Mayor Gary McCarthy. “We’re now fortunate to be able to get groups like this to come in to talk about what we’ve done but also some of the things we’d still like to do. You always learn from other people when you get a chance to . . . discuss things that they’re working on.”
The summit will kick off on Monday, April 18 with several online sessions, including one on fighting gentrification and another on the role that art played in Schenectady’s transformation “from an industrial company town . . . into a vibrant small city.”
Online panel discussions and presentations will be held the following day. The rest of the summit will feature in-person programming at Proctors Theater, Brouwer House Creative, Electric City Barn and several other locations. Programs are also scheduled in Troy.
Both cities will host Strategy Labs, where attendees brainstorm holistic solutions to real issues the community is facing, considering potential partnerships, programs and policies.
“A lot of people [who] go to these summits want to do hands-on learning,” Cox said.
“Energizing Pathways to Downtown Schenectady” is one lab on the docket. Attendees will walk around Jay Street and other popular walkways and consider how to make them more welcoming. Another lab is focused on building an inclusive and creative ecosystem in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood. Each will involve community leaders and professional facilitators.
The sessions are meant to generate ideas and develop community partnerships and projects.
“This sort of intense in-person [and] online learning is something we could really build off of, and it also has already created these partnerships that didn’t exist before,” Cox said.
One new partnership is with Sarah Boink, a Schenectady-based fiber artist and stewardship officer at SUNY Schenectady. Boink will help facilitate a Community Weave event from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturday, April 23, on Jay Street. Traditional and innovative looms will be on display and Chicago-based artist and educator Kira Dominguez Hultgren will lead participants in a human loom project.
“I love being involved with public art projects,” said Boink, who runs Sizz Handmade, an art studio in the historic Brouwer House Creative. She sells weaving kits to share her knowledge of the artform and the Community Weave is in a sense another way of doing that.
“I see my role as a helper, just really seeing what the needs are and where I can fill in the gaps,” Boink said. She’s also a member of the Hudson-Mohawk Weavers’ Guild and members of the guild will be assisting throughout the event.
Information about fabric-related issues including sustainability and cultural practices will be on display. Community input will inform a larger event to take place in Schenectady in the future.
“The idea is how can this be a catalyst to get people’s feedback to do something bigger? You provide the spark and you provide the space for dialogue and help facilitate those conversations,” Cox said.
“It’s going to be beautiful because we’ve been cooped up for two years and I think during that time, people realized . . . there was division within our community,” Boink said. “I’m happy that there’s a conversation going on. We’ve got folks from Hamilton Hill that are participating [and people] from all different cultures coming together . . . doing an activity together. I think that’s going to be such an act of healing in our community.”
Organizers expect up to 250 people to attend the summit and are offering up to $40 in meal vouchers to encourage attendees to patronize local restaurants. Anyone is welcome to participate in the summit and there are opportunities to volunteer. Early registration tickets range from $60 for the online portion of the summit to $280 for the complete summit. Capital Region residents can get a 20% discount on all tickets using the discount code CR20. For more information visit cpcommunities.org.