Welcome to the first issue of Making Change, Forecast’s quarterly consulting newsletter! We’re excited to share with you the projects we have been working on across the country. In each issue, we’ll share the who, what, and how, to give you insight into our process. This issue features engagement work we did with the City of Reno, NV, and I’m sharing more about myself as the Director of Programming. Thanks for being here.
— Jen Krava
WHAT WE DID
We enjoy doing work where we get to engage and interact with community members who are most affected by public art. That’s been hard during the pandemic, but we had the opportunity in early 2020 to work on a really special project in Reno, Nevada, where we got to know the community along the historic Lincoln Highway.
We responded to an RFP issued by the City. They received funding in the form of an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts [NEA]. The City of Reno was looking for a consultant to bring together businesses and residents of east 4th Street in a community process to create a sense of social cohesion, safety, and identity. This engagement work would lead to a public artwork in the neighborhood. The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Washoe County had just completed a multimodal improvement project connecting the City of Reno and the City of Sparks, so we reached out to Ben Stone, Director of Arts and Culture at Smart Growth America and its program Transportation for America, to be on our team. The city was pleased with our history of work in this area and our strong team, and selected us for the project. We were excited to work on it!
I had heard of Forecast Public Art at an Americans for the Arts Conference prior to us working with them. We selected Forecast Public Art to work with us on our NEA Our Town Grant because they had extensive experience working with and engaging communities–specifically in the realm of public art. The scope of the project was such that our two staff couldn’t take it on on our own and with the limited time we had wanted to make sure that we reached out to and got input from as many people as we could. Working with Forecast really increased our capacity to interact with the neighborhood, stakeholders, and business owners.
HOW WE DID IT
As a nonprofit organization, we look to our mission and values to drive our work. We believe in relationships of mutual investment between communities, sectors, disciplines, and professions. One of the first things we like to do when working nationally is to help build local capacity by bringing onto our team someone who is connected to the community. In this project, we brought Reno-based artist Jennifer Charboneau onto our team as our local eyes and ears.
Forecast did a great job of creatively interacting with the community and helping direct conversation by asking the right questions. One of the coolest things they did was hire a local artist to help with input sessions and to work with the surrounding community to get stories about the neighborhood and feedback on what their visions for the area were.
We sat down with Alexis Hill and Megan Berner from the City’s public art department and developed our engagement strategy. When developing the engagement strategy, we thought about another value that we hold: inclusive practices that invite and honor the full expression of people and place. We discussed in depth the variety of stakeholders along the corridor. There are businesses that just opened, and some that have been in their location for decades. There are motels that serve as long-term housing for residents, community spaces for teens, coffee shops, a print shop, iron workers, breweries, and a food pantry. We wanted to make sure that everyone who lives, works, or utilizes services along E 4th Street had the opportunity to participate in our conversations and events.
This resulted in nine different events and meetings where we shared information about the project, asked about how people feel along the corridor, and what kinds of issues they’d like public art to address. We held open houses at businesses along the corridor, partnered with the Business Improvement District on an event, held a public event sharing the history of the corridor, and talked with folks as they got lunch at St. Vincent’s. We did all of these events in two different trips to Reno, and when Ben and I could not be there in person, Jen helped to fill in gaps and utilized creative activities [like her mobile art studio!] to connect with businesses along the corridor in 1-1 conversations.
WHAT WE LEARNED
From all of our events, meetings, and conversations, we developed a final report of our findings, and made recommendations for how the City could move forward with a public art project. We interacted with so many community members that were all really invested in the corridor and interested in public art being installed. We heard community members note:
- People are tied to history and interested in telling stories of the past
- “History” means different things to different people
- Business owners want to support each other and entice visitors to linger in the area longer
- Relevancy of artwork is important – both now and in the future
- Community members wanted to support local artists
We came to the conclusion that rather than holding “history” as a theme, the artwork should give a nod to the vast history of the place. Something like “innovation” could capture the stories and contributions of the Indigenous communities who have lived there and still do, the industrial past of the corridor, the importance of the corridor as the cross-country Lincoln Highway route, and give a nod to the future of Reno. We also discovered that people were interested in a variety of artwork media, and that they wanted to bring more people to the businesses in the district. A celebratory event could help with these goals, and so in addition to a static artwork, we recommended that a creative parade event would raise interest in the district and the project.
Read more details in our final report about the events we held, our findings, and recommendations to the City. I’m excited to say that the City went through a selection process and has selected artist Kipp Kobayashi to install an artwork he designed called “On Growth and Form.” Congrats Kipp, and congratulations to the City of Reno on engaging the community in developing a framework for public art in their neighborhood!
How have you engaged community members in your projects? How do you think about balancing history and future in your work?
WHO WE ARE
Jen holds master’s degrees in public art & design, and landscape architecture, and approaches her work with a multi-directional lens to investigate contemporary issues in public art, placeknowing, and creative economies. Jen sets the vision for consulting work at Forecast and works on projects invested in community driven research and prototyping. She leads arts and culture planning efforts, facilitates equitable RFQ processes, curates public art projects, develops and facilitates customized training, creates online learning systems and content, develops regional capacity building, manages Forecast’s artist grant program, and leads the Change Lab, which is focused on building equity in public art across the country. Jen is the past co-editor of _SCAPE, ASLA-MN’s publication, and a visual artist, studying human relationships to their surroundings, the connection between garments and social perception, and gender challenges in public.
WE CAN HELP
In addition to creating your community engagement strategy, our team can also help you find and hire an artist!