Creative New Jersey’s Annual Showcase of Community Collaborations
You would think an organization called Creative New Jersey might be able to define what it means to be “creative”. But ask co-founder Larry Capo, and he’ll tell you they can’t - creativity defies definition. It’s too all-encompassing. That’s when Creative NJ realized it needed to include community change in ALL its forms, whether that be art or civics, collaboration or dialogue.
So it comes as no surprise that Creative NJ’s 2019 Statewide Summit, held on May 20 at the Foundation for Educational Administration in Monroe Township, was actually made up of eight distinct presentations, each from one of Creative NJ’s community collaborations. The audience was divided into four groups of people who moved around from one presenter to the next, in “speed-dating” style. All the projects were very different, but with one common feature: they all exemplified the kind of creativity that is needed to tackle persistent problems in new ways.
Here’s a quick summary:
Through various forms of outreach including childcare, language instruction and supportive networks, Hammonton’s “Culture of Inclusion” initiative is engaging the largely Latino farm working families with the majority white community. The initiative is a collaboration spearheaded by Allies in Caring, whose director Ivette Guillermo-McGahee stressed the importance of trust as a strategy for building healthy communities.
2. Patersoncounts.org believes thousands of the town’s famously diverse population were not counted in the last census, possibly resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in grants over time. The Paterson Alliance and other organizations are working to make sure everyone is counted in the next census in 2020. This is not an easy task, given that 84% of Paterson residents did not respond to the first census outreach, and are therefore considered “hard to count”.
3. One of Paterson’s Bangaldeshi community leaders described how her all-volunteer, unincorporated group collaborated with the Paterson Museum to stage a vibrant cultural exchange. Through the sheer power of connections the Bangladeshi-American Women’s Development Initiative created a showcase of their culture in the community where too often they might go unnoticed.
4. Isles, a community development nonprofit in Trenton, is part of a multi-partner collaborative to establish a “Creek to Canal Creative District” to help drive improvements in the quality of the city’s downtown life. The “C2C” project is the outcome of a year-long citywide planning process that sought input from local talent, community leaders, and politicians.
5. When residents of Asbury Park reached across the railroad tracks and the racial divide to talk about their town, they found power in diversity. The resulting “Diversity Dialogue Group” meets regularly in an attempt to bridge the diversity gap. Together they have found common voice in matters ranging from social justice, to saving the town’s very popular beach from overly elite development.
6. Collaboration can be a knotty problem, and the Rutgers-Camden Civic Engagement program coordinator demonstrated this by asking participants to form a circle, hold hands with anyone but the one next to you, and then without letting go, untie the human knot. Not an easy thing to do - and neither is collaboration - but hugely rewarding when you solve it.
7. Bridget Phifer, head of a Camden community partnership, recounted an ambitious project to revitalize the Parkside neighborhood and build a new future for its residents, involving initiatives in development, health, education and neighborhood services. PBCIP has the plan, the cooperation, and the grant money to renew Haddon Avenue, one block at a time.
8. From the people who bring us the annual Newark Arts Festival comes a new Community Cultural Plan to put arts back in the heart of Newark. Newark Creates seeks to revitalize neighborhoods through art, and revitalize art through collaboration. More about Newark Creates at Creative New Jersey’s Newark Call to Collaboration on June 6-7. Sign up to go, and see how this creative process works.
One final visual display of collaboration at the 2019 Creative NJ Summit was to put together the pieces of a puzzle. The audience was seated in groups, and each group was asked to draw on a piece of see-through cellophane some images of what makes NJ special to them. The land, the shore, and the diversity were common answers. The pieces of the cumulative artwork were assembled to form this rose window, a collaborative vision of NJ (backlit to better admire our handiwork).
More detailed information on all of the presenters and projects is available at the Creative New Jersey 2019 Summit site, at https://www.creativenj.org/statewide-summit/