Why did you decide to join the Creative Community Fellows program?

By     Jun 22, 2015
Lecturer, SUNY Plattsburgh

Julia Devine

When I read the CCF description, I thought finally here’s a place for me that gets what I do and is filled with other people who are at a similar crossroads – people who bring a variety of skills, careers, and experiences to their work; people who build community in unconventional ways; people who connect others to jumpstart ideas; people who don’t fit into just one box.

For a long time, I wondered if my assorted skill set was confusing to people. “Oh, you’re an administrator. Oh, you’re a grant writer. Oh, you’re an actress who plays accordion. Oh, you’re a mother. Oh, you’re a teacher. Oh, you’re what, what are you?” Well, now I can say I’m a Creative Community Fellow. I’m a creative placemaker. Thanks, Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, for coining the term!

It took me, a city girl, to move to a rural community to stumble upon this idea. You see, I used to take a vibrant arts and culture scene for granted. Now I don’t and perhaps that’s a good thing. I am compelled to create community and culture at every turn whether it’s through getting public art downtown, involving students in local community development, creating a speaker series that brings the town and the local college together, or coordinating art exhibitions and a community center.

The town I now live in, Plattsburgh, has a rich history with a once booming downtown. Today it struggles, but many, including myself, are actively working to renew it. Plattsburgh (population 19,750), which sits on Lake Champlain, has much to offer—two colleges, beaches, a classic main street, Revolutionary War and War of 1812 history, a growing local farm movement, and the recent restoration of a grand theatre from 1923 (with one of 19 Wurlitzers in the world.) And now, we’ve gained some notoriety with the recent prison escape only 12 miles away. The media refers to us as “Little Siberia”—not sure if this will attract or deter a hipster migration!

In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton writes, “We depend on our surroundings to embody the moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them.” I want to make Plattsburgh come alive again.

My project idea for CCF (still at the idea/design stage) is the Plattsburgh Living Tableau Project. This project will recreate scenes based on photos from Plattsburgh’s heyday (1870s-1930s), which is also the heyday of small town America, through living tableaus involving the whole community that will inspire a renewed spirit for our town. During the late 19th and early 20th century, tableaux vivant or living tableaus were a popular form of entertainment to celebrate civic pride, explore group and individual identity, and inspire change. Small towns would host parades featuring tableaus on floats. The goal of the project aims to build community and connection to place and inspire Plattsburgh to reclaim the past and look towards creating a more vibrant future.

Since this fellowship began in June, my initial living tableau project has taken an interesting turn into filmmaking as well that I’m eager to explore through CCF. Plattsburgh now has a film festival (The Lake Champlain International Film Festival), which was launched last year. My husband (an early film scholar), a filmmaker, and myself, are creating a short film (seven minutes) exploring civic space in Plattsburgh inspired by the early American city film, Manhatta (which featured poetry by Walt Whitman). After creating the film for the festival, we want to expand this project inviting towns and cities throughout New York State to shoot their own Manhatta (we will provide parameters) and then open it up nationally and internationally until we have a vast collection of short films from all over the world that we will digitally map. This web-based platform will connect communities to each other’s filmic celebration of civic space showing how we can still participate in the Whitman epic/transcendental dream of place.

I joined CCF so I could gain the tools to solve problems and meet challenges in small town creative community development and how to get things going in a place that doesn't always naturally embrace the creative or unconventional. I hope to make new connections and partnerships, which is especially needed for our community, which tends to not always venture outwards. I'm also very interested in sharing what I learn through this fellowship in my classrooms. I want to learn more about the current trends and theory of the creative placemaking field. I hope to create a community development course and have students work on creative placemaking projects and perhaps inspire them to stay here after graduation and become local creative entrepreneurs. Finally, I want guidance in designing my living tableau/film project. Ultimately, even though this is an individual fellowship opportunity, participating in this program will greatly benefit my community and my connections. I am so excited to work with this impressive group of 2015 fellows and am grateful for this one-of-a-kind opportunity. Here are some photos from my current hometown of Plattsburgh including a picture of what the tile mosaic mural will look like when it’s installed this September in our downtown.

 

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