Part of our new series on the impact of Levitt AMP Bridge Grants nationwide
Today, as the second installment in our series showcasing the impact of the 2020 Levitt AMP Bridge Grants across the country, we’re turning our attention to three projects that engaged their communities through visual art: a vibrant mural in Middlesboro, Kentucky; a one-day sidewalk chalk festival in Trenton, New Jersey; and a community-made art installation in Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia.
A new landmark for Middlesboro
In the absence of a 2020 Levitt AMP concert series, multi-year grantee Middlesboro Main Street decided to use the Levitt AMP Bridge Grant to commission a local Kentucky artist to design and paint a large mural along the wall that runs adjacent to the lawn where the Levitt AMP Middlesboro Music Series usually takes place. What makes the community so proud of the music series, according to Bo Hoe from the Main Street Middlesboro Fundraising Committee, is the community-driven enhancements that have been made to the public space, now known as Levitt Park, over the last five years. What was once a gravel vacant lot in downtown Middlesboro has been transformed into an inviting community space with a lush green lawn and a performance stage built by local volunteers and supported through a donation.
The mural has not only injected new energy into the site, but has facilitated a way for the physical space to create connections during the pandemic. While the mural was in progress, the site became a daily gathering spot where locals would safely sit and enjoy their lunch, share their ideas about the mural as well as concerns about the impact of the pandemic on the Middlesboro community. Since it’s completion this past December, the addition of the mural to Levitt Park has enlivened downtown Middlesboro and generated excitement for live music to return to the lawn this summer.
Sidewalk Chalk Project fuels creative expression
Trenton Downtown Association, the nonprofit behind the multi-year Levitt AMP Trenton Music Series in New Jersey’s State Capital, created the Sidewalk Chalk Project (SCP), an ephemeral art project to spark community connections and joy through a single participatory event. Following months of planning and extensive community outreach, on October 4, 2020 at 36 locations in all four wards of the city, the Trenton community was encouraged to “art where you are” as a way to brighten neighborhoods and “show love for the spaces that have become everything to many of us: our homes, our workspaces and our schools,” explains Meaghan Singletary, Development Manager at Trenton Downtown Association.
Making artwork on driveways, sidewalks, front doors, windows, stoops and porches, Trenton residents of all ages including children and seniors and business owners joined 13 local artists, commissioned to share their creative talents in their own neighborhood or a neighborhood of their choosing, for a day of fun, joy and shared creative expression. On the day of the event volunteers and staff dropped sidewalk chalk art supplies off at businesses, residences and other community hubs that had requested to be a chalk drop site, providing access and supplies for any interested community member to participate to in the project.
Trenton’s Sidewalk Chalk Project created a shared community-building experience through artmaking, capturing a moment in time that every single person in the community was invited to be a part of, regardless of their physical location, connecting through the hashtag #chalktrenton. Partnering with local organizations and businesses including local health and youth organizations, restaurants and The New Jersey State Museum, the event reached nearly 9K people on Facebook and generated dozens of Instagram stories from chalk artmaking sites, and numerous posts using the hashtag, #ChalkTrenton. The event was so popular and received so much support from the community, SCP might become an annual Trenton event.
A community-created art installation
In the small town of Shenandoah Junction, W. Va., first-time Levitt AMP grantee Jefferson County Parks and Recreation (JCPRC) used the Levitt AMP Bridge Grant as an opportunity to create a permanent art installation in the AMP field, a green hillside spanning 11 acres surrounded by trees with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, and the future site of the Levitt AMP Shenandoah Junction Music Series. The art installation, featuring 7-foot-tall wooden letters spelling A-M-P, an acronym for arts, music, people, is a permanent fixture in the AMP field meant to celebrate diversity of age, color, ideas, abilities and interests, and to elevate and draw attention to what many describe as one of Jefferson County’s “hidden gems.”
A selection of the more than 5,500 painted wooden disks submitted to JCPRC before being attached to the permanent art installation in Shenandoah Junction’s AMP field.
Rather than enlisting a single artist to create the installation, JCPRC engaged their community in the artmaking. The surface of each of the AMP letters, constructed out of plywood and secured into the ground with pressure treated posts, are covered with 2” wooden disks individually decorated by members of the community and sealed with epoxy.
Using a wooden disk as their canvas, individuals were invited to create mini works of art and then return the decorated wooden disk to be affixed to the art installation. With a town population of approximately 700 people, organizers were thrilled to receive over 5,500 mini works of art out of the 6,000 disks distributed to retirement homes, schools, daycares, churches, camps, businesses, scouting groups, the area substance abuse alliance, neighborhoods, individuals and families, making the project truly one that was created for the community, by the community. The final art installation was assembled in December 2020 and will be erected on the AMP field this spring leading up to the 2021 Levitt AMP Shenandoah Junction Music Series scheduled to start this summer.
The creativity of these Bridge Grant projects by Levitt AMP nonprofits in Middlesboro, Trenton and Shenandoah Junction, following the cancellation of their in-person concert series last summer due to COVID-19, is not only inspiring, but a powerful reminder that thoughtful, community-driven projects can have a deep and lasting impact, building connections, creating joy and engaging all members of the community.