For many years the residents of Cedarview Commons in North St. Paul have gathered in their courtyard on August 4 for a barbeque, a raffle, games, music, inflatable bouncy houses, and conversation with neighbors. At this year’s National Night Out The Cornerstone Group unrolled a series of new interactive art activities to engage the curiosity and creativity of residents, start conversations about community identity, and, hopefully, provide Cornerstone and TCG Management with helpful information regarding our residents’ wants and needs for the future. With feedback from the Residents’ Council we chose four art activities: an interactive community map, a hope wall, a family photobooth and a travelling ping-pong table—which also functions as a work of art.
The Interactive Community Map
On the exterior wall of the rental office we pasted up a huge world map for residents to post keytags on the cities where they have lived in the past. Some cities, like Chicago and Guatemala City, held multiple tags. Others, like San Diego and Lima, held only one tag. The map provided an opportunity for people to see where their neighbors have lived, to see on a world map how much geographic distance has separated them in the past, and to inspire curiosity about their cultural differences in the present.
The Community Hope Wall
On the Hope Wall we invited residents to post their “hopes for the future of our community.” Inspired by a sunrise, we painted the wall a deep orange color, and residents posted their hopes in four different colors of post-its: blue for jobs, yellow for education, red for health, and green for community activities. The end result was a vibrant wall of bright color. By the end of the night, children were using the wall as a homebase for their games, and residents were stopping by the wall to pose for pictures.
The Family Photobooth
The photobooth was intended to be an opportunity for Cedarview families to create a family photo, both to take home and to hang on the hope wall (2 copies). We thought this was a simple way for everyone to visualize their community all in one place. Even though everyone was already THERE in presence at the event, sometimes it takes a photo to make us aware of how significant it is for so many people to be gathered in one space.
The Ping Pong Table/Travelling Ping Pong Artwork
Our ping-pong table, made by Peter Haakon Thompson as a part of the Ready Go tools offered through Springboard for the Arts, will outlive us all. It is both a marvelous art object and a darn good table for playing ping-pong. We thought of this table as an opportunity for people to play freely with no prompts or direction or rules (necessarily). Alas, one elderly gentleman, Frederick, played the role of “keeper of the table” for the night. In addition to playing most every game he used the table as an opportunity to mentor the young ones and coach them to become better players. For every game, two benches on either side of the table were packed with spectators.
The greatest value of these four art activities is that they provided Cedarview residents with four new ways to interact with their neighbors. The community map and hope wall drew less traffic than the ping-pong table and photobooth, but they created sparks of conversation about community identity, cultural differences and hopes for the future. Residents called this year’s National Night Out “one of the best yet.”