On October 3, 2015, The Cornerstone Group partnered with Prospect Park 2020 to create the Harvest Moon Autumn Festival. My role as Community Arts Coordinator for The Cornerstone Group was to assist the event coordinator from PP2020 in securing arts activities and entertainment to fit the community garden atmosphere and the spirit of the event. I sought artists who were family-friendly, multi-cultural, interactive, and community oriented.
With this festival we hoped to create neighborhood excitement around the Prospect North Gardens site both by starting a tradition of celebration in the garden, and to create relationships and goodwill with other neighborhoods on the Green Line so as to encourage future inter-community events.
For this first of what we hope will become an annual event, approximately 160 people attended between 6 and 10pm. I would also estimate the event created more than 500 impressions on passers-by, whether by foot or by train (the green line passes the site at a close distance). Attendees of the event spoke about the magical energy pervasive throughout the garden that night, the marvelous family activities, opportunities for creative interaction with neighbors, great food, soul-serving music and performance, and an atmosphere that was both beautiful and invigorating.
The Prospect North Community Garden served as an inspiring venue for an event of this kind. For one, this is a marvelous corner of the city with three structural giants towering above the landscape. The iconic concrete “United Crushers” silos line the North end of the garden. The clean, white television-screen windows of the University Park Plaza cast a modernist pale over the proceedings from the southwest. And the illuminated, storybook Witch’s Hat rests on the highest hill to the southeast at the center of Prospect Park. The garden is an excellent vantage point for envisioning the past and future of Prospect Park. On this early autumn day, our garden bloomed with late season vegetables, giant dahlias and sunflowers framing each space.
There was, that night, a fire blazing at the center of the garden, and neighbors filled the woodchip lanes that cut between the raised garden beds. Brick oven volunteers began cooking pizzas at 6pm with ingredients directly from the garden.
As guests ate their pizza, they engaged in a variety of art projects and activities around the garden. Children crowded around a group art sculpture, adding to it yarn and birch twigs, colorful tape and folded paper, beneath the colorfully lit pergola. Adults scribed poems about the community on handmade paper and hung them on a clothesline covered in white lights. There were chances for yarn bombing along the chain link fence, marshmallow roasting, hot cider pouring, and pastry indulging-in. Many read about the future of the Prospect North Partnership on colorful billboards (complete with architectural plans) posted throughout the garden. Many just sat on a hay bale beneath the twinkling lights, taking in music and dance performances by groups who live along the Green Line.
As the sun approached the horizon, the drumming began. 15 men and women—on drums ranging in size from a dinner plate to a man-hole cover—created beats from Japan, Africa, and South America. These drummers from the Taikollaborative and the Women’s Drum Society brought the rhythm of the garden to life for nearly an hour as attendees strolled through the plantlife.
Once the sun had fallen below the horizon, the Mexica Azteca dance group Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli began their complex warrior dance around the fire. This group of 10 dancers wore elaborate, colorful indigenous Mexica costumes and spacious feather headpieces. For their third dance they invited the audience to join them, and together we honored the earth with clouds of dust. Before finishing their set with a dance to honor the moon their director, Maryanne, confessed she was not sure what to expect of this event in Prospect Park—would they be performing for a Surly crowd?—But once she and her family arrived she said they quickly felt at peace under the spell of this place.
At the end of the night we pulsed and rocked to the mixed Ethiopian and Eritrean sounds of Medhanie Woldemichael. His male and female ensemble blended traditional and electronic sounds in delicious ways; a fitting conclusion to a night of exuberant experience.
It was, many attendees said, a magical evening in general. Conversation inclined toward ambitious themes, the future of the garden and its possible uses, the fate of the towering silos, and the evolution of this historic neighborhood with its unique landscape and spirit.
Residents in Prospect Park are committed to community well-being. Those present at this event recognized the opportunities this space presents for growing healthy plants and healthy, exciting community events. The good will of all spread out and around the garden like pollen in the breeze.