One of The Cornerstone Group’s continuing goals is to create new models for supporting healthy community dialogue and building community trust. We hope to incorporate the community at every step of our development process so that they will own the new buildings that result from our work. As developers we are not out to make buildings but, rather, healthy, thriving, connected communities. Art projects and other forms of creative community engagement led by artists, we have found, are the most effective way to both get to know a community and to start the crucial conversations that will inform our development process.
In the Prospect Park neighborhood of Minneapolis our latest community engagement project has been to work with community members in the creation of a handmade book called the Prospect Park Storybook. With some awareness of the rich neighborhood history, we wanted to hear from current residents their stories of what made this place what it is. We wanted to create opportunities for neighbors to gather in creative collusion, to discuss pressing neighborhood issues, and, well, to play. Given the deep literary and artistic background of the neighborhood, we wanted to create both a process and a work of art of which this neighborhood would be proud. Cornerstone’s Community Arts Coordinator, Andrew Gaylord, working with Minneapolis book artist Amanda Degener, held five story workshops in November and December 2015 where neighbors got together with food and drink to tell stories about what makes Prospect Park such a special place to live. Amanda took these opportunities to introduce participants to the rich world of book arts, and our project got off the ground.
We held the story workshops at two centers of community activity, Luxton Recreation Center and Pratt Community School, the oldest Minneapolis Public Schools building still in use. In this first phase we made connections with over eighty Prospect Park residents, forty-one of whom created original pages for the storybook. We wanted to create something that both expresses the spirit of this community and stands alone as a high-quality work of book art. So, based on the stories collected we additionally commissioned nine Twin Cities book artists to turn Prospect Park lore into a page for the book. At the end of the year, the editors decided to create one original book, consisting of the original works of art from residents and commissioned artists, and fifty copies made from high-resolution prints.
With these pages in hand, the second phase began. Neighbors gathered for five book-making workshops wherein they made paper by hand for the book covers, hand-pressed book titles and logos onto the covers, created a beautiful pop-out page for the center of each book and, finally, hand bound each of the storybooks with needle and thread. This collaborative work produced 50 unique storybooks—each with a different cover, hand-pressed and hand-bound with different colors of binding thread. Everyone who participated in two or more book making workshops was invited to take home a free copy of the storybook, and Cornerstone donated the remaining copies to neighborhood organizations. Over 100 people in all participated in the creation of the Prospect Park Storybook. The original book will live at Pratt School, and a digital copy of the book will be available online.
Since the book was finished, many neighbors have expressed interest in having a handmade copy for themselves. The limited number of books, however, is intended to be a symbol for the reality of community participation. The most valuable product of this entire process, we believe, is not the book itself but the many opportunities for Prospect Park residents to come together with a common creative goal, to discuss their past and their future, and to share the energy that makes vital community possible. Those who get involved are those who make every community what it is.
See the finished Prospect Park Storybook pages HERE
Workshop photos by Prospect Park resident Liza Davitch
Posters by Stephen Klimek, Community Design Coordinator for The Cornerstone Group