By Michelle Xiarhos Curran
Red Rock Park, located on Lynn’s eastern shore, is an expanse of green that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a little piece of paradise on the edge of a dense city where many residents lack transportation and are unable to access the park’s beauty.
“There’s one thing in our city that’s always been a constant struggle,” said Lynn resident Tia Cole. “And it’s something that our mayor has been championing for years, and that’s accessibility geographically.”
So when a group of community organizations – led by the North Shore Juneteenth Association – came together this summer to organize Lynn’s first Diversity Matters Festival at Red Rock Park, Cole, who is the special project manager for Creative Collective LLC, wondered, “How do we get the people from all the way across town to come down to this beach to be part of this festival?”
Then Cole had what she calls a “crazy” idea.
As a member of the first cohort of Essex County Community Foundation’s Creative County Initiative (CCI) ChangeMakers program, Cole would use her $1,000 grant – a facet of the program meant to spark and help fund local, collaborative arts and culture projects – to hire Salem Trolley to drive a route around Lynn, stopping at strategic locations in each of the city’s major corners, and bring people to Red Rock Park for the festival, which would take place in August. And she’d hire a diverse group of local musicians to play on the trolley too.
“It was kind of this small piece which cinched the city all together,” said Cole. “The festival ended up being an immense success.”
Not only that, but it got other groups in Lynn thinking about how to leverage Cole’s trolley idea to increase access to other critical resources – like fresh food and services for seniors.
“It was a little thing that complemented really well an arts and culture program that has gotten everybody thinking, ‘how do we improve this geographical access?’” said Cole.
Cole was one of nine presenters to discuss their community-inspired art and cultural projects at the CCI ChangeMakers virtual wrap-up event on Oct. 8, a culmination of ECCF’s first leadership support program for creative civic leaders.
Over the course of eight months, members of the first cohort of ChangeMakers – made up of artists, municipal and community leaders and other creative thinkers diverse in race, age, gender, and geography – participated in facilitated and project-based learning, peer networking, and leadership trainings. Then, they put their learnings into action by developing collaborative art or culture-based project – for which they would receive $1,000 to seed – meant to inspire additional work in their respective communities.
Cole’s project highlights one of the major goals of the ChangeMakers program – the creation of local ecosystems powered by people who are working together to improve their communities.
“ChangeMakers is designed to open new, critical pathways for cultural equity, resource-sharing and cross-sector collaboration,” said CCI Program Director Karen Ristuben. “By supporting our ChangeMakers in this work, we have the chance to help build trust, form innovative partnerships and empower this group to implement lasting change in their communities.”
Other final projects presented by ChangeMakers cohort members at the Oct. 8 wrap-up event, all at various stages of completion, included:
- A spatial justice project for longtime survivors of HIV on the North Shore.
- A Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month festival in Methuen.
- A life-sized mural series celebrating nature in Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury.
- A mobile, multimedia exhibit, Faces of Exclusion, telling stories of social isolation experienced daily by disabled residents, highlighted by forced social isolation of the pandemic.
- An Artist Collaboratory mutual aid/incubation space with a focus on BIPOC artists.
- Arts/cultural activation of Andover’s Old Town Hall to catalyze a community cultural planning process.
- Amplifying diversity in Greater Newburyport through collaborative arts programs centered on social justice, human rights and the environment.
- An apprenticeship program for young creatives via Haverhill’s Switchboard organization.
“I am just so excited for you all and for what you all have accomplished with ChangeMakers,” ECCF Executive Vice President and COO Stratton Lloyd told cohort members during the event. “As you know, we are big believers in ecosystem building and system building and collaboration, and that fundamentally starts with the people and the human infrastructure that can actually go ahead and execute upon that.”
“It takes folks like yourselves to actually be the changemakers to bring people together and do that work,” he added.
Cohort participants also expressed their thoughts on the ChangeMakers experience.
“The ChangeMakers course has been a true catalyst for me,” said Newburyport artist Paula Estey, executive director of the PEG Center for Art & Activism. “It has opened my eyes to the many areas of help and avenues for civic engagement and to many concrete ways of accomplishing growth as an organization.”
“Being a part of this cohort was definitely inspiring for me in terms of what we’ve learned and just hearing from everyone and exchanging our knowledge base on how to overcome obstacles when trying to make the case for public art,” said musician and Methuen City Councilor Eunice Zeigler.
This fall, ECCF will be assembling a second ChangeMakers cohort for 2022.
“This first group of ChangeMakers really dove into this opportunity and made the most of connecting with each other and the work,” said Ristuben. “We’re so excited to see momentum build with the next group and hear about their plans to spark collaborative change in their own communities.”