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Cultural Connections

Cultural Connections promotes a sense of belonging via cultural engagement, development and installations in N. Corktown areas and pathways

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Solution: Cultural Connections (Connections) will contribute to building an inviting environment in the Michigan Central Station Impact Area by working with people who live, work, play, pray in or visit (stakeholders) N. Corktown (NoCo) to deploy arts and culture strategies that transform key mobility pathways, gateways and areas into social seams---places and spaces that promote connection, identity, belonging, and pride. Connections is a project that emerged during the recent development of North Corktown’s resident-driven urban design guidelines and is a part of our current NoCo cultural amenities planning. 

Background: The construction of Interstate-75 decades ago divided the Corktown community, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, into two distinct parts: Historic Corktown and North Corktown. Roughly one square mile in area, North Corktown (NoCo) is separated from more densely populated surrounding areas on all sides by major thoroughfares. This man-made divide has resulted in both negative and positive impacts, including deep divides in our community, unique mobility challenges with respect to egress and ingress, and a sense of a forgotten land or green oasis in close proximity to downtown Detroit. Dubbed “country living in an urban prairie” by a local blogger, NoCo is characterized by a high concentration of vacant lots and open spaces. 

 Goal: The goal of Connections is to promote belonging and welcoming spaces via arts and culture-based engagement and transformation of areas and pathways (e.g., car and bike paths, intersections, adjacent spaces, gateways) used as we move about our community. This idea focuses on areas and pathways that serve vulnerable populations (e.g., youth, seniors, impaired), serve as informal town squares/gathering places, are characterized by high usage or adjacency, and bridge divides—serve as connectors to other impact-area or external neighborhoods (e.g., pedestrian bridges). We hope this successful model will inform, be tailored and/or implemented throughout the impact area, weaving together yet celebrating each constituent neighborhood's unique sense of place. 

 How Connections Contributes to the Building An Inviting Environment Opportunity Area:  Two of the guiding principles that emerged during our resident-led design process are: Culture and Opportunity.  Connections will build on this planning process and resulting principles, focusing on the intersections of culture, opportunity and mobility by engaging stakeholders in: 

--Lifting up and selecting inclusive narratives. Through arts-based engagement, we will identify and prioritize stories, experiences, themes, design, text and visual public art projects, etc. that promote identity, belonging, and social cohesion.

--Prioritizing key sites, pathways, and intersections. The project will prioritize paths and areas identified by both the City’s Greater Corktown Framework planning, resident planning and other initiatives. To date, types of pathways/areas to date include those that:  serve vulnerable populations, recommended for traffic calming; with potential or existing multi-modal junctures, are neighborhood gateways/vistas, informal town squares, and/or with current resident stewardship. These paths and areas serve cyclists, motorists, pedestrians and the mobility impaired. 

--Sharing/incorporating mobility experiences and data. Activities will seek information that promotes ongoing investment, improved outcomes and community well being like: work commute times, distances traveled for regular goods and services, desire lines and desired pathways, seasonal mobility choices and challenges. “Commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty.”[1]

--Raising project awareness and support. 

--Co-mapping community-identified narratives, themes, etc. with prioritized areas and pathways. The purpose is to illuminate opportunities, alignment, and synergies with other planning activities.  

--Piloting temporary installations (e.g., chalk art, ice/text art, smartphone accessible information/performances). Connections will pilot one to two projects at key sites, engaging stakeholders,  local artists, and practitioners.

--Seeking feedback via multiple methods (e.g., gathering, canvassing) from internal and external stakeholders.

--Sharing results with and seeking input from impact-area stakeholders and other planning initiatives.

--Based on feedback, developing and distributing requests for proposals to artists. Connections will seek artists and designers in disciplines and/or with community engagement processes that align with community priorities and outcomes. 

--Jurying proposals and selecting artists, designers, and projects via community-based process.

--Installing artwork and stewarding/caring for pathways and sites ongoing.

[1] Why the New Research on Mobility Matters: An Economist’s View

How will your solution benefit residents, workers, or visitors in the Michigan Central Station impact area? (1,000 characters)

This solution will benefit stakeholders by: --Promoting a sense of belonging via stakeholder-driven transformation of our community. Engaging stakeholders in such activities promotes civic engagement, social connections, stewardship, and improved life outcomes. --Illuminating and interpreting inclusive themes, text, images, etc. that promote our community’s unique culture and identity. --Promoting social seams – geographic, institutional, and/or virtual spaces where individuals and different groups encounter each other, and social relations are fostered. -Gathering data (e.g., commute times) that promote mobility in multiple senses (e.g., economic, cultural) and support current and future community projects and investments. --Promoting awareness, safety and inclusion among cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, and mobility impaired users --Promoting connections between NoCo and neighboring communities by artistically bridging historic divides and surrounding thoroughfares.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Prototype - you have built a prototype and tested it with potential users

Insights from previous testing (500 characters)

We transformed vacant NoCo lots, previously used for illegal dumping, into Intersections Park via multidisciplinary arts-based school/community engagement; installation of artworks, phone-accessible cultural info/performances, & engraved pathways. Insights: 1) Arts-based engagement offers non-threatening ways to explore differences & build connections. 2) Arts-based, stakeholder-led processes contribute to the development of culturally-relevant spaces, increased social cohesion, & stewardship.

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

HW promotes youth & community development through cultural traditions, arts and education. With a resident steering committee we led a project that resulted in urban design guidelines, professional development for our indigenous leaders, and a NoCo home for culture feasibility study. We have been a constant advocate for promoting the culture and diversity that makes NoCo such a unique and interesting place.

Size of your team or organization

  • 11-50

Team or Organization URL

Team URL: Lead Organization URL: NoCo Engagement Background URL:

Are you submitting as a student team?

  • No

Are you submitting as a team from the Impact Area?

  • Yes

Funding Request

  • $150,000

Rough Budget (500 characters)

Project Mngmt & Ops -$36,450 Detail: Project Dir, Project & Ops. Coordinators, Insurance, Rent, Accounting, Telecom. Professional Consulting Fees-Non Arts -$28,750 Detail: Outreach/Marketing, Development, Documentation, Evaluation, Survey Art & Culture Interventions -$84,800 Detail: School/Community Engagement; Fees (eg, Artists, Engineer, Architect), Installation, Site Prep Notes: -Based on 1.5-2 yrs -Will seek matching $$ for more sites, and bring mgmnt/operations to scale

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

Through arts-based engagement and collaboration, we will: ● Identify narratives, images and themes that both represent our community’s unique identity and promote belonging and inclusivity. ● Survey existing data/research and collect data from people who live, work and visit the neighborhood re: their mobility patterns and needs. ● Identify key pathways, junctures, and/or areas highlighted in stakeholder, City and other planning initiatives. ● Co- map arts projects with geographic sites to ID opportunities/alignments; Identify 1 to 2 safe, highly-visible opportunities. ● Raise awareness and seek support. ● Identify local artists and community-arts projects, and implement pilot projects (e.g., chalk art, ice sculptures). ● Use gathering/survey strategies to collect stakeholder feedback on pilot projects and arts-mobility map. Based on feedback, finalize map. Subsequent Phase: RFP development, community jury process, commission artists, install works, and share results.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

This project will measure its success by: --Increased sense of belonging/social cohesion among stakeholders as they move about the area. --Stakeholder’s sense of pride in the interpretation of Corktown’s unique identity and sense of place via pathway and area design elements. --Increased regard for NoCo, its contribution to the MCI area and its transformation. If funding permits, the project’s success will be measured using Action Research Evaluation (ARE) via an external evaluator. Heritage Works has successfully used this process before, which involves stakeholders as participants in the process. Rather than only using surveys or statistics, stakeholders will be asked to share experiences and/or an authentic story. They will then be asked to share how Connections changed their experience or attitudes regarding belonging, identity, navigating the impact area, and community wellbeing.

Sustainability Plan (500 characters)

Yes, Connections will be sustained after the pilot. We are currently developing case statements & cultivating funders to match City One dollars, if awarded. Other plans are to participate in Artspace, a capacity-building initiative that connects organizations with planning, implementation and sustainability resources for capital projects. HW has served Detroit for nearing two decades. We have generated support for ongoing programs, active use and stewardship from regional & national funders.

Social Media

@HeritageWorksDetroit -FB @HeritageWorks -Instagram personal pg before corp pg
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Team (6)

Rhonda's profile
Rhonda Greene

Role added on team:

"MCS Impact Area Resident, Steering Committee Member and HW Director"

Heritage's profile
Robyn's profile
Robyn Ussery

Role added on team:

"MCS Impact Area Resident and Steering Committee Member"

Will's profile
Will McDowell

Role added on team:

"MCS Impact Area Resident and Steering Committee Member"

Tricia 's profile
Tricia Talley

Role added on team:

"MCS Impact Area Resident, Steering Committee Member and North Corktown Neighborhood Association President"

Leslie's profile
Leslie Wacker

Role added on team:

"MCS Impact Area Resident, Steering Committee Member and Corktown/North Corktown Representative on the Congress of Communities Board of Directors"


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tricia  Talley

Heritage Works is a great supporter of North Corktown. I would love to see this implemented.

Photo of Heritage Works

Thank you, Tricia.

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