There would have to be some rethinking for the project to demonstrate something significant to others.
Target Area Map
...a clearer, more comprehensive vision of community-building...
...weaving the participation of artists, educators, students, area residents and activists into a flowing quilt of action...
A number of changes occurred during the eighteen months between when the original Weaving the Web grant was written and the project was implemented. The most significant was that only half of the money requested was received ($28,000). While the collaborators agreed to move forward, it was agreed that simply cutting the projected number of activities in half would not fully compensate for the loss in critical mass. There would have to be some rethinking for the project to demonstrate something significant to others.
Moreover, the collaborating organizations had come to question the effectiveness and depth of the original project plan. While alternative in many ways, it called for what was in reality a fairly conventional approach to audience development. Member-based community organizing groups were an unusual place to begin developing theater audiences, but the techniques proposed (ads, ticket discounts, flyers, presentations at meetings) were not out of the ordinary, and they would do little to challenge or transform the basic consumerist nature of the audience/arts organization relationship.
At this point, Junebug Productions and Ashe Cultural Arts Center stepped forward to make a recommendation. Both were involved in COMMUNITY LABOR UNITED, a city-wide coalition that originated in 1999 when social justice organizations in New Orleans gathered around the notion that their work needed to be more unified. The coalition sponsors monthly forums that provide an opportunity for organizations to share the work they are doing, invite other organizations to join them, and discover their common goals.
Community Labor United, having established deep community relationships in the City's 8th and 9th Wards, proposed to the collaborators they focus their attention there; more specifically, in the area surrounding Frederick Douglass High School. The Urbanheart North Star Village (www.urbanheart.org), another member of Community Labor United, had solidified a base in the high school and had begun mobilizing parents and young people in participatory, bottom-up ways. It was a history of coalition-building in the community that the collaborators could draw from and give back to.
The Weaving the Web organizations decided to dig deep and focus their resources in support of North Star Village's efforts, building upon an established base rather than attempting to create a new one just for this project. North Star Village, in turn, decided to use the opportunity to expand and formalize its community-building efforts.
A meeting was held at Douglass High on February 9, 2003, to discuss the creation of a coalition of arts, education and organizing groups to work together on community issues within the general vicinity of Douglass High. Twenty-three people were in attendance, representing a wide range of groups, including arts, criminal justice, youth, parents and block associations. Many of those present were also residents interested and concerned about their community.
An agreement was reached to create a community coalition that would target the area surrounding the Frederick Douglass High School as the geographic focus for change. The exact area was decided upon based on several factors, including census data, transportation, school recruitment and historic affiliations.
Over the course of its first two meetings, the Coalition adopted two projects:
(1) A community school project to design systems for comprehensive involvement and decision making at Douglass High School. Parents, students, teachers, administrators and area residents would be part of the decision making body that determines policies, procedures, curriculum and activities in Douglass High School, and be workers to help carry out decisions. Additionally, the school would be an open facility to the community as a venue for meetings and events at little to no cost.
As part of this project, the founding Coalition members (including the Weaving the Web organizations) had to develop a clearer, more comprehensive vision of community-building that went beyond conventional notions of 'bricks and mortar' and 'mobilization,' to embrace creative expression and cultural literacy as central elements in grassroots social change.
Task forces were formed within the Coalition to plan, coordinate and implement both projects. A new set of objectives were agreed-upon for Weaving the Web:
The evolution of Weaving the Web had begun. The stated purpose of the project became incorporated into the new coalition. The group took on weaving the participation of artists, educators, students, area residents and activists into a flowing quilt of action that transformed Frederick Douglass Senior High School and its surrounding community, utilizing the tools and talents of each specialty: art, education and organizing. Artists offered a theatrical voice for community issues, an opening to showcase community talent and a reminder of the importance of culture. The educators could provide a training ground for young people's leadership development and community involvement. The activists gave an organizing approach and strategy for change.
"Our mission is restoration of peace and safety by bringing diverse groups together."
Crescent City Peace Alliance
"We're all part of the same movement."
Community Labor United
"The arts activities allow us a way of attracting people to come into the school."
North Star Village
"Man, the world is all messed up...we need to be asking God to pass us a better deal."
North Star Village