The Wave as ‘Placemaker’

More Awesome News

Elena and I are very pleased to announce that we are recipients of a $10,000 2014 Arts Catalyze Placemaking Grant (ACP) from the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Department of Economic and Community Development!  The ACP grant program was created to  “invest in the state’s arts-based cultural activities and infrastructure in ways that will advance the attractiveness and competitiveness of Connecticut cities, towns, and villages as meaningful communities in which to live, work, learn and play.”

In partnership with The Connecticut Library Consortium, we will be conducting four installations of The Wave between January and June of 2014 in the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, the Public Library of New London (CT), the Willimantic (CT) Public Library and the New Haven (CT) Free Public Library. The installations will serve as a catalyst for the establishment of ‘Community Engagement Hubs’ or centers for on-going community dialogue, and will remain in the libraries as visual documentation of the project and a visual reminder of shared community responsibility.

By using The Wave in four urban libraries as an appealing, interactive art installation that will attract a wide variety of participants and become a catalyst for community conversations on the topic of water, the libraries will: (1) Create a trusted and safe venue for on-going public dialogue on community issues, with water being only the first topic of discussion; (2) Improve civic engagement among segments of the population who have been less involved; and (3) Improve social isolation among community members.

'Wave-Makers' at CT Office of the Arts Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Schools Teacher Institute, 2012

‘Wave-Makers’ at The CT Office of the Arts, Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Schools Teacher Institute, 2012

 Placemaking as Process and Philosophy

The term, “placemaking” began being used by writers such as William H. Whyte in the 1960s and by architects and planners in the 1970s to depict the process of creating public spaces that would take into consideration the needs of people and not just the physical design of buildings, shopping centers and roads.  The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a nonprofit, international, planning, design and educational organization, founded in 1975 and dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities, defines placemaking as follows:

Placemaking is the process through which we collectively shape our public realm to maximize shared value. Rooted in community-based participation, Placemaking involves the planning, design, management and programming of public spaces. More than just creating better urban design of public spaces, Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of activities and connections (cultural, economic, social, ecological) that define a place and support its ongoing evolution. Placemaking is how people are more collectively and intentionally shaping our world, and our future on this planet.  

These are lofty words for how we can become more connected to the places in which we live, work and play through creative activities and shared experiences.  We are very proud to be part of this process in Connecticut.

Public Art as Community Building

The Purposes of Public Art

Historically, public art in the form of monuments, equestrian statues and sculptures in plazas or parks has been commissioned or built to commemorate individuals or events, emphasize the stature of governments and corporations and embellish and beautify public spaces.

There is another kind of public art, however, that has emerged in the last four decades, whose purpose is to engage individuals in ‘building community’ while they are creating works of art with the help of artists serving as their ‘mentors’ or ‘facilitators.’  Suzanne Lacy, in her 1995 book, Mapping the Terrain coined a new term for this type of community building public art: she calls it ‘new genre public art.’  It fosters connections among the participants and also develops in them a sense of personal pride as well as a common purpose and new appreciation for their local, state, national or international communities.

Lily Yeh: Transforming Communities Through Art

Lily Yeh is my personal hero. Her work exemplifies public art that is community building. She is an inspiring public artist who, though the power of art, is transforming communities and motivating individuals around the world. In 2002, Lily, a native of China and a long-time resident of Philadelphia, created Barefoot Artists, an organization dedicated to “training and empowering local residents, organizing communities, and taking action for a more compassionate, just, and sustainable future.”  Lily has worked with students, teachers, local elders, victims of genocide and children and adults suffering from trauma, pain and poverty in Rwanda, China, Ecuador, Haiti, Ghana, Syria, Italy and the U.S.  The methods she uses to engage communities and create stunning works of art are described in Awakening Creativity, a book she published in 2011. In it, she eloquently documents the journey she and the students and staff of The Dandelion School underwent to physically and spiritually transform their school, and in the process, their lives. The Dandelion School is located in an impoverished neighborhood populated by rural migrants in Beijing, China.  A documentary film on Lily’s work and life is currently in post-production.

 The Dandelion School Project, Courtesy of Lily Yeh

The Dandelion School Project
Photograph Courtesy of Lily Yeh

The Wave as Community Building

The Wave also falls into the category of ‘community building’ public art. Visitors to our Wave installations feel a sense of pride when they add their own pieces to The Wave which is growing and growing as it travels from community to community. They feel a sense of pride that their community has joined with others to create a work of art that is glorious as it glimmers and shimmers in the sun. Children and adults alike want to see where their pieces ultimately end up in the installation and how they are connected to the whole, just as they are connected to each other by their mutual need for water, the most fundamental requirement for life on this planet.


Young Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein


Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein


Participants at The Wave Installation
Connecticut Office of the Arts, HOT Schools Summer Institute, 2012
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein


Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein