Community Relations; an arts administrator’s art & family

Note – this post was in my drafts list since 2008. I’ve updated the post to reflect on a nine year old memory.

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I saw some amazing things at the March 5, 2008 First Friday. It was the opening of a unique art installation in six storefronts along East Third Street.  The installation is one of a four-part series of art experiences dedicated to Women’s History month.

This is not about the creation of the art, but of the installation. Sometimes there is an “art” to this as well. Administrators may find the work necessary to realize someone else’s artistic vision to be labor intensive. Perhaps it is challenging; sometimes, downright TEDIOUS. I live for it! It’s almost like the role of a mid-wife. We encourage the curators and the artists. But on another level, one strives to assure community partner concerns with the experiments. This was a vital part to Lehigh University’s evolving relationships with multiple constituents in our local community.

The local constituents referred to in this post are the merchants of central South Bethlehem. They were always open to the installation idea. But the artists had to find a balance between their ideas and the stores’ identity to their customers.  After the first night of installation work in one of the stores, they were only able to partially complete it. The artists covered the street-facing window with solid black paper. The store looked closed. It was a shroud of retail death. It worried us all. Hours before opening, the artist finished the installation with a beautiful cut away, which made the installation even more intriguing, and the merchant, very happy.

Here’s a little secret. The incomplete installation wasn’t a good signal to passers by. While the store looked closed, the merchant was patient. All the other merchants expressed concerns about it. And didn’t hesitate to share them with me directly.  It was the way the merchants looked out for their neighbor that revealed a real family on 3rd street.

There’s another family on west Fourth Street. See, First Friday goes up there, too. I stopped by HomeBase skate shop to check in with my friend Andy Po. He was in the middle of surprise for one of their loyal customers. When I saw the post on his website this morning, my heart grew even greater for this store. And I was so moved by the affection, I came back for a haircut at Eskandalo the next day.

The Southside Arts District merchant family is why I’m proud to wear my Bethlehem citizen badge. And the joy in my work is why I’m satisfied.

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