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To Conjure a Neighborhood’s Future, Residents Take to the Stage

Across the country, LISC works with on-the-ground partners to help residents voice what they most want and need for their own neighborhoods. Indianapolis has given this sort of “quality of life” planning a brilliant new twist: a local, LISC-funded arts organization supported a community in literally acting out what they want to see as their neighborhood develops. And displacement isn’t part of the storyline. An article in Next City explains.

The excerpt below is from:
Instead of Reenacting the Past, This Indy Neighborhood Is ‘Pre-Enacting’ the Future
by Jen Kinney, Next City

One Saturday last October, a visitor to seven blocks of Indianapolis’s 16th Street would have glimpsed a fleeting vision: a neighborhood that doesn’t quite exist yet, struggling into being.

The candy store that closed years ago was open again. A vacant storefront had become a barbershop. Another had transformed into a center for financial advice. A café had popped up in the middle of the road, slowing down the traffic that was crawling along anyway, taking in the sights of this suddenly vibrant stretch of the neighborhood, known as Monon16.

The shops, the café, they were all temporary — stage sets in an elaborate experiment in inclusive development. But Joanna Taft, executive director of the Harrison Center for the Arts, hopes the effects will be long-lasting. She was the brains behind Pre-Enact Indy, a project that sought to imagine a neighborhood that had developed without displacement, embracing the future without forgetting the past. For one day in October, the Harrison Center, 13 theater companies, and over 300 actors made that vision real for Monon16, a neighborhood that has struggled with vacancy and disinvestment, and is now on the brink of gentrification.

Taft says she got the idea after observing how the Harrison Center has affected its own surrounding neighborhood, about a mile west of Monon16. She’s proud that vacancies are down, that the art center opened a new charter high school. “But throughout, I wondered, what could we have done to develop more inclusively?” she says. “We did revitalize a neighborhood, but the neighborhood is very different now. It’s very expensive now.”

So when Taft saw the early signs of gentrification in Monon16, she wondered if there was a better way. She spent a year asking what people wanted from their neighborhood, and heard a lot of nostalgia. “The neighbors when you ask them what they want, they would always talk about the good old days,” she says: they’d talk about people gathering on porches, about good schools, about neighborhood gardens.

At first, Taft thought the Harrison Center could recreate that past for them. But the longer she talked to neighbors, “I thought a reenactment wasn’t good enough. We need a pre-enactment. I had the idea we could use theater to pre-enact a future that is just and equitable and inclusive.”

With the help of 13 theater companies from around the city, the Harrison Center built about 10 temporary buildings, and activated other vacant structures to create over 20 different stages. [The Dream Theater pictured above was built for Pre-Enact.] “We took the hopes and dreams we collected [in interviews with residents] and anchored all of the scripts in those hopes and dreams,” says Taft. Continued [+]...