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smART [sustainability+madison+art] in Darbo-Worthington

Posted: 11:59AM August 6th, 2014 | Comments

Submitted By Andrew Berger

Last Tuesday, the Darbo-Worthington neighborhood of Madison witnessed the birth of the smART [sustainability + madison + art] program. Around 2pm, Sustain Dane shuttled over to the Salvation Army backyard across from Worthington Park with plenty of all-natural beef and veggie hot dogs, a deep dish full of Bunky's hummus, and lemonade. We spent the evening with neighbors discussing what makes a healthy and happy future which lead artist Sharon Kilfoy will turn into a large community-painted mural that captures a vision of a sustainable future. Take a look at our website to dig in deeper about the smART program. This summer, smART is funded in part by Dane Arts, the Madison Arts Commission and the Wisconsin Arts Board. The Darbo-Worthington pilot site was further made possible by local organizations like the Darbo-Worthington Neighborhood Resource Team (NRT), Mentoring Positives, The Salvation Army, WOW (Women of Worthington), and the Worthington Park Neighborhood Association. As a Sustain Dane intern, I focus on evaluating Sustain Dane’s impact . For this evening in Darbo, my job was straightforward- I observed and took notes on how the neighborhood was enjoying the event, and grilled up some dogs - so it surely wasn't hard to make sure everyone was enjoying themselves.


Let me tell you a little bit more about our first pilot neighborhood:
The Darbo-Worthington neighborhood has a population of about 1300 people, with nearly 50% of neighbors living at or below the poverty line –nearly three times higher than the city level - and a 13 % unemployment rate - nearly 10% higher than the city average. Sustain Dane defines sustainability as a holarchy where a just society, healthy environment, and strong economy are intimately linked. One goal of the smART program is to provide a framework to envision a world without this poverty and continue to work toward that vision of stable economies, vibrant communities, and thriving ecosystems. Concurrent projects in Darbo compliment smART by aiming to establish the area of Worthington Park and the Salvation Army as neighborhood centers for the community. The smART program discussion last Tuesday was successful in building toward this vision.

The event started around 5 o'clock - just after we got the grill going. Even before we got the coals lit up, kids across the street had received word of a picnic and began to surround the grill in excitement. Worthington Park Neighborhood leader Alfonso and I fired up the coals and got the party started. Soon enough, the park was filled with kids across the street from Worthington Park and adults from the neighborhood. As excited as all the kids were, Bunky's hummus and the hot dogs settled everyone down to start the conversation.

The main topic of conversation with the kids regarded what kids wanted to see on the mural to be painted on the side of the Salvation Army building.

 

In conversations, facilitated by Edgewood College, many adults in the neighborhood talked about the future of the Salvation Army building. Everyone I overheard was willing to lend an ear to the blueprint of Darbo’s future. The fact of the matter is that the city provides a total of $1.1 million dollars to neighborhood projects in the entire city of Madison, which is not nearly enough to account for the all income inequities and scattered poverty in the downtown area alone. With this obstacle in mind, the smART project in Darbo focuses on building social cohesion in community-driven settings as a small step to find low-cost antidotes to the fatal virus of income inequity.

We had a great turnout and many of the smART Darbo participants last Tuesday were kids of the neighborhood. It is important to hear the Darbo youth voice, however it would have been great to experience more of the present generations. A challenge Sustain Dane has in future smART neighborhoods is to make these large conversations accessible to all age demographics – especially adults dealing with many of these economic instabilities on a daily basis. Afterall,$1.1 million spread throughout Madison isn’t much, but the combined efforts of non-profits like Sustain Dane can supplement city work and target factors that may feed into poverty cycles. For example, in our evaluation we are looking to see if smART has any long-term effect on reducing crime, increasing educational achievements, and developing extracurricular interests. As we can observe, keeping kids in school and creating a passion for art and music are proven ways to divert future generations from the crime rates associated with neighborhood substance abuse - and it is inspiring to see many organizations working with this common goal to create a healthy and happy future. To see more adults at future Darbo-Worthington conversations would be a pleasure, but I acknowledge the fact that this challenge is no easy task. Establishing a mindset of sustainability, especially under economic pressure, requires a call to action.

Back to the event:
The day in Darbo-Worthington was pure teamwork and we definitely stayed busy. A Sustain Dane volunteer from a local organization and I went to refill lemonade together and ended up having a pleasant talk about the future potential of the Salvation Army building. If the building is purchased by the city as a community center, it would be the 15th neighborhood center in the urban area of Madison. Based on experiences in Darbo, I’m hopeful but skeptical that the center will be used to its full potential. I’m excited to follow-up with more discussion on both present barriers and future visions from neighbors across the city. Oftentimes, just asking the right question can lead to a fruitful conversation and friendship. Now that members of the Darbo-Worthington neighborhood have experienced the smART workshop, Sustain Dane can evaluate how the community continues to build on neighborhood work to reach a vision of a healthy and happy future.
 

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