FLINT (AP) — Connor Coyne wants his neighbors to tell the story of their community.
The 34-year-old writer from Flint is one of nine artists-in-residence throughout the city’s nine wards chosen to use their talents to see just what role the arts can play in the city’s future.
“It’s really exciting,” he told The Flint Journal recently after meeting with the other artists. “I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect . but I’m really thrilled with the artists we’re working with.”
Funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, local artists and art organizations have collaborated with city officials to hire resident artists like Coyne throughout the city with the idea of exploring the role arts play in the community and how they can be worked into the city’s new master plan — the first in 50 years. The artists come from a variety of backgrounds. To apply for the program, they had to offer ideas of how they would use their own abilities to not only bring art to their community, but involve their community. Each artist receives a $2,000 stipend.
As a writer, Coyne first thought of a book.
One of his ideas is to have residents submit stories about themselves or the community, to be published in an anthology. He’s also thought about holding weekly artist workshops_bringing in experts in different fields to educate residents — and using the art produced there, whether written or visual, to create the book.
No matter which path he takes, it has to involve his neighbors. Having a project that involves the community is a requirement of the job.
“This is art with folks, not art for folks,” said Sue Wook, an arts consultant working with the project. “So, just doing an exhibition or performance and expecting an audience to show up is not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for artists who are engaged with the community for the creation of the work.”
For Kenyetta Dotson, that means looking to the past and the future. She said she wants to look at history while engaging area youths.
“(What) we want to do is utilize our history, our ancestors, and really create community signage in the high-traffic areas that has community art on it to get people to create community dialogue,” she said. “To not ignore the problem, but be actively involved in and part of the solution.”
Dotson is a social worker and is part of the WOW Outreach Center, a Flint-based program focused on ending violence.
By using signs and artwork from area children, she hopes to spread a positive message at two locations in Flint’s First Ward, taking up the northwest corner of the city.
“If people can see it on a daily basis, then people can see it as a reminder that we’re all in this together,” she said.
Other proposed projects include a verbatim theater project led by the Fifth Ward’s Andrew Morton, who has already led two other verbatim plays in the area — plays that are based on real information and interviews with local residents.
Another project that Wood said she’s looking forward to is a project in which the artist will invite community members out to Mott Golf Course to light paper lanterns they’ll send into the sky, each with a wish for the community written inside.
At first, organizers of the arts project were worried they wouldn’t have enough applicants, or wouldn’t have applicants in certain wards. After a last-minute push, however, they ended up with a total of about 40 applicants, with more than one in each ward.
“I thought that we got plenty of applications and we were able to find people that lived in all of the nine wards that we felt confident would be able to carry out the project,” said Greg Fiedler, president of the Greater Flint Arts Council.
“I was very satisfied, and a lot of very qualified and creative people applied.”