I Am Trenton Community Foundation and Creative New Jersey worked with many local partners to convene Creative Trenton’s first Call to Collaboration, a two-day open-space meeting at Living Hope Empowerment Center. More than 125 community stakeholders participated in the event on January 23 and 24, 2014, focused on the central question:
How do we connect and collaborate to create meaningful partnerships, foster innovation and creatively revitalize Trenton?
A diverse group of community members from commerce, education, philanthropy, government, culture, faith-based, community & social service sectors gathered to discuss how to use creativity and innovation to impact Trenton’s future. Over one and a half days, the open space convening bypassed PowerPoint presentations and panel discussions for more than 50 authentic, community-led conversations. The full proceedings report is still being completed, but several common themes emerged from the group discussions, including:
- Many attendees expressed support for innovative solutions to address intractable societal challenges. A group discussing the challenge of mass incarceration talked about decriminalizing marijuana by ordinance to channel limited police resources and prevent the destruction of young lives for nonviolent drug offenses. Several groups discussed utilizing foreclosed and abandoned properties within Trenton to encourage artists moving into the city, similar to Detroit. Another discussion centered on immigration and a desire to create a safe haven for undocumented immigrants. Many attendees encouraged others to remember the last, the least and the lost.
- There was broad agreement about the need to support and retain local businesses in Trenton. Several groups discussed a desire to attract additional commercial property and how best to balance community needs with new development.
- Nearly everyone that participated recognized the need for a positive story about Trenton. A frustration with the mainstream media was expressed in many of the conversations. Multiple attendees expressed a desire for a new narrative about Trenton, focused on the positive things that are happening. In several conversations, I Am Trenton Community Foundation’s billboard campaign was cited as a positive example, and one that might be revisited.
- Many participants talked about Trenton’s need for a comprehensive web calendar, a list of community events, and a resource for finding and also promoting each other’s activities.
- In an increasingly digital age, attendees discussed sharing our own messages, utilizing the Internet and social media to spread news and support each other; though there was also recognition that not all members of our community can easily access a computer, with several groups talking about the need for and possible ways to provide more universal Internet access.
- There were many conversations about collaboration in general. Trenton has multiple existing collaborative initiatives, including Trenton Green Team, Partnership for Healthy Kids-Trenton, Trenton Health Team, Trenton Stakeholders, Trenton Council of Civic Associations, Trenton Cultural Resource Network, Impact Trenton, and now the Creative Trenton effort. Collaboration was expressed as a shared value, but there was also a desire to reduce some redundancy and a recognition that a Paterson collaborative model might be worth studying for additional ideas on coordination between collaborations.
Hopefully, the enthusiasm and positive energy engendered at the first Creative Trenton Convening will have lasting impact. Trenton’s Master Plan is in the process of being renewed; it would be great to incorporate the community ideas and projects that were discussed into that process and vision. Several of the group discussions had promising and tangible action steps already identified.
- Stephanie Anderson led a group discussion about transportation for after-school programs. An awesome list of action items was generated and point people have been identified, with plans for a follow-up meeting being planned at Artworks Trenton.
- Shakira Abdul-Ali led a powerful conversation about ending guns and gang violence that resulted in a long list of pragmatic action items.
- Jim Gordon led a brainstorm about promoting Trenton jazz, with a planned reconvening at Candlelight on February 1.
- Candace Frederick led a discussion about using the arts as part of the beautification or urban areas that included some great ideas for Trenton, and referenced a citywide cleanup on Saturday, April 5
One last encouraging development, at least three different groups of stakeholders wanted to revisit and recreate the Creative Trenton concept. One group, youth civic engagement and education, plans to partner with youth organizations and students in August or September; a second discussion raised the possibility of an open space convening regarding mass incarceration; and another group suggested organizing another Creative Trenton event, with a central question focused on race relations
There were so many other amazing ideas generated and discussed at Trenton’s call to collaboration. I am excited to learn what other good projects and partnerships move forward now that our collective creativity has been sparked! Some participants will be reconvening for The Citizens Campaign upcoming Trenton civic happy hours at Trenton Social, on Wednesday, February 26 and Wednesday, March 26, 5:30-7:30pm. And others are continuing the conversation on Facebook…. join the Creative Trenton group and “like” Creative New Jersey’s and I Am Trenton Community Foundation’s pages to stay connected. Bring your ideas and let’s continue the conversations.
Dan Fatton is the President of the I Am Trenton Community Foundation and was Co-Chair of Creative Trenton.
Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.
Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.
Photos provided by CreativeNJ.