Every time Stephanie Ny and Nadia Perez visit the interactive BART Art Installation at Richmond Station — essentially a giant chalkboard — it is filled to the brim with messages from community members.
The exhibit asking passersby to jot down how they would use $2,000 to improve their community, and also what they want to accomplish before they die, has attracted hundreds of responses since it went up late last month.
Ny and Perez, who have been monitoring the temporary art installation as part of their work in administering the AmeriCorps VISTA “Love Your Block” grant program in Richmond, said they make sure to clean off the chalkboard when there is no longer room for new messages.
“Every time we come by it’s full,” Ny said. “People have written new things.”
Some of the messages call for the building of community gardens in Richmond, or the planting of more trees. One message proposed constructing a mansion to house the homeless. Others discussed dreams of meeting Obama, of being a good father, of finding their purpose in life. And there’s always the occasional prankster who will contribute profanity or a quip, with one claiming a desire to “get high” before they die.
The majority of the messages, however, have been pure, noble and inspiring, Perez said.
“You don’t really hear a lot of positive things about Richmond in the media; it’s as if there’s no community, as if no one is really doing anything to create community,” said Ny. “It’s not true. I think the messages show that residents are dedicated to Richmond…even in the face of this negative publicity.”
What’s more inspiring, according to Ny, is that this community participation will lead to real, tangible changes in the community. The BART Art Installation operates as a promotion for the “Love Your Block” mini-grant program, which challenges community members to apply for small grants so they can take it upon themselves to carry out neighborhood improvement projects.
Last year, the three-year program gave 11 grants of $1,000 to community members who launched projects ranging from community gardens to neighborhood clean-ups. This year, the program is offering $2,000 for five projects, with officials citing the need for larger grant awards to complete sustainable projects.
While all Richmond residents may apply for the grants, applications from North Richmond and Parchester Village will receive priority consideration. Applications are being accepted now through Nov. 3 at 11:59 p.m. In order to be eligible for the grant, all applicants must attend at least one of six planned workshops that are meant to guide residents on how to move their project forward (See info on how to apply, along with the dates, times and locations of workshops, at the end of this post.).
Richmond is one of seven U.S. cities to win a three-year commitment to fund local improvement projects “one block at a time.” The Love Your Block initiative was started by Cities of Service, a nonprofit founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Aside from completing improvement projects, the program works to inspire residents to become more active in their community. Residents are the ultimate leaders of their Love Your Block projects. The role of city staff is simply to guide them in the process and connect them to resources, Perez said.
The project’s ultimate goal, of course, is to empower new changemakers in the community. It has been working, Ny said.
“There has been so much willingness and collaboration among everyone,” Ny said. “Everyone has the same goal: To improve Richmond and the quality of life for its residents.”
For more information on the program and where to apply, click here. See the flier below for a list of upcoming workshops (remember, you must attend at least one to be eligible for a grant). Make sure to follow the Love Your Block Facebook page, as well.
Also, you can pose questions about the program by contacting Stephanie Ny at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 510-620-6563, or Nadia Perez at email@example.com, or 510-621-1568.