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Fall River public space upgrades get backing in state grant

January 22, 2020 : The Herald News, by Peter Jasinski


FALL RIVER — An ongoing effort to fill the city with new public art installations just moved one step closer to reality with a $40,000 grant awarded by the state.

This week, MassDevelopment awarded $340,000 in grant money to 11 organizations throughout the state trying to re-purpose public spaces with new functional and artistic purposes. One recipient was Fall River’s Youth Experiencing Art and Hope, also known as YEAH, which has been working with students from Rhode Island School of Design and an economic development consultant from MassDevelopment to brighten up parts of downtown Fall River.

The $40,000 awarded to the local initiative was the highest amount the nonprofit could have received through MassDevelopment, and was one of three initiatives to receive that much money this year.

“This is going to allow us to look at some very specific ideas that have the potential to really catalyze specific parts of the city and let people know what can be done through art and design,” said Tom Flint, director of Youth Experiencing Art and Hope.

According to a spokesperson with MassDevelopment, the funding will help support one to two pilot projects in Fall River, which have yet to be determined. Flint said he plans to meet with Jim McKeag, a Fall River-based Transformative Development Initiative Fellow from MassDevelopment, to discuss what proposals should get attention.

While not able to say specifically which projects will likely move forward, Flint said the projects would probably be lower-impact ideas promoting connectivity and pedestrian accessibility between city neighborhoods.

Last month, volunteers with Youth Experiencing Art and Hope and students from RISD presented possible options for projects to community members. Ideas encompassed 11 different proposals that ranged from connecting city parks via a network of landscaped gardens and pedestrian pathways to investing a smartphone app similar to Pokémon Go that would make city residents and visitors more likely to explore Fall River’s public spaces.

Multiple proposals suggested utilizing the Bedford Street complex owned by Merrow Manufacturing as a community park.

“The TDI Creative Catalyst Grant will make a strong visual impact on the city and enhance the relationships between YEAH!, the local small business community and Rhode Island School of Design,” said McKeag. “This funding sends a strong signal to our partners, area youth, RISD and others that we believe in the great work they are doing and their ability to build a stronger, more supportive ecosystem for local arts and culture organizations and the local economy.”

Flint said the project’s next steps include gathering the students who developed proposals with local officials and Fall River property and business owners to discuss which would be best to pursue. Flint speculated that one reason the grant application was so successful was because roughly 10 local business and property owners had expressed interest in providing the space needed to host each project.

“Now it’s definitely going to involve getting back in touch with a lot of the people we previously contacted and getting a team together,” said Flint. “It’s going to be a matter of getting the right people together and figuring out which projects make the most sense.”