MassDevelopment
Celebrating 20 Years

Project adding more fun to ‘New Bedford’s backyard’ — Wings Court

October 18, 2018 : SouthCoast Today, by Steven Froias


Turning Wings Court into a vibrant community space is something of a mission for many these days.

It’s got some infrastructure ... but it doesn’t quite work right.

It’s got the right location ... but it is poorly defined.

It could be the crossroads of New Bedford’s downtown commercial district ... if only...

What?

That’s what needs to be determined.

What there is no doubt about is the site’s potential. When special events like the SUPERFLAT mural festival, 3rd EyE Open breakdancing contest or outdoor wrestling happens there, it becomes the natural hub its supporters envision. Think New York City’s Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village or even Union Square on 14th Street.

There is also little doubt that, barring a wholesale and radical redesign of the space, art and creativity combined is the best — and most cost-effective — way to help Wings Court take flight right now.

Enter, the Creative Community Campus Furniture Workshop.

It’s extreme collaboration at its finest. Cross-institution, inter-agency, public/private — you name it, you’re likely to find it working together here in — and for — Wings Court.

Let’s leave all that aside for now, though, and simply look at what Creative Campus Community Furniture is, by definition.

That would be a design and building project that seeks to populate Wings Court with outdoor furniture that will help give it more identity and also more purpose.

It’s being executed by UMass Dartmouth CVPA and Bristol Community College art department students — with the participation of the New Bedford Art Museum Teen Arts Council program and Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech students.

James McKeag, MassDevelopment fellow for the Purchase-Union TDI District, is helping to coordinate the project. Wings Court is in the middle of that district, and he probably has come up with the best definition of the space.

“It’s downtown New Bedford’s backyard,” he says.

That’s been embraced by participants and the workshop project reflects the notion.

Utilizing free furniture designs found on the Better Block website, based in Texas, and used under the Creative Commons license, a suite of outdoor furniture was selected by all the students and faculty involved in the project.

It reflects the backyard theme, with an emphasis on what people actually do in their backyards: play games.

Accordingly, the furniture will be fun and multi-functional. Pieces are designed to be moved around the space, whether you’re playing chess or checkers. Some of it will be purpose-built — like giant Jenga sets or cornhole boards.

UMassD Architecture + Design students Heather Kelly and Rachael Bergstrom presented two designs for placing all of it within context to everyone involved on Saturday, Oct. 13 in the basement of the nearby Co-Creative Center.

That’s where students got their first shot at constructing the furniture prototypes, too. Those prototypes were delivered courtesy of the tremendous generosity of a New Bedford business.

H. Loeb Corporation (hloeb.com), located at 419 Sawyer St, is one of those amazing city businesses that exist at the intersection of industry and creativity.

Among the many things they specialize in is CNC Routing, and they are donating their talent and equipment to the cause by cutting the patterns for the furniture and other structures the students will then assemble.

Smaller prototypes can be cut at the UMD CVPA Star Stores campus. In its basement, faculty Professional Technician Shingo Furukawa gave team members a tour on Saturday and cut cardboard miniatures of some of the furniture pieces for them.

Rose Botti-Salitsky, professor of interior architecture from UMD CVPA, brought everyone over from the Co-Creative Center in groups and shared some thoughts on the project en route.

She — and her students — are all transplants from the recently shuttered Mt. Ida College. What could have been a challenging transition has been made remarkably easy thanks to the equipment and resources they found here at CVPA.

And, something else...

The community that is New Bedford. That’s why students have jumped into this project with enthusiasm. It should be noted that they’re not doing this for curriculum credit; this is all-volunteer.

“We’ve loved discovering this community,” Botti-Salitsky says. “And this project is a wonderful way to make a meaningful connection to it!”

Indeed, McKeag points out that encouraging all the students to become invested in these public spaces is another goal of the project.

The plan is to construct all the furniture between now and about Nov. 8. And, settle on other final site design elements and art for the space to fully activate it.

Some of that won’t be executed until next spring, 2019. But in the meantime, the furniture will be utilized indoors at BCC in a street-level space off William Street that looks out onto Custom House Square Park.

When it’s time to move outdoors for the warm weather next year, businesses adjacent to Wings Court will be enlisted to provide a home for any necessary games equipment that complements the design. Signage will direct people where to go to get what they need to play in the new backyard that will be Wings Court.

McKeag explained the policy behind the project — tactical urbanism — to everyone while they were getting busy in the basement of the Co-Creative Center assembling the prototypes.

But it was obvious by the sound of movement that these creative commandos had already internalized the policy and were busy making it reality...

Coming soon to Wings Court — downtown New Bedford’s backyard.