Someday soon, the new community arts center in Yonkers, NY, may be outfitted with a fascinating, experience-oriented, permanent exhibition. If current plans are realized, the center, called PC4, will have a music studio where visitors can mix and compose original tunes, listen to songs by members of the local community, and upload their creations to share them online. In a “dream lounge,” guests will be able to recline in beanbag chairs while images swirl across curved, wall-sized screens as well as the ceiling, prompting relaxation and stimulating the imagination.
The designs for PC4 were spearheaded last spring by Brenda Cowan, associate professor in FIT’s master’s program in Exhibition Design, in a unique partnership with SUNY Purchase, which leases the space. With a $19,500 SUNY Arts and Humanities Networks of Excellence grant, Cowan brought together a 14-person creative team that included SUNY Purchase undergraduates, Yonkers high school students, and representatives of local arts organizations. Five of Cowan’s students designed the exhibition and graphics and fabricated prototypes. Grant funds were dispensed as fellowships to the collaborators.
Perhaps the best part of the process was engaging with Yonkers residents. “Authentic community investment and stake-holding is essential to a large project of this type,” Cowan says. She conducted a town-hall style meeting with more than 50 local teens, their families, and representatives of local arts organizations and the mayor’s office. Many ideas for PC4 emerged, as participants were led through creative visualization exercises that generated over 200 drawings. “We asked them to draw the place where they feel happiest,” Cowan explains. “Many chose ‘in bed,’ so we designed the dream lounge.” FIT students created prototypes of the PC4 spaces, which were evaluated by 20 local teens.
Cowan says the exercise proved valuable for her entire class of FIT students, who got to see how a community project develops. Executing the plans will require one to two years, a professional design firm, and an additional $200,000-$400,000 in funding. Cowan hopes the SUNY Purchase collaboration can continue with necessary fundraising, and will result in a product that will serve the diverse people of Yonkers for years to come.