Southside Civic Lab

2019 Honoree - Robert E. Gard Award


To increase awareness and dialogue about issues of neighborhood gentrification in Fayetteville, AR, Artist’s Laboratory Theatre (ALT) developed the Southside Civic Lab project. The project’s outputs were developed collaboratively and delivered over a period of 16 months through expansive research, interviews and focus groups with local people who were experiencing food, transportation and housing insecurity in Fayetteville’s Southside neighborhood. Other activites included Listening Parties, which addressed topics affecting the community and offered radical hospitality including food and childcare, the curation of Neighborhood Ambassadors, who identified barriers and inequities for people who rely on public transit via research driven, task-focused bus rides, and a 3-day community visioning festival offered workshops on citizen-led community development and civic engagement. All of these project events and experiences informed an original play script titled Good Person of South Fayetteville, which was performed by ALT at site-specific venues including during public bus commutes. The project was supported by the Our Town grant through the National Endowment for the Arts.

How did this project exemplify “arts and” partnership?Southside Civic Lab project generated impressive outcomes for the neighborhood, a historically low-income minority community, at a time of rapid gentrification. The project united foundational neighbors with new homeowners, City officials and community services providers to explore shared concerns and inspired transformational citizen engagement by underrepresented people. First-time attendance at public housing planning meetings by Southside neighbors resulted in a change of meeting structure to accommodate citizen input. In addition, the project empowered neighbors to make impressive commitments to civic duties; one ran for City Council while another joined the Housing Authority Board of Directors via appointment by the City’s mayor; this marked a comprehensive change in Board membership and operational staffing. Beyond the project’s scope, neighbors used project-learned skills to implement traffic-calming solutions in a busy roadway. The project stimulated change to public bus routes when it revealed better sites for stops and the need for weather shelters; local routes were redrawn and bus stop shelters added. Through the Southside Civic Lab project, Artist's Laboratory Theatre created necessary conditions to support a profoundly changing neighborhood to know one another better, to transform their own community, and to improve self-identified, every day needs through arts integrated strategies.

Project partners:

  • Devin Howland, Economic Vitality Director, City of Fayetteville, Arkansas
  • Solomon Burchfield, Operations Manager, 7 Hills Homeless Center
  • Jennifer Brown, Marketing Director and Community Outreach, Salvation Army
  • Joel Gardner, Executive Director, Ozark Regional Transit
  • Melissa Terry, Board Chair, Fayetteville Housing Authority

How did the partners collaborate? Howland served on the Imagine South Fayetteville planning committee. Burchfield coordinated focus groups, a photo project, creative writing classes and interviews with 7 Hills Homeless Shelter clients. Brown connected Salvation Army shelter residents with "Good Person of South Fayetteville" play development process. Gardner coordinated the integration of the play performance on public buses and the nstallation of bus stop shelters. Terry went door-to-door and motivated neighbors to gather input from families living in Housing Authority properties.