Editor’s note: Emily Wolff talks to Renee Peck about the new Broadmoor arts center on WWNO public radio:
These days, when you drive or walk the length of General Pershing from Broad Street toward South Claiborne, you can tell something is growing there.
There in Broadmoor, in the heart of New Orleans, a community is rebuilding itself.
On what was the largest concentration of blight in the neighborhood, construction is underway for an 11,500-square-foot Arts and Wellness Center, a space that will provide quality arts enrichment and improved vitality to over 350 community members daily.
The Arts and Wellness Center is the third of four anchor institutions that will make up the Education Corridor, a literal eight-block passage of educational and cultural institutions that is re-imagining how a neighborhood can enhance the lives of individual residents over the course of a lifetime.
The first anchor institution — the LEED Gold Certified Andrew H. Wilson Charter School — re-opened in 2010. In 2012, the second anchor institution, the Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center, opened its doors just two blocks north.
By centralizing educational, cultural and recreational resources in one area, the Education Corridor shares resources to serve an entire community. The garden and food education program at Wilson uses the teaching kitchen at the Keller Community Center. A single mother takes a fitness class as her children receive homework help after school.
It’s what Director of Community Programming Emily Wolff calls “wraparound support.” “It’s about engaging whole families in experiences,” she explains.
The Arts and Wellness Center sits directly across the street from the Keller Library and Community Center on the second floor of the converted St. Mathias School building, above the campus of the Blessed Trinity Catholic Church. During the day, these old parochial school classrooms fill with natural light, making it easy to see them in their new capacity as a nexus for wellbeing.
This community hub for arts, culture and wellness will offer space for counseling, with three separate counseling pods where outside counselors will be able to rent space and community members will have access to services on a sliding scale.
The space will also house a movement room for dance, yoga and fitness programming; workshop and studio space available for local practicing artists and designers; office space for arts organizations and non-profits; and affordable youth arts education.
Construction for the Arts and Wellness Center will wrap up in spring 2015, but programming is already underway at the other Broadmoor Education Corridor anchors across the community. This includes free ballet classes through a partnership with the New Orleans Ballet Association, a basketball league, and free zumba, yoga and meditation classes. Programming is based on a partnership model that leverages experts within the community to provide key services.
Neighbors voted in 2010 to create the Broadmoor Improvement District, which collects a $100 parcel fee from homeowners each year to support the continued development of the community. These funds help to support many of the quality-of-life initiatives carried out across the Education Corridor. Today, the vision that Broadmoor community members laid out in their 300-page redevelopment document is finally taking shape.
Along the Education Corridor, the Broadmoor neighborhood motto of “better than before” means that learning never stops. The community base of the Education Corridor means that no one institution acts alone. Instead, the Wilson School, Keller Library and Community Center, and soon, the Arts & Wellness Center take a coordinated, lifelong approach to learning.
“It’s about giving people tools to express themselves at any age,” says Wolff. One of the major aims of the space is to provide opportunities for creativity and education from pre-school to long beyond retirement.
What’s happening along the Education Corridor is a living, growing example of the power of shared resources and a common mission.
Broadmoor has always been an interesting model — as a neighborhood that is demographically representative of the surrounding city, in many ways it serves as a microcosm for the challenges and successes we see in the city at large.
If the Education Corridor works, where else can we rethink our city’s redevelopment? How else can we break out of siloed entities and share resources? Everywhere schools live right down the street from community institutions, Libraries live nearby health clinics. It takes more effort, more leadership, more initiative, and more buy-in, but connection could be the key to impact.
“If we’re really going to go about creating equity in the city, we need to be looking at these sorts of examples where all corners of the community are engaged,” says Wolff.
Voices from the Classroom: The Arts in Education Reform is a continuing series about the arts and education in New Orleans by NolaVie and its cultural partner, WWNO public radio. The series is made possible by the generous support of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation.