Marlboro College Graduate School was a hotbed of creativity in July, as architects, artists and designers from all over the country gathered to imagine alternatives for renewing the riverfront property behind the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. The nine-day workshop was part of the Center for Creative Solutions (CCS), a program established by Marlboro College in 2006 to demonstrate how creative thinkers could address challenging problems faced by communities.
“Even a small town like Brattleboro finds itself facing challenges and opportunities that are complex and multivariant,” said Michael Singer, an award-winning artist and designer who co-directed the workshop. “The CCS has been created to invite communities regionally to propose a project that they believe will benefit from our approach of creative problem solving.”
Since 2006, in collaboration with the Windham Regional Commission and with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations, CCS piloted community visioning and planning projects in Brattleboro and Bellows Falls, Vermont. The waterfront project started in 2006 when Brattleboro acquired the derelict property on the Connecticut River, 1.3 acres occupied by a former coal gasification facility and other industrial buildings, and began exploring development options.
The town received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for testing and remediation of the riverfront site as a former industrial brownfield area. Then last year, CCS was selected for a federal stimulus grant for the Brattleboro waterfront, one of the few such grants directed towards a specific project. The old industrial buildings are slated for removal this year, opening up views of the Connecticut River from Main Street for the first time in more than a century.
“This is going to transform Brattleboro’s relationship to the river, and offer an exciting new place right in the downtown area,” said Michael. “The waterfront will not only catalyze what is possible on this land, but will also open the community’s thinking about town planning and development that equally engages environmental, economic, recreational, cultural and social needs.”
Participants in the workshop, co-directed by industrial designer Charlie Cannon, came up with more than two dozen ideas for how to use the new space, including everything from a performance space to a community garden, from skateboarding to stargazing. Their findings are part of an interactive exhibit at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, titled “Renewing the Riverfront.” The exhibit, which runs until October 24, encourages townspeople to participate by sharing their visions, and reactions to proposals. The workshop and resulting exhibit are only the most recent sign of Marlboro’s investment in the local community.
“The graduate school is Marlboro’s presence in the region, very much a part of Brattleboro, contributing intellectual property and assisting in the economy,” said Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, Marlboro’s president. “As local citizens, and as a college, we want to contribute to the town’s ability to use its waterfront area creatively and sustainably; a vital waterfront area will benefit all. The original inspiration for graduate programs was all about innovation, and it continues in this spirit.”