BENNINGTON -- Two Bennington College students have installed temporary plaques alongside downtown businesses to spark conversation and inspire future endeavors within the community.
Amanda Glover, a junior studying music and visual arts, and Maev Lowe, a senior studying performance, were paired together to complete two final projects for their class -- Social Practices in Art -- one of which was manifested in the plaques.
According to Lowe, the class examined the intersection between civic engagement and artistic practice, looking at art engagement as a means to connect with their immediate community.
Lowe said that throughout the term, she and Glover visited many downtown/Main Street businesses and approached owners and employees with a question: What event or occurrence in the future of Bennington would you look back on proudly if it occurred?
"It was an odd question but really it was another way of asking them about their hopes for the future," Glover said, explaining that she and Lowe encountered many different responses to the question, however, many of them centered around issues of youth empowerment and making Bennington's downtown more of a gathering place for younger generations.
The pair took the responses of the business owners into consideration and finally decided to take their answers and use them as inspiration for even more questions, which were transferred onto the four plaques installed outside The South Street Café, Fiddlehead At Four Corners, The Flower Works, and Knapp's Music Store last Friday.
The plaques act as a futuristic timeline, commemorating four events that have not yet occurred:
January 10, 2015 -- The first meeting of Bennington's Youth Initiative, a town-wide coalition that works to empower the voices and actions of Bennington's youth.
April 2, 2016 -- The Bennington Youth Initiative's Youth Dialogues, a two-day event during which Bennington teens come together to identify challenges they face and imagine possible solutions.
May 27, 2021 -- The opening of Bennington's Creative Youth Center, an interdisciplinary space designed and run by youth in collaboration with Bennington's Youth initiative.
May 27, 2036 -- The 15th anniversary of Bennington's Creative Youth Center.
"One of the things we wanted to do was make (the events) vague enough and specific enough at the same time so that people could see them and say, ‘Oh, that's something that could actually happen,' but vague enough that people could make them their own thing," Lowe said. "Even though the content is clearly in response to conversations we've had, the content itself is not the most important thing, it's more about a way of reframing the idea of these specific events happening and displaying some of the hopes and dreams people have for Bennington."
In an effort to further the conversation (hopefully) sparked by the plaques, the pair has utilized Tumblr, an online social media blogging platform, as an extension of the project. The blog, Bennington Futures, features photos of all four of the plaques and prompts visitors to leave responses to this question:
"Imagine that you have traveled 50 years into the future. You are walking down Main Street. You see a plaque commemorating a town achievement. What does it say?"
"The feedback we're hoping for on this website isn't about how good or bad our project is," Lowe said. "Ideally, we would love to see a ‘yes, and ' response. Like, ‘If I had a plaque, this is what it would say on it. So, really facilitating a conversation that is already happening in hopes that maybe the things will actually become a reality."
According to Glover, the plaques will be taken down this Friday as the fall semester at Bennington College comes to an end.
Glover and Lowe said they aren't sure where the plaques will be displayed next, but hope that some or all of the businesses already hosting them will agree to keep them up a bit longer, as they feel a project like theirs warrants longevity -- ideally, a year.
Whether or not the community response is overwhelming, the pair said the project has opened their eyes to the community in which they live.
"This class has changed the way I look at my surroundings," Lowe said. "It's really given me a new relationship with the town."
For Glover, the project gave her a sense of empowerment.
"Just having this idea and being able to accomplish it and manifest it in these plaques around town has been awesome," she said. "It was interesting, talking to the store owners and really getting down to how people are feeling and what they want the future to look like. If anything, I wish we had more time with this project."
Glover and Lowe invite community members to visit the plaques and share their aspirations for Bennington on their blog, www.benningtonfutures.tumblr.com.
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.