IMG_2874Inside Norman Street is an ongoing artistic collaboration between neighbors that are strangers, all living on the same street in Ridgewood, Queens. The project aims to give residents of a single street a new medium to hear their own and each other’s stories, have a collaborative arts experience, and build creative community.  

In its first iteration, Inside Norman Street took place in the fall of 2015. Local artist and community arts worker Libby Mislan recruited participants and facilitated weekly creative writing sessions with 12 residents of Norman Street, who were guided with open prompts to share stories about their personal lives. The project culminated in an artfully crafted book and powerful final performance during which the residents read their stories as they were interpreted through live music and dance.  

New Yorkers can go years without knowing who their neighbors are, despite their living in such close proximity to each other. With the neighborhood of Ridgewood rapidly gentrifying, this sense of isolation on a residential street is more acute. As a new resident on a block rich with interpersonal connection, Mislan’s project forges friendship and empathy amongst new and long-term community residents.

In its second iteration, from March-May 2017, Inside Norman Street will again involve the recruiting of 12 residents of Norman Street as the core participants. 3-5 of the project’s participants will be returning, while 7-9 participants will be new. Participants will engage in six weeks of creative writing workshops, using movement and storytelling improv-based warm-ups. Writing prompts will cover a wide range of material, including vulnerabilities, hopes and fears, and our personal relationships to social and political issues.  After six weeks of creative writing, participants will select a story from their collection that they would like to co-direct as a multi-media piece using movement, music and video to bring their story to life in collaboration with professional artists.

Creating group art allows for bonds of trust to form amongst individuals across difference, creating a more empathic and unified community. The Inside Norman Street project in 2015 provided us with a wealth of information on the artistic collaboration’s impact. After the final performance, the project’s participants continued to connect in myriad ways, hosting one another for cultural cooking classes, attending salsa classes and art performances together, and supporting each other during moments of political despair. In this current political moment, more than ever we need to call upon creativity to reveal to us the beauty in our diversity. This project is a grassroots effort to celebrate the unique voices in our Queens, New York neighborhood. It is our statement to the world that we stand together, united, despite the power structures that attempt to separate us.