While most event organizers would veto a rainy Monday for an outdoor event, Melissa, Yoni, and I succeeded in throwing a little shindig at the Highline Park in Chelsea. Originally intended as an intervention to draw attention to the lack of observed community and the high-end visitors to the park, we staged a neighborhood potluck. We posted signage inviting the public the day before the event, and showed up with food, balloons, cake, and games like Twister. Within a couple minutes of setting up, we were visited by Highline security and Parks Department officers (we’ll be uploading that video soon), who made sure we were operating under the rules and regulations of the public space (specifically, that we would have fewer than 20 people).
As the event unfolded and we received our Site Specific class as our guests, we began to change the focus of the event from the inclusive, festive feel of a “Dominican birthday party” to an open, gallery-type atmosphere. After talking with our class, we experimented by cleaning up the area, removing the Twister board, cutting and laying the food out on individual plates like caterers, and pushing the tables further into the walkway. It didn’t surprise us that these “high end” touches made the gathering much more inviting to park visitors.
This left us with a question regarding our intent? Were we achieving the same ends with this classy event versus our spectacularly out-of-place potluck? In the former, we engaged far more people, inviting them for cake and snacks and starting conversation. With the latter, the potluck, we made passersby visibly uncomfortable or alienated, drawing a thick line in “us” vs “them.”
In summing up the intervention, I enjoyed the process of turning our event from a critique to an actual community-building activity. We made “friends” with the officers, who happily ate our cheesecake, started a mailing list from visitors who found the idea a great one, and chatted with many tourists passing through.