In celebration of the grand opening of the new neighborhood art center, Art Centro, I went on the look for other avenues of artistic creation and expression in this vibrant river city stalled in the crossroads between a centrally located prosperous manufacturing era and a sprawling suburban landscape beyond its confines. In every quarter I notice a distinct artistic tone, whether in the Victorian-era homes lining the streets of the south side or the ornamented string of Renaissance Revival commercial buildings known as Main Mall Row there is a palpable sense of art, each with a unique capacity for inspiring creativity and innovation. I think this is the principal aspect picked up on by most people when they express how "Poughkeepsie has so much potential." For economic growth and community development the reasons for optimism are clearer and easier to describe than those for artistic endeavors that provide an equally needed revitalization of Poughkeepsie's spirit and vision, the kind that permits awe in the mundane and encourages meaningful investment in a place.
I'm still trying to develop a clearer, more accurate picture of the vivacious character and beaming personalities that comprise Poughkeepsie today, specifically the Middle Main neighborhood where most of HRH's efforts are concentrated. I'll admit that a couple years living within Vassar College's bubble, tucked away on the fringes of the city did not help me integrate in and understand the current status of the city. But there's so much to one city, and tools like demographics only provide an objective, 2-dimensional sheet of numbers to represent a population. I've come to think that maybe I've got a good place to start to help this community grow stronger and more connected since the less one knows about a place, the less likely it is that any preconceptions act as blinders when forming an opinion on the readiness of said place to adapt to the changing needs of a fluid population or uncertain economic climate.
This reflection on the power of art daily life came at the time I stumbled upon this rather abstract yet poignant poem titled "Poughkeepsie Is a Color You Do Not Understand" by Brian Loatman, published on the Chronogram website. As with most pieces of creative work, much of its interpretation is up to the reader and so I'd be interested to know how others demystify this. At first I found its covert message to be mildly depressing, one without any hope for the Queen City looking forward. And then I started to think of it in the context of a radical rethinking, to approach the issue from the inside out like you do a T-shirt reversed by the dryer, that turns away from a tired yearning for Poughkeepsie to possess a set of qualities often deemed essential to an ideal, diverse and prosperous city and instead towards a vision based on the realities of the current environment. Loatman says "You were caring about everything, everything until the sky was filled with your care for empty places you can only forget, like your care for Poughkeepsie." Are we caring too much about the wrong issues? Is our energy better spent getting back in touch with a truer more natural model of this city- however that may look? Or rather does it remind us to look around and beyond our usual gaze every so often to remind us that in caring so much, in working so hard to improve something we may inadvertently forget some of what inspired us in the first place? In any case, I choose to believe that by looking back at where we've come from and being honest about our assets and challenges today we are headed down the right path to a better Poughkeepsie tomorrow for all its residents.