The Mart, Texas Your Town workshop was held November 3-5. Mart, once known as Willow Springs, is a small incorporated city 18 miles east of Waco. The workshop was coordinated by Paula Gerstenblatt , School of Social Work, and Lynn Osgood, Community and Regional Planning, both of the University of Texas, Austin. Mart reached its heyday around 1929 when it was a thriving regional commercial center, but decreased rail service and changing economics resulted in a slow decline. Today, Mart’s population of 2,415 faces challenges common to many rural southern towns: a high concentration of poverty, a history of racial segregation, and a deteriorating built environment. The Your Town workshop built upon the Mart Community Project (MCP), a program that started in 2010 and is designed to inspire individual and community transformation, promote economic revitalization, and encourage educational innovation. The MCP, funded by the Mildred Dulaney Foundation, is driven by a unique collaboration among residents of Mart, international artists Muhsana Ali and Amadou Kane Sy, the Baylor University Oral History Institute, and the departments of Social Work and Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin.
The workshop was held at the Summers Mill Conference and Retreat center about 30 miles outside of Mart. The workshop focused on the intersection between community arts, community development, and planning, and tackled three primary design challenges. The first was to define a vision for the future Central Business District along Texas Avenue, including streetscape design, preservation and restoration of historic buildings, tourism, and gateways to the community. The second focused on creative solutions to vacant lots and how they can be turned into beautiful and productive assets for the neighborhood. Finally, the group tackled the ways an abandoned high school football field could be reenvisioned as a public space that touches on the themes of health, history, and community.
A highlight of the workshop was the involvement of artists, theater performance, and storytelling as methods for engaging participants in the creative process.
-Excerpted from Your Town: Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design, Update, Fall, 2011