Elwell Park Rehabilitation

This project will result in the creation of interpretative signage for the newly rehabilitated Elwell (Turtle) Park on 6th St. SE that tells the story of the park, and an artist-designed ceramic tile kiosk that will hold the sign and incorporate tiles designed by students from Marcy Open School. Specific activities are listed below.

The project for which we are seeking funding from the Good Neighbor Fund is part of a larger initiative to rehabilitate the artist-designed mosaic art in Elwell park and resurface the artist-designed metal fencing. The first step in this rehabilitation—a grade school artist residency—took place in 2017, funded by contributions of neighborhood residents. The residency at Marcy Open School resulted in students’ tile designs that the artist will incorporate into the new sign kiosk. Other aspects of this project for which we are seeking funding elsewhere include: repair of damaged existing tilework, replanting of the park’s garden, resurfacing of the artist-designed fencing and a community celebration to relaunch the park in fall 2018.

As with so much of Marcy-Holmes history, the stories related to Elwell Park are “hidden in plain sight.” Standing in the park, you see hints: the ceramic tile art, much of it broken, chipped or missing; whimsical blue metal fencing, much of it rusted. Surrounding the park, residential homes and in the distance, 35W.

All of these elements hint at a larger narrative that new residents to the neighborhood (and long-time residents, for that matter) are unlikely to know. Interpretative signage will capture these stories...and so more.

Signage will put the park in historical context: the original Elwell Park was lost to the neighborhood when 35 W was built and this little “pocket park” was a conciliatory replacement from the city. The “Elwell” of Elwell Park was (we believe) James T. Elwell, who owned a large furniture manufacturing business on 9th St. SE. The house that once stood on what is now Elwell Park was owned by an employee of Elwell’s. (There was also an Elwell baseball field on 9th St., but that’s another story...)

In the late 1990s, the MHNA launched an initiative to turn the then run-down park into a place to encounter public art. With funding from businesses, the city and residents, ceramicist Susan Warner and metalworker Marcia McEachron were engaged to create a whimsical layout that loosely follows the floor plan of a house. Sections evoke a front porch, a living room and backyard, and the park's centerpiece is a concrete and intricately tiled sculpture in the form of a life-sized couch. Warner also conducted a
residency at Marcy Open School then, and helped students design tiles which she incorporated into the park's design. In spring of 1999, we celebrated the grand reopening of Elwell Park, the culmination of a broad and deep community involvement process. The park has served as an accessible site of art encounter and delight ever since but, twenty years later, Elwell Park is showing its age (see attached).

As in 1999, this project will bring together neighbors to not only contribute to the design of the sign and kiosk but engage in the creation of the park’s narrative: what it was, is and can be. The signage and kiosk elevate the identity and status of Elwell Park as an important and cherished public creative space in Marcy-Holmes. And with the incorporation of student-designed tiles into the sign’s kiosk, the park will hold two generations of neighborhood children’s work. This aspect reinforces the identity of the park as
linked to our neighborhood school and as a kid-friendly space.

The specific activities for which we are seeking funding include:
1. Community engagement: a series of meetings and/or events to help determine the storytelling
content of the signage and design of the ceramic tile structure/kiosk. This will involve the tile
artist, a writer, neighbors and the Park Board.
2. Approval: Final design approval by the neighborhood and the City
3. Production: Writing of the sign’s content; creation of the sign (laser cut metal, at present) and
construction of the ceramic tile structure.
4. Installation: of the sign and structure at the park in time for community celebration, targeted for
fall 2018

Successful implementation of this project will be led by MHNA staff (executive director and project manager), and the chair and members of the MHNA Creative Placemaking Committee. The project contributors will also include artist Susan Warner and her staff at her studio, and a TBD writer and braille translator.