Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories in Arts & Travel about Charleston’s creative community and its efforts to stimulate artistic and economic activity in the area, especially in the “NoMo” creative corridor. Next week, read about the upcoming Dig South convention and expo.
BY ADAM PARKER
Something new is afoot in Charleston. The creative types are stirring, trying to get organized.
The artists and engineers, designers and entrepreneurs have their eyes on a certain slice of the peninsula: the upper Meeting Street and north Morrison Drive, or “NoMo” area.
They think transformation is possible. They think economic vitality is likely.
They think they have a critical role to play in urban renewal.
They are represented by a new nonprofit called Enough Pie, which aims “to give voice and action to the creative cluster on the upper peninsula of Charleston.”
Enough Pie employs smart urban jargon, terms like “creative placemaking” and “strategic collaboration.” The organization uses symbols in its literature, especially the “+” sign — “Methods + Tactics,” “Art + Design” — and acronyms like DIY.
Its vision is “to create a sustainable, cohesive, livable, diverse art + design district.”
Can it be done?
Other food-related businesses that have opened in recent years include Taco Boy, The Royal American and the Tattooed Moose. They joined Santi’s and Martha Lou’s that long have been thriving in the area despite its post-industrial landscape.
DwellSmart, a seller of eco-friendly domestic products, moved into a warehouse space in 2010.
Lindsay Nevin purchased 1600 Meeting Street, a structure that sits desolately on the neck of the peninsula, a couple of years ago and hopes to transform it into a creative hub for artists and entrepreneurs.
Cone 10 Studios, a gallery and community workspace for potters, moved to the area in 2010.
Meeting Street Academy opened in its new space last year, and a skate park is being built near the Interstate 26 ramps. East Central Lofts is under construction on Huger Street near the interstate. Nearby is One Cool Blow, a condominium and office complex. And a few blocks down Meeting Street, are two new hotels, more condos, a theater, new eating establishments and more.
As the hipsters say, it’s all very happening.
Late last month, Enough Pie hosted its second event, an open gathering of residents, stakeholders and interested observers hosted by GrowFood Carolina. Adam Chandler’s panoramic photographs of the designated “creative corridor” were displayed on the walls, and attendees were invited to share their opinions about the Enough Pie mission: Just how should it be implemented?
Easels were strategically placed along the periphery of the warehouse; tables were covered with paper for doodling and jotting down ideas; chalkboards were mounted on the walls. The organizers hoped these surfaces would be filled with suggestions.
“This is the beginning of a dialogue,” said Kate Nevin, an Enough Pie board member. “We don’t have an agenda,” by which she meant the event was not designed to produce a particular outcome, only to generate ideas and conversation.
Perhaps 150 showed up, mostly people who live or work downtown, but also many from North Charleston and the surrounding suburbs.
They scribbled answers to questions such as: What should Enough Pie do? What do you love about the upper peninsula and what would you change? Why are you here and why do you care?
Enough Pie should be inclusive, community-building, a liaison between people and business, an arts advocate, a school collaborator, a facilitator.
The creative corridor is down to Earth, imperfect and gritty, full of potential, populated by frontiersmen and women.
But it needs more green space and less asphalt, more bike paths, better lighting, access to healthy food, child-friendly places and activities. It’s missing light rail, a cohesive sense of place, dog runs, economic opportunities, a farmers market.
It should remain affordable, people wrote. Existing residents should be engaged in the transformation. It should be a showcase for creativity and culture and diversity. The feedback was collected and published as the March 14 “Muster Plan.”
“That area means something to people,” Nevin said, extolling the democratic nature of the Muster Plan. “It was empowering to hear that. We don’t need to be the voice of the community, we can facilitate as part of the community. ... It’s fun to be an organization that says, ‘You tell us.’ ”
Nevin and Enough Pie Executive Director Chris Burgess are hoping for an incremental community-building process. They are not there to impose anything, they said.
“One of the main things is that the community is at the heart of it,” Burgess said.
What they are doing is not really new. Urban planners long have advocated for leveraging existing assets, for infill projects that can revitalize blighted areas and for responsible gentrification that creates diversity but takes into account existing residents who can’t necessarily afford higher property taxes.
There are various ways to achieve these goals. In Chattanooga, Tenn., an organization called CreateHere was founded in 2007 to stimulate urban revitalization through the establishment of public spaces, art projects, sustainable development and civic engagement. Funded by grants, CreateHere was designed to shut down after five years.
The plan was to replicate the effect of a supernova: an explosion of creativity that might cause others to keep up the energy and continue to improve the city.
New York City has the Highline, a park built on elevated train tracks long in disuse. That effort spurred others nearby — restaurants, art galleries, shops, condos — in a once quasi-industrial part of Manhattan.
Greenville has its Trails and Greenways Master Plan. San Antonio has its Riverwalk.
So why not something like that in the upper part of Charleston? Nevin and Burgess think it’s possible.
Enough Pie was founded in January. Until its official nonprofit status is secured, it is working with the Charleston Regional Alliance for the Arts as its fiscal agent.
Its first event was a lecture by Mike Lydon, founder and principal of Street Plans Collaborative, who spoke about tactical urbanism (short-term activism that inspires long-term change), pop-up + DIY (spontaneous urban activity centers), guerrilla wayfinding (mounting directional signs around town, under cover of darkness), future-tising (ways to discuss publicly what’s coming up) and streating (eating in the streets, often thanks to food trucks and other mobile or temporary culinary setups).
The next project will be a collaboration with 1600 Meeting Street, the building (and corporation) owned by Nevin’s husband, Lindsay Nevin. Enough Pie hopes to identify artists to mount their work, whether visual, theatrical, danceable or musical, in each of the building’s unfinished office spaces.
The organization will issue requests for proposals and then pay artists a token fee. Burgess said it’s long been a pet peeve of his that artists are so often asked to provide their work for free.
“It’s important that artists get paid,” he insisted.
Eventually, 1600 Meeting Street will be occupied by rent-paying creative tenants, but before the summer’s renovation work begins, art is the priority, Burgess and Nevin said.
Enough Pie has met with Charleston Promise Neighborhood and Meeting Street Academy, planting seeds of potential collaboration and student involvement, Nevin said.
The nonprofit generates no direct income, depending instead on investors and grants, something that makes Burgess, now a part-time arts administration teacher at the College of Charleston, a little nervous.
Those grants, he said, would be used to fund urban development and creative projects in the coming months and years.
It’s all very conceptual and nascent at this stage, but the gears are turning and, judging from the turnout at the recent Muster Plan event, the community is engaged.
“There is so much latent potential in the upper peninsula,” Nevin said.
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at www.facebook.com/aparkerwriter.