A community art project is creating long-lasting bonds for a group of Ridgewood neighbors

Inside Norman Street patrticipants
Photo courtesy of Harry Spencer

After a one-year hiatus, the innovative community-based project “Inside Norman Street” is back to feature the stories and experiences of new and returning residents of the Ridgewood street.

In the fall of 2015, the first iteration of “Inside Norman Street” brought together 12 residents of Norman Street of all different ages, religious beliefs and countries of origin, for a creative writing workshop where they openly shared stories of their hopes and dreams, fears, and a host of other personal experiences.

In December 2015, the group watched as their stories were brought to life through music and live dance performances during a live performance.

Libby Mislan, a performance poet and Norman Street resident, created the first “Inside Norman Street” as a way to bring the people living on her block together to get to know each other better. Mislan understands that New Yorkers can live next door to someone for years, and not know anything about them, and she wants to change that.

With Ridgewood undergoing gentrification, Mislan noticed an influx of new residents across the neighborhood who might find it hard to make connections on a block rich with interpersonal connections.

Through her community art project, she wants to break down those barriers and bring the residents of Norman Street together. Since the first “Inside Norman Street” was such a success, Mislan was eager to start the project up again.

“After the first iteration, we knew we stumbled on something that was special, and we never thought it was over. The first ‘Inside Norman Street’ didn’t just end when the project/performance was over — the neighbors, rich with a newly formed community, continued to get together,” Mislan said. “They hosted their own workshops, went out salsa dancing, had potlucks, spent Thanksgiving together, helped each other in times of need and star-gazed from their Queens rooftops. It all happened organically. When Ruth Kahn, owner of Outpost Artist Resources, approached us about starting another round of ‘Inside Norman Street,’ we jumped at the opportunity to expand the project, bringing in new residents as well as seeing what happens as this group continues to go deeper.”

This year, “Inside Norman Street” has once again recruit 12 residents of Norman Street — with about three to five returning participants and seven to nine new participants — who will share their stories with each other.

The residents are excited to meet their neighbors and forge new friendships in the community.

“I love our neighborhood, and this project seemed like a good opportunity for me to meet more of my neighbors,” said Carol Benovic, project participant. “It’s been great to get to know the people that make our community so wonderful and a privilege to get to hear and share personal stories with them.”

“I’ve lived on Norman Street for more than 20 years and I don’t know my neighbors,” added Marsha Sinanan. “The day after our first meeting, I ran into two people from the group who I would have otherwise walked right past, never even really seeing them. It was nice to recognize and be recognized. This space has brought together outwardly different people sharing the same human experience. The commonalities are vaster than the differences. More powerful, too.”

Between March and May, the participants will take part in six weeks of creative writing meetups. After the workshops, participants will select a story that they would like to co-direct as a multimedia project through movement, music and video to bring their story to life in collaboration with professional artists Alex Nathanson, video artist; Zoe Rappaport, choreographer; and Yo-E Ryou, the project’s book artist and graphic designer.

Outpost Artists Resources — a multi-disciplinary arts organization in Ridgewood — is facilitating the project, and has created an Indie Go-Go campaign to help raise funds in order to bring the final performances to life.

A portion of the funds raised will go to creating the high-quality publication of the participants’ stories, which will be given to the participants free of charge, and stipends for the artists donating their time to work on the community project.

As of Monday, March 20, the project has three backers who have donated a total of $216 of the $3,500 goal with two months left to go.

If you would like to donate to the campaign visit the project’s Indie Go-Go website.