"My Dream for Harrisonburg" - Daily News-Record

By Hannah Pitstick, Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA)

In the year 2034, Harrisonburg will have a public transit system entirely comprised of hot air balloons. James Madison University will be completely free to all who desire to continue their education. Blacks Run will be safe for swimming. And, gardens will flourish on every rooftop.

Many of the dreams vocalized at Harrisonburg's first Imagining at Ralph Sampson Park on May 23 seemed improbable - some impossible - but at their root, the ideas pointed to a shared vision of a Harrisonburg in which everyone feels safe, accepted and inspired.

From 1-4 p.m., about 30 residents gathered at the city park to envision what Harrisonburg could look like nearly 20 years from now if art has been fully integrated into all aspects of public life. The event was the first of 16 Imaginings happening across the country this summer, most in large cities such as Chicago, Baltimore and Seattle, as part of a national campaign organized by the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, a nongovernmental organization formed by a group of artists in 2013, and facilitated locally by the city-based Old Furnace Artist Residency.

The Harrisonburg Imagining warmed up with a community drum circle led by Stan Maclin and other members of the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center and opened with readings by local poets Angela Carter and Logan Hill.

"My dream for Harrisonburg is that all of us are invited, all of us are included and all of us show up," said Angela Carter in her opening reading. Carter spoke of her love of the city, but also the hardships she faced trying to enter the arts scene after moving to Harrisonburg nine years ago, and how she found meaning in that struggle.

"Harrisonburg, you're beautiful," she said. "You took my largest fear of not being loved and accepted and made me see that the best art is formed out of this; the fire within me fuels me to continuously grow, not out of anger, but acceptance of myself."The event then segued into breakout sessions where attendees vocalized their dreams for the city. One small group expressed fairly concrete proposals, such as halting rent hikes, continuing bus routes year-round, and offering translation services at city council meetings; another group let their imagining run wild, envisioning a hypercube in Court Square, free community yoga each day at dusk and traffic stops that give art updates instead of simply saying "walk sign is on."

"That's a lot of dreaming, right?" Jon Henry of OFAR said with a laugh at the end of his group's breakout session. "There's a lot happening in this town 20 years from now - a lot of shovel-ready projects."

The Imagining encouraged attendees to envision the future using multiple mediums, such as Legos, a collaborative drawing and a landscape painting of Harrisonburg produced in real time based on whatever additions were requested. By the end of the afternoon, the painting featured hot air balloons, a giant book-shaped library and massive waterslides. Also present at the event was a kissing booth for peace and banners on which attendees were encouraged to write what they already love about Harrisonburg.

Local political hip-hop artist Steven Thomas, who performs as Steve B.I.K.O., closed out the afternoon with a poem he wrote during the Imagining.

"In 19 years you will have gotten over your fears to kiss a Negro in an antiwar kissing booth among your peers.

Imagine this: My sheriff's Latino

Imagine this: Your mayor's Steve B.I.K.O.

Imagine this: All power is with the people, and in the eyes and hearts of this rainbow coalition, even black is now equal.

Imagine that."

The conversation that started at the Harrisonburg Imagining will continue and evolve from 1-2 p.m. June 17 over Twitter during "Untitled Entanglements: A Twitter Conversation" as part of Harrisonburg's Valley ArtsFest. The Old Furnace Artist Residency, along with Space All Over, will facilitate the Twitter conversation, which will occur simultaneously in Harrisonburg and Fjellerup, Denmark, and center around the impact of art and ecology on daily relationships, life and communities.

According to the Facebook event, participants are encouraged to tune into Twitter and use the hashtag #Garden2Art to "add to, uplift, and follow this developing conversation."

For more information, contact Jon Henry at jonwmhenry@gmail.com.