Before this week, I had barely heard of the term “charette”. So, when the second year class of CGP was invited to the Pocantico Center for a charette, a mini-conference and brainstorming session, we were more than excited. Spend a night in a Rockefeller mansion? OKAY! The Center, which is a venue for conferences and a potential community hub, is managed by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and is located 20 miles north of Manhattan. According to their website, “Pocantico serves as a community resource and offers public access through a visitation program, lectures, and cultural events, as well as support to artists and arts organizations in the greater New York City area.” My classmates and I were called in to advise the leadership team of the center (which includes the Rockefeller mansion, woodlands, golf course, and various buildings) and help them brainstorm ways that they could continue to reach out to the their community.
There are many barriers that exist on the Rockefeller estate – both of the literal and the figurative kind. To start, a huge iron gate and rock/barbed wire fence encases the property, that is still the home of some family members. We had to be escorted through the gates by armed guards and wear identification during our overnight stay. The estate is still the “family seat” of the Rockefellers and includes a plethora of buildings that are currently owned by the trust or will be given to the trust in the near future. Currently, programming is aimed to the elite. Ticketed jazz music nights on the lawn, poetry readings in “hayloft” of the conference center, and exclusive tours of the artwork on the Kykuit Mansion are the norm. How can a place that screams lifestyles of the rich and famous cater to a growing community filled with a diverse set of wants and needs?
That is the exact question that my classmates and I were brought in to discuss. In small groups, we brainstormed ways that the Center can reach out to their community members, not just bring them in. Our number one recommendation was to do a needs assessment and market research survey of the surrounding area to get a better idea of who is living there and want they see as the future of the site. Should it continue to be a place for historic home tours? Should the artist residency program that they have started be extended and involve a community gallery? Public art studio? Classes for ESL learners? The wonderful thing is that the possibilities are endless! The best part of the charette was that I was able to apply knowledge that I have gained over the past year and a half to a real life circumstance. As the director of my program explained, we must be doing something right if we all recommended similar ideas for the future of the site (each with our own unique twist!) Check it out – what would you do for the public with these spaces?