Artist Activist Leslie Rosenberg Betters Neighborhoods Through Street Murals by Kristina Aaronson
From Louise Glickman: Over the coming months you will be getting more blogs and stories written by writer Kristina Aaronson and myself. SHAC also invites artists and art enthusiasts to tell us their stories. Write to us at email@example.com and put SHAC Blog in the subject line.
Asheville community artist Leslie Rosenberg’s expertise is in redesigning community spaces. “I am interested in how we assign meaning to places and how spaces engage the community… we all want to live in safe neighborly places that feel walkable and inviting,” she says. Known as Tactical Urbanism, a term I had never heard before, Rosenberg told me how Turbo, a Nashville organization, explains it: “Tactical urbanism is an umbrella term used to describe a collection of low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment, usually in cities, intended to improve local neighborhoods and city gathering places.” She went on to explain that the idea is to create pedestrian and bike friendly spaces in areas where it is lacking.
Rosenberg was the artist for the tactical urban project on Coxe Avenue in downtown Asheville called Street Tweaks. While the large mural was designed by graphic artist, Wyatt Grant, she painted it along with the well-marked bike lanes, and pedestrian crosswalks that transformed a speedy street into a slower, more people-friendly space. She worked in collaboration between community agencies and citizens, many of whom were volunteers. When the city asked that the mural be removed, the crosswalks and bike lanes remained, keeping what began as art-based and ended in better serving the community.
Rosenberg used these concepts when designing her first tactical urban West-Wayne project on the streets of West Asheville. She began by tapping into her own memory of the space centered around meditative walks in the neighborhood’s Christopher’s Garden, a favorite with locals. With the goal of tapping into collective memory, she invited community members to voice their feelings about what they saw, smelled, and heard in that space. Many remembered the sweet art garden with the blue bottles that used to inhabit the corner and seemed to spill into the street. The final project encompasses designs of milkweed leaves and buds, goldfinches and blue bottles painted colorfully on the street.
Leslie Rosenberg believes that using art is how public and community spaces are best created. As the artist, she listens and provides openings for ideas that emerge from community input. “My hope is that the space becomes more integrated into the community’s living, breathing, and changing environment; and that the space not only becomes safer, but also more inviting, engaging and connecting.”