Lafayette College’s Technology Clinic

The biggest flower in Easton has bloomed in the most unlikely of places.

Nestled between brick row houses and feet away from the passing cars of Northampton Street in the city’s West Ward, a 16-foot-long flower has been created from white and yellow pansies and other perennials.

The project is the work of Lafayette College’s Technology Clinic, a group of students who are working this year to foster a sense of community in the West Ward through aesthetic improvement and economic investment.  Inspired by the Art of Urban Environments Festival, the Tech Clinic joined hands  with local children, businesses, and organizations to create the eye-grabbing urban bloom.

“We were trying to create a community event that would be grassroots and that would work with kids to bring art into their everyday vernacular,” says Hamish MacPhail, a Lafayette junior and member of the Tech Clinic.  “We want to close the gap between the people who are interested in art and the kids who we hope will be interested in art.”

The flower installation is part of an ongoing effort by the Tech Clinic to shed light on the West Ward.  Past Tech Clinic projects have included organizing community discussions about green techniques, designing methods of water conservation, and cleaning up Raspberry Park.

The Tech Clinic is a hands-on course that brings together students from different majors to help solve real-world problems of a business, non-profit organization, or government body.  The course lasts two semesters, and students must be nominated by their professors.  It’s directed by professors Larry Malinconico and Dan Bauer.

Through the flower installation, the group sought to use art to get kids excited about their community.  “It’s the idea of sweat equity, a sense of ‘I did that,’” says Andrew Chun, a senior Tech Clinic member.  “The project provides kids with a sense of ownership of their neighborhood.  They used their own hands to make this piece.”

On April 15, children from the Easton Area Community Center came to the site at Eighth and Northampton streets to shovel mulch, pot the flowers, and arrange them into the shape of a 16-by-16-foot shad flower.  It’s big enough to catch the attention of passersby and to be seen from as far away as the Easton Cemetery.

The flowers, compost, and mulch came from local businesses free of cost or at discounted rates, and the Easton Baking Company sent up dozens of pastries on planting day.

The Tech Clinic also worked closely with the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership (WWNP) and received funding from a Wells Fargo Regional Foundation grant.

Esther Guzman, director of the WWNP, says the neighborhood received the flower installation with enthusiasm.  “The people love the shad flower, and the kids had a great, fantastic time.  The kids got involved in planting, mulching, and checking out the worms,” she says.  “When people look at art in the neighborhoods, I think it gives them a sense of pride.”

The Tech Clinic chose the shad flower because it’s the symbol of the Art of Urban Environments Festival, which is sprinkling Easton’s streets, streams, and bridges this summer with 11 outdoor sculptures made by artists from across the country.  The festival is being sponsored by Lafayette and the City of Easton with financial support from the National Endowment of the Arts.

The flower is footsteps away from one of the Art of Urban Environments sculptures, Alan Marrero’s “Tributary Dreams.”  It’s a glass mosaic that climbs the Eighth Street staircase in swirls of green, blue, orange, and yellow.

Though the flower isn’t technically part of the festival, neighbors and tourists who stop to see the stair mosaic will want to see it, too.  The festival also supplied a banner for the site, on which the student artists traced their hands and signed their names.

The end result is the transformation of a littered, grassy area into a colorful work of art in which the community can take pride.  “People who walk by can make the connection that kids from the neighborhood put this together,” says Chun.

Next semester, the Tech Clinic is looking to continue promoting art in the city by proposing a chalk festival, block party, and mural wall.  The students are Andrew Chun, Hamish MacPhail, Sam Griffith, Sandy Chen, and Anne Bond.

Story by Michele Tallarita

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