The neighborhood is not all sweetness and light, Nancy Giffey acknowledges. Bayview has its share of struggles, like almost any residential cluster. But for every spot of trouble induced by the isolated bad actor, she adds, there are collective triumphs by the greater number of residents who have invested themselves in the place where they live - the triangle bounded by West Washington Avenue, Park and Regent streets.
"This is a successful working neighborhood that provides a home to low-income people and supports their needs," says Giffey, the Bayview Community Center's resident artist and coordinator of its Artsbridge program.
A photographic portrait of the neighborhood is on view through the end of this month at the UW's Multicultural Student Center on the second floor of the Red Gym. Giffey steered the exhibit to fruition at the instigation of neighborhood residents.
"They asked what we could do to make ourselves known," she says. Though it sits right near the heart of the city and hosts the popular Triangle Ethnic Festival every August, Bayview is often overlooked and sometimes all but invisible to other Madison residents. "I came up with the idea of a photo exhibit with quotes."
A chance meeting with photographer JoAnna Been moved the project forward. Been had been one of her students "100 years ago," Giffey jokes, but they had not seen each other in perhaps 20 years. Her former student signed on for the "Portrait of a Neighborhood" exhibit and followed Giffey as she toured Bayview to talk to residents and gather their quotes, which serve as captions for Been's photos.
"She would unobtrusively take these photos so people wouldn't be self-conscious," Giffey marvels. The resulting images are striking in their incisiveness.
During a tour of the neighborhood early this week, Giffey explains that residents wanted to broadcast the pride they take in their community. At Bayview, evidence of this pride is manifest all around, Giffey points out. Here is a wall of children's artwork that shows a precocious pride of place. There is the osage orange tree carved by Ho-Chunk sculptor Harry Whitehorse at the invitation of a proud neighborhood. And over here is "Amazing Space," an outdoor installation featuring two mosaics - one designed by Bayview children, the other by adult residents - connected by a sidewalk that facilitates the crossing of a traffic roundabout.
Designed and executed in 2004-05, "Amazing Space" has become a focal point for neighborhood gatherings and music performances, Giffey says. And she notes that it is representative of a neighborhood that works.
Bayview is also one of the most diverse communities you'll ever have the privilege to visit. Latino families live here, Giffey says, and African Americans, and Hmong and other Asian Americans, people with disabilities, people with limited incomes. All in the space of about one square mile - albeit in the shape of that triangle.
Giffey suggests that recruiting these vulnerable populations as stakeholders is essential to helping a diverse neighborhood like Bayview succeed as a community. So is constant communication between residents and the neighborhood resource team of health care and social workers, the community center's executive director, David Haas, and program coordinator Paul Ly.
But even with all those assets going for it, making Bayview work is not easy. "Every year," Giffey says, "I have to raise 95% of the program costs outside of staffing" to keep Artsbridge viable at Bayview. Everything from supplies to funding for visiting artists and musicians depend on her success at sustaining grants and other financing for the program. Along with education and recreation programs, Artsbridge is one of the community center's three core components.
"There have been enormous cuts nationally for all kinds of services for low-income people," Giffey laments. "We don't have a generous spirit in this country." In its place, she perceives "a sense of stress and insecurity." This, Giffey argues, is one of the reasons people ought to view the "Portrait of a Neighborhood" exhibit.
"Anyone who is part of the greater Madison community should know about all aspects of our city," she adds. "Portrait of a Neighborhood," she says, provides a portal into a neighborhood that could serve as a model for bringing at least some sweetness and light to other vulnerable neighborhoods, such as Allied Drive.