“Twilight of a Neighborhood: Asheville’s East End, 1970” Receive Award for Excellence in the Public Humanities

“Twilight of a Neighborhood: Asheville’s East End, 1970” Receive Award for Excellence in the Public Humanities

“Twilight of a Neighborhood: Asheville’s East End, 1970,” received the 2014 Harlan Joel Gradin Award for Excellence in the Public Humanities from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Project director Karen Loughmiller and photographer Andrea Clark accepted the award for the Friends of Buncombe County Libraries at the 2014 Caldwell Award Ceremony held at Wake Forest University.

Organized around Clark’s powerful photographs, “Twilight of a Neighborhood,” is a multifaceted public humanities project that explores Asheville before and after the impact of urban renewal on the community. The discussions and interviews of the project revealed a multitude of viewpoints that often contradicted each other and signaled that the history of urban renewal is complex and shaded. Clark’s images portray Asheville’s East End in the 1970s with bustling business and street life, gardens where people grew their own food, and sidewalks on which children played under the watchful eyes of elders. The project has helped energize an emerging movement of concerned Asheville citizens who believe that their culture and history will shape how they live in the present and define the future.

Asheville was one of the many cities across the United States during the 1950s through the 1970s that participated in urban renewal to improve blighted areas of cities. The theory behind urban renewal was to enhance the landscape of cities and provide displaced residents model housing. In actuality, many rich and vibrant communities of color were flattened and neighborhoods were replaced with wide roadways, highways, and new multi-story buildings. Residents, some of whom were homeowners, were either forced to relocate or move into substandard housing.

Clinical psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove calls the resulting stress “root shock,” and it can have a negative impact on the entire community for decades. “Root shock, at the level of the individual, is a profound emotional upheaval that destroys the working model of the world that had existed in the individual's head,” says Fullilove. “Root shock, at the level of the local community… ruptures bonds, dispersing people to all the directions of the compass.”

Though the project is formally completed, “Twilight of a Neighborhood” continues to form the foundation for other initiatives such as encouraging participation by Asheville citizens in discussions on urban renewal.

The Harlan Joel Gradin Award for Excellence in the Public Humanities honors outstanding, imaginative, and significant work that reflects, affirms, and promotes the mission and vision of the North Carolina Humanities Council. The award celebrates substantial involvement by a project sponsor or individual in inspiring and developing activities in the public humanities that invite active collaboration by a wide range of community partners.