Pomegranate Center is a non-profit organization specializing in community development founded by Milenco Matanovic in 1986. Milenco’s biggest motivation of founding Pomegranate Center was as an artist, he wanted to see more art in communities because he believes it influences and embellishes everyday life. Since 1986 the Pomegranate Center has worked with hundreds of communities around the Greater Seattle area and tried increasing community engagement within their projects to make successful and stronger communities.
One drawback the organization has faced is that the U.S. is inadequate for the idea of collaboration of art and communities, and Seattle is not the exception. Seattle is surrounded by great nature but what people have built in their communities does not always reflect the beauty of the area. Milenco believes local people should care more about the collaboration among nature, art and people’s lives. However, without widespread awareness on the importance of the inclusion of art into community spaces, it is hard to develop the communities effectively and efficiently, so he has been talking and writing to tell the public all over the world about his organization’s values and the value of art in our daily lives.
One important part of making positive impacts in the local communities they serve is listening to local advocates and opponents on the issues of community development to better understand the differences. “It helps,” Milenco said. In fact, he believes that just listening to local peoples’ ideas and concerns have helped build more successful communities not only in Seattle where their office is located but also all over the U.S. where they have worked.
In one example, the Pomegranate Center built a space for local people to exchange ideas and hang out in the place where there was originally an abandoned street in San Diego. Nobody used to care about the place because many people had bad behaviors in the abandoned space. However, when they started the project, they tried to talk to and listen to local people even if they did not have the good attitude for the project. That made local people and children going to school willing to join the project as volunteers which made the place better by working together. Milenco said that the local neighbors now often have neighborhood gatherings, meet informally and enjoy the sunset in the new community space. They showed the successful way to engage the community and now the space is called Manzanita Gathering Place.
When I asked Milenco how he defines “success” in terms of the community development in the organization, he said that it means to make the community sustainable, stronger, and safer with local people’s engagement by creating a place to gather or just to meet, talk and enjoy the time together after the project is done. Working together builds trust and breaks down walls. After the community has worked together on building a space they can be proud of their own work and say, “I made this place.”
Another example of improving the overall community through art is, they made a community space in the area that had high crime rate, and after the project was complete the crime rate actually dropped in that area. Milenco believes that it was due to the local people’s engagement that made people living in the community feel a stronger connection with their neighbors and a pride in their community which increased the feelings of safety and trust.
In conclusion, the organization hopes to make more impacts on the local communities in many places in the U.S. and more in abroad with their own method inspired by the inclusion of art in community development.