McNamara Alumni Center, for all of its architectural beauty and emerald green space, is just far enough removed from the main part of campus to get relatively small foot traffic. The School Yard is an annual program that hopes to change that underutilization by turning the space into a place of community through a bit of placemaking—the specialty of the Musicant Group that runs the program.
Placemaking, as the Project for Public Spaces puts it, “capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, and it results in the creation of quality public spaces.” With its emphasis on interactive activities and local contribution, The School Yard is working on just that.
Since June, The School Yard has brought lawn games and chairs to McNamara’s grounds for anyone to come and enjoy, and in July, a weekly schedule of events began. Farmers markets and concerts by University musicians are on Wednesdays, free fitness classes are on Thursdays, and, since mid-August, student groups host an hour of activities on Fridays.
The Musicant Group and sponsors such as the University of Minnesota Foundation, University of Minnesota Alumni Association, and University Gateway Corporation are even helping to pay up to $100 for a group’s event costs, allowing student groups on a budget to be more creative with their activities. The fencing club and marine biology club are just two of the groups coming up; the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers already had a rousing Friday helping people build and launch water rockets.
“The purpose of The School Yard is to actually open up the space to be something where people want to be,” Maygen Keller, a community manager of The School Yard, said. “Look at all of these people. Without the chairs and the tables, and when you remove the music and the food, it’s a vacant green space where people walk by.”
A Place of Connection
During Welcome Week, the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) kicked off their Friday time slot with a flash mob and brought bins of food and plenty of music to accompany the yard games already in place.
“I think that lots of student groups have the classic engagement methods,” Abeer Syedah, president of MSA, said. “They have a table where they give their elevator pitch and have people sign up on their email list, which is cool, but it can be easily lost, so new types of systems can attract students. Like here, we’re just playing games and hanging out."
Although the passerby quantities didn’t compare to activities fairs, placemaking isn’t about quotas and driving numbers. It’s about participation, inclusion, and collaboration.
Syedah was still able to connect with some freshmen about some of MSA’s passions such as medical amnesty and affirmative consent, but this conversation had a backdrop of people reading underneath the trees and children playing with hula hoops, not a swirl of people rushing about.
For student groups interested in the The School Yard’s Friday opportunity, McNamara may not be the place to get fast and hard results for the student group email list. However, it can be a place of connection that reaches more than just students and where you can go deeper than the typical 30-second spiel.
Hang out with The Wake at The School Yard on Oct. 7, noon-1 p.m.
By Lianna Matt, The Wake
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