Dear Tamaqua was a yearlong letter writing campaign and subsequent community events which sought to catalyze lasting change in a community which experienced widespread abandoned properties and negative perceptions.
Led by the Tamaqua Community Arts Center (Tamaqua Arts), the project asked residents to share their honest feelings and perspectives about the town through a letter writing campaign using the prompt “Dear Tamaqua…”. The sentiments and words expressed in these letters became source material for creating temporary art, food, music, and performance installations in neighborhoods where vacancy was most prevalent. The goal of the project was to amplify voices, respect perspectives, rebuild genuine trust among residents, broaden the collective imagination of what Tamaqua could be, and inspire lasting change for the better.
Tamaqua, Pennsylvania is a small town which has long suffered from long-term divestment, abandonment, lack of trust in government, and negative perceptions among its residents. Dear Tamaqua was an important step in a broader effort to engage residents in a dialogue regarding their feelings, both positive and negative, about the town’s economic and physical infrastructure and social fabric. Tamaqua residents were engaged through a year-long letter writing campaign which asked them to share their most honest feelings about the town both positive and negative. Tamaqua Arts was intentional in how they collected letters and sought to reach as broad a swath of the community as possible. They collected letters by developing a social media campaign and conducting in-person interviews with community members of all ages. 100 volunteer transcribers were enlisted to interview local youth in the community, older residents in local nursing homes, and others.
In August 2015, Dear Tamaqua culminated with a community walking experience—part theater, part street festival—featuring installations and performances created by community members designed to reflect those feelings and hopes for the future shared by residents. As part of the walking experience, installations were intentionally placed along a mile-long path through vacant and revitalized buildings and lots, streets, and alleyways to encourage residents to experience both familiar and unfamiliar spaces in new ways. Words which appeared in the letters were projected on screens and buildings along the path and local actors and dancers gave performances based on the themes which emerged from the letters. Initially hesitant about participating and thinking nothing would come from sharing their thoughts, residents were delighted and surprised to see their words and feelings being ‘played’ back to them as part of the installations. Ultimately, Dear Tamaqua was a first step towards bringing residents together to grapple with their feelings and envision a brighter future.
Property Type: Commercial Lot (no structure)
Project Type/ New Use: Event(s)
Project Purpose: Community engagement; decrease commercial and residential vacancy
Duration: Temporary (less than one year)
Initial Cost: $50
Funding Source: Unknown
Organization Type: Nonprofit - Arts and Culture
Implementation Partners: Artist(s); Local government; Nonprofit - Other
Community Type: Suburban