What is the responsive version of outreach?
This question has been on my mind over the past few weeks. As anyone who has visited recently will have immediately noticed, Charlotte’s Place has been full! We’ve had the busiest weeks of our existence in the last month, as the Occupy Wall Street protesters (“occupiers” in the common parlance) have used Charlotte’s Place to take a break from Zuccotti Park for rest, planning, e-mail, and laptop charging. They have been joined by our CP regulars and by a host of others who have come to try to support, educate, argue with, or observe them, from tourists to Wall Street workers, to visiting professors.
None of these, obviously, were on the list of people who we thought we were going to serve at Charlotte’s place (equally obviously, “open to all” means just that, and there was never a thought that we might turn them away). What we’ve tried to do is what we always do, which is attempt to serve the needs of whoever is here. So I’ve found myself asking what Charlotte’s Place means for our new guests. We are not in the business of endorsing or deriding their message, but rather in the business of making them feel welcome and encouraging them during their visits away from stridency and insularity and towards peaceful contemplation—in short, treating them exactly the same way we treat everyone who walks in the door.
Having so many visitors has meant a busy conference room schedule, extra work keeping the space nice (and occasionally reminding an exhausted occupier that Charlotte’s Place is not necessarily for napping.) It’s also meant a great opportunity to capture the huge number of guests with extra programming—last week saw Father Mark hosting a panel discussion of some of the protest leaders, as well as the launch of an ambitious program of daily music events. We have a panel this Wednesday about opening to the other (be it Occupy Wall Street or Wall Street) called “Unlikely Allies” and a meditation on Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg at 3pm on Thursday.
The lesson is that Charlotte’s Place is constantly defined and re-defined by who walks in the door. This is the paradox. As new visitors populate Charlotte’s Place, we have to shift our style of welcome to remain true to our sense of unconditional openness and hospitality. Change to stay the same. Charlotte’s Place is not so much programmed as it is occupied—not in the sense used by the protestors (as in a military occupation), but in its older and more common definition, as in the way one occupies a house. The question is: Who is here now, what do they need, and how can they be the new first line of welcome for those walking in the door.
And so I invite you to come see what we’re up to—we’ll have concerts at 2pm every weekday until 10/28, a roomful of lower-Manhattanites old and new, permanent and temporary—and together we will inhabit Charlotte’s Place.
Author: Jennifer Chinn
Created: March 29, 2011
Charlotte’s Place is a free gathering space open to anyone in Lower Manhattan. At Charlotte’s Place, you make the space with whatever you want to do. Come draw on the wall, water the plants, eat your lunch, attend an art workshop, listen to music, read a book, use the free wi-fi, watch a movie, or whatever else comes to mind. Charlotte’s Place is open to all and free to use. This blog is managed by Jenn Chinn, program manager at Charlotte’s Place, with contributions from the Charlotte’s Place community.
Charlotte's Place is located at 109 Greenwich Street, between Rector and Carlisle Streets. It is open from 12-2pm Monday-Friday (bring your lunch!) and for events.
Want to share your recent experience at Charlotte's Place? E-mail Jenn at firstname.lastname@example.org
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