Carving out a new community

September 2, 2011

By Emily Baer

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Pomegranate Center assists church to build a local public space

Janet Farness (left) and Kimberly Kibby, Bellevue Holy Cross Lutheran Church volunteers, seal stained carvings on a tarp outside Pomegranate Center July 16. By Emily Baer

Members of Bellevue Holy Cross Lutheran Church and the Issaquah-based Pomegranate Center cut, carved, sanded and stained wood planks for 12 hours July 16 to raise money for the construction of a communal area open to the South Bellevue/Newcastle/Newport Hills community.

In commemoration of its 50th anniversary, Holy Cross appealed to the Pomegranate Center — an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering community through the creative process — for help in turning three acres of its property into a public gathering place. Pomegranate held the July 16 carveathon to help raise funds for materials necessary to build the public area.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., 30 members and volunteers from the church and nonprofit organization worked together to create 18 stained carvings. The carvers followed order forms designating sizes, themes and color palettes for each piece. Some customers and supporters chose to buy pieces for their own homes, while others donated their orders to the soon-to-be public space.

By 6 p.m., variously sized, rectangular slabs of cedar — carved and stained with herons, feathers, pomegranates, fish and deer — lay out on tarps to dry in the sun.

The $6,000 that the carveathon raised will go toward the $70,000 to $80,000 sum Pomegranate Center Executive Director Milenko Matanovic estimated would be necessary to pay for construction materials. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans gave a $2,000 matching donation to the project, increasing the total amount of money collected to $8,000.

Kimberley Kibby, treasurer and previous vice president of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, said the plan for the donated land includes an amphitheater, a stage, seating, shelters, P-Patches, a meditative path and three gateways.

The park was designed in a collective, forward-thinking manner unique to Pomegranate. In May, the organization invited the community to participate in a design workshop.


Community collaboration

During the morning session, the group engaged in a large group discussion about what kind of public space they wanted to see created and what community needs they thought should be met, Project Coordinator Bree Delgadillo said.

“We ask them to be as thoughtful as possible about the future,” Matanovic said. “There is a big difference between personal opinion and vision. Vision takes courage to articulate because it usually invokes change.”

From noon to 5 p.m., the brainstorming was molded into specific concepts. Later in the evening, the community returned to the open house to view the Pomegranate designs and to ensure they were interpreted properly.

Pomegranate’s distinctive process stems from the artistic, community-building vision of its CEO, Matanovic, a Slovenian artist. He founded the organization in 1986 with an intent to build places, community and leaders of the future through creative collaboration.

The center operates under the belief that “communities must change and become less wasteful,” he said. “The design of a community shapes how people live and conduct their lives.”

Pomegranate has limited personnel, consisting of only four people, including Milenko and his daughter Katya Matanovic. However, while its staff is small, its capacity is big, he said. Sixty “Public Space Rangers” — as the organization calls its pro bono architects, designers, artists and contractors — orbit the core team.

Grace Huang, an architect, past board member and current Public Space Ranger, said she was drawn to Pomegranate because of its unique inclusion of community.

“It involves people at a level where everyone can find a way to be involved,” she said. “It uses simple techniques that almost anyone can do. And it’s an awesome group of people — a bit like a family.”

Those that come in contact with the organization seem to keep coming back. Shelli Young, a volunteer at the carveathon, attended a Pomegranate leadership workshop to aid her in her work with communities as a county official. Seventeen years later, she is on the giving end of the organization.


Sharing spaces

Pomegranate has crafted hundreds of plans, constructed more than 50 public spaces of various sizes, and given too many talks and workshops to count.

It focuses on keeping costs low and affordable. This year, Tully’s Coffee brewer Green Mountain Coffee Roasters awarded Pomegranate with five grants to create five public spaces. Pomegranate is using one of those grants to help pay for the Holy Cross project.

“We create spaces for less than market cost,” Matanovic said. “The cost of the Holy Cross project is $70,000 to $80,000, but the value is much more because of the hours of work we give.”

Though the community’s space was scheduled to be built between Aug. 25 and 28, the total budget required to complete the design has not been met yet. Pomegranate and the Holy Cross team were to assemble the key amenities during the last weekend in August — the amphitheater, stage, garden and shelter — and build the rest as funds are raised.

Janet Farness, leader of the Holy Cross Earth Keeping Ministry, spoke highly of Pomegranate’s ability to create a space that is useful and meaningful to a community.

“We really wanted to share this piece of land and try to be very welcoming,” she said. “They have a proven process. They live where we live, so they really understand this community.”

When asked how he has managed to lead a productive and relevant organization for more than 20 years, Matanovic said that while Pomegranate has experienced “a lot of ups and downs,” it has been successful largely because of “the rising tide around these issues.”

“When I first started giving talks, people said, ‘Why?’” Matanovic said. “Now when we ask communities what they want, they say, ‘Gathering places.’ We were ahead of the curve.”

Farness’ belief in the importance of community public spaces might be proof of the “rising tide” Matanovic spoke of.

“It’s interesting what brings people together,” she said. “Community just might be that commonality.”

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