PLACE Project (Presenting Landmarks through Artistic Community Engagement) is a custom-tailored annual event that integrates history, dance, and the arts to celebrate a town’s cultural and historic landmarks.
Led by interdisciplinary artist Merli V. Guerra, PLACE (Presenting Landmarks through Artistic Community Engagement) is a creative placemaking project dedicated to celebrating a cultural or historic community landmark through the integration of dance, history, and the arts. Founded in 2012, PLACE Project (formerly titled the "Cultural Community Outreach Project") has publicly presented a myriad of inter- and transdisciplinary works and events across Greater Boston, New England, and the Mid-Atlantic, including: a self-published storybook combining dance with locally-sourced children's artwork and professional writing (Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA); turning a 60-foot-tall water tower into a projection screen for an outdoor performance of dance and visual art (Arlington Reservoir Water Tower, Arlington, MA); a weeklong “breathing installation” series integrating movers into craft-based installation art (Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, MA); and most recently, an extended reality (XR) 360-degree immersive dance production illuminating architectural ruins at a Revolutionary War battle site (Princeton Battlefield State Park, Princeton, NJ); among others. A complete listing of past PLACE Projects can be found in the Project Archive below.
Merli V. Guerra (founder/director) is an award-winning choreographer and interdisciplinary artist combining dance, film, art, and design. She is a 2015 recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s prestigious Gold Star Award for her work with site-specific dance and community engagement. Guerra has performed lead roles as a modern dancer and classical Odissi Indian dancer with acclaimed companies on tours to India (2007, 2012) and Japan (2009); and most recently traveled across Tanzania with a local big cat biologist creating a series of site-specific screendances in response to the ecosystems of its national parks (2021). Her choreographic works have been presented by 100+ events across the U.S., and abroad in Argentina, Canada, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Portugal, and Spain. Guerra has presented on her work with merging dance, history, and AR/VR/XR technologies at Our World Heritage International Globinar 2.0 (2021) and Harvard University Virtual/Augmented Reality (2021), with a workshop and presentation at the Northeast & Mid-Atlantic Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit scheduled for April. Beyond choreography, Guerra is a freelance graphic designer and arts journalist who served as Art Director of Art New England magazine for five years, followed by her work at Princeton University Press. As a writer, she is a senior contributor to Boston’s The Arts Fuse, and a dance critic for the Toronto-based Fjord Review and Vancouver-based Dance International magazine. In addition to founding and directing the PLACE Project, Guerra is a co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA) and holds an MFA in Dance from Rutgers University. Learn more at merliguerra.com.
This year's PLACE Project celebrates Seymour Planetarium in Springfield MA.
2022: Constellation Stories
Seymour Planetarium . Springfield MA
Upcoming: November 5, 2022!
This year's PLACE Project travels to the stars, as we celebrate Seymour Planetarium's 85th anniversary (the oldest planetarium in the country) at Springfield Science Museum in Springfield, MA. Stay tuned for details on this exciting collaborative live performance of dance, light, science, and cultural mythologies, intriguing for all ages!
2012 - Present
2021: The Time Traveler's Lens
Princeton Battlefield State Park . Princeton NJ
PLACE has officially launched its "groundbreaking" new production The Time Traveler's Lens using 360-degree videography and interdisciplinary choreography to present an extended reality (XR) immersive performance illuminating the history of the colonnade at Princeton Battlefield State Park (Princeton NJ). This site-specific performance comprises five 360-degree dance films that are viewable as augmented reality (AR) across the battlefield grounds on visitors’ personal mobile devices or as a virtual reality (VR) experience when viewed remotely. As the time traveler, you control the lens, while experiencing the layers of past identities held by this historic site, including ties to the American Revolution (1777); Thomas Ustick Walter, famed architect of the U.S. Capitol (1835); and the Delaware & Raritan Canal (1901); among other glimpses into the colonnade’s rich and storied past.
2020: The I/DD Self-Advocacy Project
Rutgers University & coLAB Arts . New Brunswick NJ
The 2020 PLACE Project began with a focus on highlighting one organization and expanded to celebrate Intellectual/Developmental Disability (I/DD) self-advocates across New Jersey as a whole. From September 2019 to March 2020, Guerra conducted oral histories in collaboration with two organizations: Rutgers University and coLAB Arts. The resulting dance theatre work, ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQ—STUVWXYZ, calls attention to the struggles and accomplishments these self-advocates face. What daily dignities do we take for granted? What does "self-advocacy" mean to those in the I/DD community? Evoking moments of accomplishment and perseverance, this work highlights the day-to-day overlaps of I/DD and neurotypical communities.
2019: Global Water Dances
Mercer County Park . West Windsor NJ
PLACE presented new site-specific work as part of Global Water Dances' 2019 worldwide event, on the heels of Guerra's work 8.7 million minus 1, which prompts viewers to reconsider their own habits of pollution and human consumption. This migratory performance installation took place along the edges of Lake Mercer in Mercer County Park.
2018: Clermont Commission
Clermont Historic Site . Germantown NY
Click here for photos.
For its 2018 Season, PLACE ventured outside of Massachusetts for the first time, when the project was commissioned by The Friends of Clermont to create a new work honoring Clermont Historic Site in upstate New York. Titled Trinkets, the piece set into motion the real-life story of Clermont historic figure Nancy Shippen, and was performed alongside The Hostess Diaries, created for the 2016 PLACE Project. The program was sponsored in part by a Humanities New York Action Grant.
2017: Kinetic Craft
Fuller Craft Museum . Brockton MA
Click here for photos, videos, and testimonials.
PLACE was in residence at the Fuller Craft Museum for the entire week of April school vacation (Daily, 10am-5pm Tuesday, April 18 through Sunday, April 23, 2017). The project constructed a series of “breathing installations”—a concept first developed by Guerra back in 2011 with her fabric installation at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Movement at the Mills—highlighting the five crafting elements: Textiles, Ceramics, Wood, Glass, and Metal. Participants were welcome to peruse the museum at their leisure as dancers from each installation performed and interacted with those passing by. Engaging for all ages, the event was free with museum admission. This project was supported in part by a grant from the Brockton Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.
2016: 300 Years
Longfellow's Wayside Inn . Sudbury MA
Click here for photos, video, and press.
For its 2016 Season, PLACE celebrated the 300th anniversary of Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Sudbury with outdoor performances on the grounds. The project created new works honoring the inn and its history, as well as a new experimental film integrating slow motion dance with flour as an homage to the Wayside's grist mill. This project was supported in part by a grant from the Sudbury Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.
2015: Amherst Storybook Project
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art . Amherst MA
Preview the completed book, and purchase your own copy here.
PLACE Project celebrated the Amherst region's literary roots through the creation of a new storybook for children that weaves together community-donated artwork and poetry. The book and corresponding dance performance debuted in November 2015 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. This project was supported in part by a grant from the Amherst Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.
2014: Night at the Tower
Arlington Reservoir Water Tower . Arlington MA
PLACE turned Arlington's historic water tower at Park Circle into an enormous 60-foot-tall screen, showcasing art from the community, music, and dance, to highlight this local landmark. The project was very well received, with more than 300 in attendance, and was chosen as one of just three (out of 5,000+ candidates throughout the state in 2014) to receive the Massachusetts Cultural Council's prestigious Gold Star Award for its artistic excellence and impact on the community. This project was supported in part by a grant from the Arlington Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.
2013: Threading Motion Project
New England Quilt Museum . Lowell MA
Using images of quilts and video projection, PLACE created a series of short films combining the art of quilting with dance. The film series was then shown at the gallery during its Silk! exhibition, with a live performance during the exhibition's opening. The films were so popular that they were requested by the San Jose Quilt Museum in California to be shown in an exhibition later that same year. This project was supported in part by a grant from the Lowell Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.
2012: Celebration of Preservation Project
Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House . Concord MA
Click here for photos and footage.
In 2012, the PLACE Project presented a site-specific piece for the Centennial Celebration at Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House in Concord, entitled the Celebration of Preservation Project. Over the course of several months, Guerra gathered voice recordings from the museum's many tourists (some local, some abroad). These recordings were then turned into a soundscore for an outdoor piece, which was presented hourly outdoors on the lawn. This project was supported in part by a grant from the Concord Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.
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