While most students only see bars and bad neighborhoods when they look at Downtown Binghamton, Kevin Hallagan sees art and opportunity.
Last spring, Hallagan, a senior majoring in cinema, decided to make a documentary about the difficulties surrounding the Binghamton community and the ways in which residents were beginning to improve the area. The film focuses on three local businesses, including VINES, a non-profit company that promotes urban gardening as a way to provide cheaper, healthier food to the area.
“It’s about spreading a message that you can’t wait for someone else to improve your area, you have to do it yourself,” he said. “Some of the people still need some help understanding that they need to do the work.”
Hallagan also focused on Bingspot.com, a site that advertises events happening Downtown.
Joshua Luzki, a founder of Bingspot, showed Hallagan different events that Bingspot supported.
“We would give him a call every time we were photographing or helping organizing and he would come film and interview some people,” said Luzki, a graduate student studying business administration. “It wasn’t too long a process — he was easy to talk to all the time.”
Hallagan raised the $15,000 he needed for the project through Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website where people can donate money to independent projects.
“The whole idea of Kickstarter is to get out your idea … past your [network] of people, and then others that are passionate about your project will support you,” he said. “Fewer than half my donors were total strangers who I’d never met before, and I got donations from nearly 200 people.”
Hallagan added that while he had difficulties putting the film together, the hardest part for him was raising money.
“It was definitely stressful because there’s a ticking clock and once your donations start to level out you need to find a way to pick it back up again,” he said. “People wanted to wait and see if I got close to my goal because people want to donate to successful projects.”
While Hallagan and the people he interviewed spoke highly of the events and opportunities for residents of the Binghamton area, BU students remain skeptical.
Samantha Meadows, a freshman majoring in integrative neuroscience, thinks the possibility of a Downtown renaissance is inhibited by a lack of publicity.
“All these projects may be going on, but I don’t really see any of them,” she said. “I don’t know where they are, and it takes more than new parks and beautifying projects to make a city great.”
But Hallagan had high hopes for future student involvement in the revitalization of Binghamton.
“My friends and I have spent summers here,” Hallagan said. “When students come Downtown — not to the bars and not just to party at friends’ houses — but when they actually look around and get involved, then they feel more a part of the Binghamton area.”
Sean Cummings, a Binghamton urban farm manager with VINES, said Hallagan followed VINES all fall and winter and made plans to stay with them for the spring to capture a full growing season.
“Kevin was looking for a more positive story about Binghamton,” Cummings said. “He’s looking at what’s making a positive change.”