Thursday, May 31, 2018

Economic Development a Theme of Appalachian Summit

By Andrea Orlando, MSJ
Communications Manager
National Consortium for Creative Placemaking

     The Appalachian region is rich in culture and art. How the region can transform that richness into economic wealth is a central theme of our upcoming Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit in Charleston, WV on June 21 and 22.
     It's no secret the region struggles to keep economic pace with the rest of the country. Average household income in the area is 80 percent of average household income in the rest of the nation, according to a study published by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Poverty rates are higher than the national average as well, and the disparity is more stark when one looks at the rates for children. 
      Creative placemaking recognizes the unique contribution artists and arts and cultural organizations make to local economies, and it provides tools and techniques for supporting artists, arts activity and community identity in places.  More than 20 sessions in our summit are related to local economic development and community wellness. People looking for practical advice will find it in a few of our workshops. Beth Flowers, Director of the AIR Institute of Berea College, will provide hands-on training for growing your local Appalachian creative economy and expanding partners and a network of support. Three presenters from east Kentucky will also workshop ways to discover cultural assets and turn them into community wealth. 
      The summit will also feature panel discussions that will shed light on leveraging philanthropic investments to strengthen mountain communities. The panel discussion is entitled, "Appalachia Funders Network: Leveraging New Investments and Creative Economies." Folks who enjoy looking at case studies and concrete examples will enjoy "Using the Arts to Strengthen and Sustain Small Communities" led by John Davis of Lanesboro Arts. He will present two case studies of small towns in Minnesota. One of the towns, New York Mills, MN, was twice named one of the 100 Best Small Art Towns in America and is cited as a national model for rural arts and economic development work. 
      Want to learn about workforce development through arts and cultural strategies? We have a knowledge exchange for that, entitled, "ArtPlace Deep Dive: Creative Workforce Development." Knowledge exchanges are conversations with small groups of people from diverse organizations who share their experiences and ideas to generate rich discussion.   
      Our summit program is designed to enable attendees to quickly identify themes so they can attend the sessions most relevant to them. In addition to economic development, themes include the following: building local arts communities; building effective partnerships with elected officials; creative placemaking in post-industrial communities; mapping creative assets; placekeeping and protecting the ethos of a community; building arts ecologies in isolated areas; and invigorating arts in smaller communities.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Creative Placemaking that Old House

Corner of a building in Downtown Bellefonte.
Photo by Keith Koch

By Andrea Orlando, MSJ
Communications Manager 
National Consortium for Creative Placemaking
Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP, Executive Director of the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, will address a gathering on old houses in Central Pennsylvania next week. Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, Principal and CEO of Metris Arts Consulting is also scheduled to speak. Both Vazquez and Gadwa Nicodemus have written foundational white papers on the emerging field. Metris Arts Consulting sponsored the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit for the Northeast Corridor earlier in the month. 

"What we're talking about is not just old houses. It's about communities," said Joseph Griffin, Vice President of the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association. The BHCA in partnership with the American Philatelic Society and the Centre County Historical Society is hosting its third annual Old House Fair on Friday and Saturday, June 8 and 9, in Bellefonte, PA.      

Also attending are local creative placemakers, including Micah Gursky, Executive Director of the Tamaqua Area Community PartnershipIn addition, Mary Vollero, the proprietor of Mary's Pink Church and Elaine Meder-Wilgus, the owner of Webster's Books and Cafe. Also joining the conversation will be Pat House, Director of the Bellefonte Art Museum and Jim Dunne, Secretary of the Bellefonte Historic Society. The historic organizations in central Pennsylvania created the event for people who love old houses or professionals who need specialized knowledge of historic buildings. This year, the coalition made creative placemaking the focus of its professional agenda. 
     Griffin said he looks forward to learning more about how the community can leverage arts and cultural programing to develop Bellefonte, the seat of Centre County. He describes the town as a "sleepy" place, a shadow of its former self during its heyday in the 1870's, when the municipality supported three newspapers. He said he believes that creative placemaking can, "change the quality and texture of people's lives." 
Centre County Bank Building
Photo by Keith Koch

Griffin said he has witnessed some impressive transformations brought about by creative placemakers. The town of Millheim, for example, was a sleepy place until a local proprietor opened up a cafe and began featuring musical performances and an art gallery, Griffin said. "The town has a little bit of life now because it’s kind of a cool place to be," Griffin said. Millheim had an estimated population of fewer than 1,000 residents, according to U.S. Census estimates for 2016. It is part of the State College, Pennsylvania Metropolitan Statistical Area and also has a historic district listed with the Centre County Historical Society. 

Mary Vollero, one of the presenters at the Friday program, purchased an old church in Fleming, PA, painted it pink and began hosting yoga classes and art and music events. Elaine Meder-Wilgus did something similar with Webster's Books and Cafe in State College. 

      The coalition of historic associations revived the tradition of the Old House Fair three years ago after a decades-long hiatus, Griffin said. The professional program grew out of a need and desire to provide information to professionals who deal with old structures in the course of their work; lawyers, commissioners and architects. In prior years, the professional portion focused on financing historic renovation projects or the intricacies of tax and historic preservation codes. The Saturday itinerary is intended more for homeowners looking to troubleshoot issues with their old homes. 
      Griffin said he hopes to learn more about creative placeamaking and how it can invigorate his community. "We all hope for some wonderful transformation to occur." 





Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Getting an NEA Our Town grant is hard. Some tips to make it easier.

By Andrea Orlando, MSJ
Communications Manager, National Consortium for Creative Placemaking

Proposals for the NEA Our Town grant program ( are due August 9.  Only 25% of applicants get this grant.  

Here are some tips from an NEA senior staff member and some ideas on how The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking can help you.  NCCP's work has been supported five times through the Our Town program.

A successful grant proposal is as much about recognizing the unique assets of a place as it is about creating something entirely new, said the NEA's Katherine Bray-Simons at the Northeast Corridor Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit in May. 

Katherine Bray-Simons of the NEA conducting a workshop at the CPL Summit
Photo by Justin Jajalla

The NEA is looking to fund projects that leverage “undervalued” or “under-recognized” or “under-tapped” assets, Bray-Simons told the group. Those assets could include a unique local history, architecture or new civic energy around a special opportunity.  
The NEA distributes the funds to rural and remote areas as well as urban centers. Notable examples of Our Town grant recipient locations are Wilson, North Carolina, which received funding to restore whirligigs, vernacular art created by WWII veteran Vollis Simpson. The whirligigs are kinetic sculptures made from mechanical spare parts. A public-private partnership employed conservators to restore the aging structures and installed them in a local park. Bray-Simons said the most “poetic” aspect of the project was that locals who had once worked in a now-closed machine shop received training in conservation and are now conservators themselves. 
Vollis Simpson whirligig

Our town grants can range from $25,000 to $200,000. Bray-Simons encouraged the group to look for cross-sector partnerships and be “imaginative” about who those partners may be. The program requires at least one of the partners to be a 501 c3 nonprofit. The program also requires a letter of endorsement from a local official, either from the municipality or the county where the proposed project is located, or from a federally recognized Native American tribe. 

“We’re looking for a player who sets policy and has decision-making power in identifying and carrying out that policy,” Bray-Simons said. 

Clarify the community development goals of the project and justify its timing. “Why is now an important time for intervention?” Bray-Simons asked. 

NCCP has been in several projects supported by Our Town grants. They are creative placemaking plans for Long Beach Island and Perth Amboy (both in New Jersey), the Livable Neighborhoods Program of the Municipal Art Society of New York City, the New Jersey Creative Placemakers program, and the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summits.

Working on the Perth Amboy Plan
Photo by Noelle Zaleski
     While we can't promise to get you a grant (and we will NOT lobby the NEA on anyone's behalf), we can help you think about better ways to connect arts and culture to community and economic development issues.  If you put NCCP in your proposal ($5,000 minimum from the grant), we'll help you free.  If not, we'll ask you for a modest amount to cover our costs. For more information, please contact NCCP Executive Director Leonardo Vazquez by email or at 973-763-6352, x1

The NEA website now includes a resource page for people interested in learning more about the program.