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." 





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