Thursday, December 17, 2015

Creative Ohio: Transforming Communities

Creative Ohio: Transforming Communities

Yesterday I attended a day long conference sponsored by the Ohio Art Council, with help from the Ohio Humanities Council and Tourism/Ohio. There were just over two hundred participants form throughout the State.These were primarily arts professionals, administators and managers more than applied artists or performers.  Of course, many arts administrators have another life in any of the arts.

My observations are only that: observations. I did have two underlying concerns as the day progressed. The participants were 99.9 % white people on their best behavior. I saw few people of color-from throughout the state of Ohio. I asked a friend who worked "behind the scenes" at the conference. They may think 'what's in it for them, also many of the attendees come from rural parts of the state. Huh? Are their so few people of color in rural Ohio?

They keynote speaker was an expert in community building. Terms like "place holding" and "place making" were used throughout the day. I admit not to having heard of these concepts before, but they make sense. How do you transform a neighborhood into a thriving arts district and how do you keep it a thriving arts district. Our speaker came with an account of his impressive sounding travels throughout the world investigating such communities. The pictures were attractive and the stories of some interest, but not enough to investigate what is to me the heart of the matter.

What should any community want to be transformed? Who is an outsider to attempt to do this and does the transformation meet the needs of the community as it was before said transformation took place. This was asked in plainer words by an audience member. "In Columbus, artists  are priced out of the Short North. " True, that very attractive neighborhood tends to serve White people from the the suburbs, or people who can afford the inflated housing costs in the area.. If I could solve that, our speaker said, I'd be very rich. Indeed. But should the balance between economic growth and preserving the existing community be addressed? Are you intending to help nurture the creative class? I define such a class as creative people who create-music, dance, poetry, textile, theater, weaving, the fine arts, full time and live on ramen noodles because they can't conceive of doing anything else. NOT hobbyists. I mean gifted people who are committed to producing-and selling-what they do.

Okay sure, if you want to sell your work you are going to have to have some savvy and serve some commerical intrests. But if any long term studies or conferences are going to be held I hope in the future making a community for artist to live and work permanently with the influx of new blood always possible, will be paramount.

There were four break out session, each given twice.

The Infrastructure of Place Making
Traveling the Crooked Road to Southwest Virginia
The Art of Partnerships
Evolving Downtown's Transform Communities

I attended Partnerships and Evolving Downtown

The Evolving downtown panel was the best part of the day. The session was set up as a conversation with the audience. I didn't know there was a cultural center in Hamilton, Ohio. I didn't know there was a Hamilton Ohio!  The Fitts Center is run by a hunky Australian new to the job. I wonder if his accent and bravado got him friends or not. He set up a promotional photo shoot of his artistically interesting men's room complete with standees. It got him some nasty blow back and a big tick UP in subscribers! He lamented that is theater is too small to host local orchestra, ballet and choral performances, but the guy is gung ho inviting them anyway and thinking of solutions.

When the director of the Toledo Arts Comissison said he was able to claim a large vacant downtown building for use I asked how he did it. I loved his answer. I went around and asked. I went all through the community knocking on doors. And one property owner said yes.. Another point worth mentioning, go into your community and find the cultured deviants! Th people who are considered weird in the area and who may be bizarre enoguht to join you and help. "Embrace those who want to help"

Asked what their most urgent wish is all four replied Funds fora permanent endowment.A revenue stream.

I know Stuarts Opera house in Nelsonville. I was shocked to learn that it sat empty  for 50 years, into the 1990s. The Diretor of the Opera house made it very clear. He worked in the poorest  county in the State. Yet the newly resorted theater anchors a small but attractive downtown square and  stands out amidst the surrounding blight. People come for shows and concerts. People send their kids there. Everyone wants to do more for kids. Everyone, as did the a.m. speaker, uses enthusiastic crowd isn the streets and the participation of kids as a measure of success.

So what did I learn:

Go as a guest....if you are visiting in someone else's community, be a good guest.
Invite people IN
Don't be afraid to ask. The worse people can say is No. Use that as a chance to change their minds...but know when to back off
Creative communities require people...and places to it down and visit...shops, green spaces, coffee houses, restaurants. Don't forget public performances and public art.

Don't take it too seriously. A little silly or off the wall is good,

Find balance. Drive the economic machine without shutting down the people already there


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