Friday, September 16, 2011

Part 2: Dynamic Partnerships and the Role of Art in Revitalization

While Pittsfield Storefront Artist project was not intentionally designed to promote economic development, the natural outpouring of their efforts was attracting businesses.  It seems as if beautification of the space gave people motivation to return downtown.  This is an example of how artists can become social entrepreneurs: those who create opportunities in their neighborhood while earning a living (SIAP, Cultivating “Natural” Cultural Districts).  

Keynote speaker, Megan Wilden shared that one challenge of partnership with artists/an arts organization is to encourage without destroying the purity of the art.  In other words, when involving art with community development, the focus must always be creating art.  The partnership between the City of Pittsfield and artists seemed to reach an appropriate balance, because artists were cultivated to continue creating art, not attracting businesses.   Around this premise, the partnership provided fertile soil, because in addition to the presence of art, a sense of community was created among artists.  I think this sense of community was an added attraction for residents and businesses. 

University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) promotes a model of development integrating neighborhood residents with regional economy and civil society through aiding a transition from creative economy to creative society (Seifert and Stern, Culture and Urban Revitalization).  One way to achieve this is to create opportunities for artists, amateurs, and residents to collide; artists’ centers are an effective opportunity for this collision to occur.  Artists’ centers provide the community open access to the arts, classes, opportunities to mingle with artists and art lovers, mentoring, and useful networks for resource sharing (SIAP, Culture and Urban Revitalization).  Artists' centers make it more about relationships than transactions; thus creative society rather than economy.

Practically, how do artist’s centers revitalize communities?  Artists’ centers are so are embedded in the lives of community members that it provides: youth development through classes and mentoring, increased neighborhood safety through heavier foot traffic in the community, and improves local economy, as more foot traffic leads revenue for local businesses (Seifert and Stern, Culture and Urban Revitalization).  Moreover, stronger community relationships always generates greater community security among residents.

Cultivating the arts through partnerships in local communities is very effective as the arts continue to become more open and accessible to the general population.  The arts are powerful expressions of culture and experience, so it only seems natural that community revitalization engages art to empower community members and tell the neighborhood story.  Increased access has also uncovered the presence of organic art in low-income communities through anything from graffiti, to rap and spoken word, to resident gardens.  As stories are told, these organic artists are empowered to embrace their talent and use it towards personal, community and maybe even professional transformation.  

Seifert, Susan, and Mark Stern. "Culture and Urban Revitalization: A Harvest Document." Social Impact of the Arts Project (January 2007). Web. 14 Sept. 2011. <>.
Seifert, Susan, and Mark Stern. "Cultivating “Natural” Cultural Districts." Creativity and Change (September 2007). Web. 14 Sept. 2011. <>.

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