community revitalization strategy centered on the arts awaken us from the
economic doldrums? If the first 34 ArtPlace projects are representative
of that approach, then the answer is yes.
It’s hard not to feel worn down by the
news lately. The statistics are sobering
– our unemployment rate is still above 9% and the poverty rate rose to 15.1% -
the highest level in almost two decades.
The stock market is down since January of this year, and it’s not clear
that President Obama’s jobs bill will make it through Congress successfully. In our work with nonprofits all around the
country, we are seeing this news unfold right in front of our eyes – with
continued weakness across the sector.
But in New York
City, an abandoned East Harlem
school will soon offer 90 housing units for artists and 13,000 square feet of
community space for arts-related non-profits – while simultaneously promoting the
neighborhood as a major Latino cultural capital. In Wilson,
North Carolina, an Art Park is
taking shape – featuring Vollis Simpson’s enormous whirligig sculptures—and spurring
the development of an “industrial artisan district” that will both attract
artists and provide skilled workforce training.
And in Detroit – where unemployment well exceeds
the national average – the creation of the Sugar Hill Arts District is allowing
for a rebirth of Detroit’s
cultural identity. A planned
redevelopment of vacant property and an outdoor arts venue will create jobs and
increase attraction to the downtown. Likewise, adjacent to the Watts Towers
in Los Angeles,
three houses will be rehabilitated to showcase the work of visiting artists and
attract new visitors. Projects like these – bubbling up around the nation –further
validate the nonprofit (and now the cultural) sector’s role in boosting
employment, revitalizing communities and realizing neighborhood change.
And it’s not just grant money that
will drive community and economic development.
As part of the ArtPlace initiative, NFF will also administer a $12
million loan pool available to organizations advancing place-based work. What we have learned during NFF’s 30 year
history as a lender and advisor to cultural organizations is that knowing how
and when to use debt is a key component to managing an organization. The loan pool will provide an opportunity for
organizations possibly left out of the credit market to use debt as part of
their strategy for growth and development.
While creative placemaking is not a
new vehicle for economic change, ArtPlace takes a novel approach – bringing
together an innovative public-private partnership (with NEA and seven other
supporting federal agencies), critical grant funds (ten private foundations),
and access to credit (six financial institutions) so that a full complement of
capital is available in making all of these communities vibrant places to work
We don’t need a golden ticket to
realize successful economic development.
We need more of the innovation and partnership inherent in ArtPlace, and
if we can foster more initiatives like this, I’m confident that we will succeed.