NEA Our Town Grants Could Spur a New Economy

NEA Our Town Grants Could Spur a New Economy

Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), believes that art can play a major role in improving the economy and our quality of life. A new program of grants called Our Town seeks to spur such economic and civic development by investing more than $6.5 million in 51 projects covering 34 states.

Landesman said the goal is to foster creative placemaking through public space design, cultural planning, festivals, public art, and more. “Creative placemaking is a strategy for making places vibrant,” said Jason Schupbach, the NEA’s Director of Design. “Arts and design are essential parts of the complex work of building a livable, sustainable community.”

Landesman stressed that the arts are locally produced and locally consumed, noting that arts organizations and local government are the most effective groups for implementing innovative projects across the country. “Mayors are our most natural allies. They are really looking for ways to rejuvenate their communities,” said Landesman during a web presentation Tuesday afternoon. “Mayors get this better than anyone.”

Awards were issued to projects sponsored by an arts group in collaboration with a local government and represent rural communities of only a few thousand people, mid-size cities, and burgeoning metropolises like New York. Landesman said there is no difference between art in rural communities and the big city. He explained that communities big and small are working with local assets, although they may be dealing with different issues. For example, in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, the community asset happens to be its farmers while in Kansas City, it’s a historic theater.

Schupbach noted that foot traffic is a demonstrated economic driver and that the arts are a key component of bringing people together. “It’s been shown over and over that arts put people on the street,” he said. Secondary economic benefits include patronizing local businesses before or after the art-inspired event or place.

Landesman said jobs follow art. Artists come together to form a creative neighborhood, drawing people in and enhancing the image of the place, he said. After a place’s popularity rises, businesses move in who in turn create jobs, improving the economy.

In all, 447 statements of interest were submitted to the NEA from all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico although only 51 respondents received funding ranging from $25,000 to $250,000. In part due to the overwhelming popularity of the program, the NEA plans to hold another round of grants in the future. Below are a few of our favorites from across the country. See a full list at the NEA’s web site.

New York City Department of Cultural Affairs
New York, NY

From the NEA: To support Space for Art, a community arts engagement program that places artists in residence at senior centers across the five boroughs of New York City. Local artists selected through a competitive process will be given free studio space and a stipend in exchange for creating programming for seniors and cultural interactions with the community.

Boone Theater Restoration
Kansas City, MO
Metropolitan Arts Council of Greater Kansas City

From the NEA: “To support the predevelopment, design, and community planning phases of the restoration of the Boone Theater in Kansas City’s 18th& Vine Jazz District. The project is designed to strengthen the existing arts and cultural district by transforming a blighted, vacant space, which currently separates
critical venues from each other, into a vibrant cultural center that provides continuous programming in coordination with other live music presenters in the district.”

Artspace Hamilton Lofts
Hamilton, OH
Artspace Projects, Inc.

From the NEA: “To support the design of the Artspace Hamilton Lofts in Hamilton, Ohio. The Artspace Hamilton Lofts will convert two vacant, four‐story historic buildings in downtown Hamilton into a 36‐unit affordable live/work facility that will serve artists and their families, provide 3,000 square feet of street‐front space for retail activities, and create a new exterior walkway and pedestrian plaza that will physically link the project to the surrounding neighborhood.”

Tacoma Art Museum Plaza
Tacoma, WA
Tacoma Arts Commission

From the NEA: “To support a collaborative process for the redesign of Tacoma Art Museum Plaza and the surrounding Pacific Avenue streetscape. Pacific Avenue is downtown Tacoma’s main street and a nexus of major cultural and community assets; however, it is currently an underutilized deadzone with limited pedestrian use and long, unattractive stretches of concrete.”

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park
Wilson, NC
City of Wilson

From the NEA: “The City of Wilson, North Carolina will receive $250,000 to support the repair and conservation of internationally recognized artist Vollis Simpson’s original large‐scale “Whirligigs,” which are kinetic
sculptures. The project will serve as a national model by generating new employment and training opportunities associated with the conservation of these vernacular artworks.”

Vizcaino County Park and Drive-In
Marfa, TX
Ballroom Cultural Arts Foundation

From the NEA: “To support a multi‐stage improvement plan for Vizcaino County Park. The park comprises several acres of scenic desert on the northeastern edge of Marfa and will serve as permanent home for the Drive‐In, a new outdoor venue for music, film, and performing arts.”