New York City's Bushwick neighborhood has become a world-class arts mecca

The Associated Press, 7/31/11

Brooklyn's old Bushwick neighborhood has quickly become a new world-class arts mecca - with music, dance, sculpture and theater bursting from defunct warehouses and desolate streets where gangs still roam. That hasn't kept artists away from the affordable, industrial spaces - ever more rare in a pricey city. Born-in-Bushwick creations have reached Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other top venues in the United States and abroad - even the tallest building on earth, the 160-story Burj Khalifa in Dubai. That's where four canvases of Bushwick artist Kevork Mourad now hang. Bushwick is "very private, and you can go into your bubble, your world here without being interrupted by the fast stream of New York City," says the artist. A dozen years ago, this urban turf still struggled with crime and poverty. There were few banks, schools or social services - never mind the arts. Then came help in the form of city money. Bushwick started to recover. It's the perfect place for income-poor, up-and-coming artists. They're spreading their raw vibes through the debris-strewn streets and converted warehouses of the area's non-residential industrial zone. "There's so much happening here that it's just unbelievable," says Mourad.

 

An influx of artists is helping to revitalize downtown Detroit

The New York Times, 7/1/11

In the last 10 years, downtown Detroit experienced a 59% increase in the number of college-educated residents under the age of 35. The influx of hipsters and artists [is] not unlike Berlin which was revitalized in the 1990s by young artists migrating there for the cheap studio space. Detroit may have this new generation of what city leaders are calling "creatives" to thank if it comes through its transition from a one-industry [town]. Part of the allure of Detroit lies in simple economics. Real estate is cheap and the city is so eager to draw educated young residents that it is offering numerous subsidies to new arrivals. And there's the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, which supplies infrastructure, strategic counseling, consulting and resources for those wanting to start businesses. With all this help, the city seems like a giant candy store for young college graduates wanting to be their own bosses. Liza Bielby and Richard Newman, both 30 and directors of the Hinterlands Ensemble, moved to Detroit eight months ago, seeking a sustainable work and living environment for their physical theater company. Between them, they have lived all over the world, from Kosovo to Berlin and China. "The minute we visited here, I felt as engaged by the people and projects going on as I had felt living anywhere abroad," Bielby said. Newman agreed: "Not only is it more affordable for us than other cities, but no one is doing exactly what we are trying to do here, which gives us more of a chance to succeed and offer something new to the community." They pay $400 a month to live in a house that is part of an artist's residency project called Filter Detroit.

 

A 5-year plan to make Fort Wayne, Indiana into a new arts hub

Fort Wayne Daily News, 8/1/11

Jim Sparrow [Executive Director of Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne] envisions a day not long from now when downtown Fort Wayne will be a vibrant collection of cultural districts and a bustling arts campus that serves as a model for cost-efficient collaboration. An "iconic, innovative arts project" will draw the attention of the nation, more organizations will be the recipients of operating grants, young people will become increasingly active in arts decision-making and public art will be more than merely a grand idea. Those things and more - many of them driven by an entrepreneurial sensibility and treating the arts more like an economic development catalyst - are part of a 5-year-strategic plan recently adopted by Arts United. Money - and how it is raised - is at the heart of [its] strategic plan. Sparrow would like to see some very specific initiatives that essentially reward financial or social entrepreneurship. Among them:

A proposed Fort Wayne food and beverage tax of less than 1 percent for arts development;

A cultural district sales tax of less than 1 percent;

A cultural district community programming fund;

Coordinated place-focused marketing and development among downtown arts clusters initially, expanding outward eventually;

A young donor society that is more about idea investment than financial philanthropy;

Incentivized cooperative business models that encourage arts groups to work together to save money and share resources and ideas;

A public art plan, perhaps starting with a project through Fort Wayne Trails; and

Forgivable small business development loans administered by the city to help entrepreneurs establish arts businesses in the city and market their enterprises.

Sparrow hopes Fort Wayne can embrace just such a transformation through Arts United's efforts to push the envelope when it comes to arts financing and planning. "We know," he said, "that if you just keep the traditional barriers up that say, 'This is the way we've always done it, so we're always going to do it this way,' then you're going the way of the American auto industry. You're really not looking at ways that might be better. You've got to be continually reinventing yourself."

 

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FROM TC: If you haven't already read/heard about the NEA's "Our Town" grants program, here's information about this new initiative:

 

NEA's 'Our Town' grants use arts as part of community revitalization strategy

National Endowment for the Arts press release

[On July 12th,] the NEA announced the inaugural round of "Our Town" funding, totaling $6.575 million in grants to 51 communities in 34 states that have created public-private partnerships to strengthen the arts while shaping the social, physical, and economic characters of their neighborhoods, towns, cities, and regions. Our Town grants range from $25,000 to $250,000 and represent a range of rural, suburban, and urban communities with populations ranging from just over 2,000 people to more than 8.2 million people. More than half of the Our Town grants were awarded to communities with a population of less than 200,000, and seven to communities of fewer than 25,000 people. Grants were awarded for planning, design, and arts engagement projects that strengthen arts organizations while increasing the livability of communities across America. By requiring a partnership between local government and an arts or design organization, Our Town encourages creative, cross sector solutions to the challenges facing towns, cities, and the arts community.

 

Commentary: Our Town grants don't benefit smaller communities enough

Scott Walters, Theatre Ideas blog, 7/13/11

Given the name chosen by Rocco Landesman and the NEA staff, which references Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning play about fictional small town Grovers Corner, let's analyze the grants that were distributed in terms of geography and population. (Full disclosure: I was part of the applicant pool for the "Our Town" grant for a project in Bakersville, NC [pop 357], and was not funded.)   According to Wikipedia, 16.7% of U.S. counties had more than 100,000 inhabitants. Of the 50 grants funded by the NEA, 90% were in counties over 100,000. According to the US government, a rural county has a population under 50,000. How many of these grants went to rural counties? Only two(Marfa, TX and Sitka, AK) went to a county that could be classified as rural. For those of you who are reading this and composing the usual questions, the NEA does not release a list of the applicants overall. As a participant, I know that the number of applicants were substantial and competition was stiff, but I cannot say how many small communities submitted applications. I would, however, say that an agency interested in diversity might have recruited applicants, and perhaps made an effort to account for this in making their awards. A 4% award rate for rural areas, and 10% rate for small communities once again reinforces the idea that the arts are an urban pasttime, and that people from the South (Alabama, Georgia) or the non-coastal West (Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah) should not expect support from the NEA.  [Note: Scott Walters wrote a follow-up blog post here.]

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