Saturday, December 22, 2012

CAN ART FUEL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT?

I don't think there is one path to community revitalization and that is a very good thing. The more people working on different projects toward the same goal -- the revitalization of economically depressed communities -- the better.  However, I do feel that community development has been prepackaged in such a formulaic way for so long that thinking outside of the box is not always encouraged. I'm going to try and start sharing some articles on CHotR that show how other communities are using a combination of different strategies to breathe new life --and with it economic stability -- into their communities.

Ward 8 Community Summit
I have never felt there is one organization, one strategy or one plan that can address all of our needs. To be frank it really kind of annoys me when I hear someone say, "well [blank] does X well but why don't they also do Y + Z?" The reality is that there is no one person, politician, organization or government agency that can solve every single issue plaguing Ward 8. It is going to take a lot of different efforts on a lot of different fronts to realize our vision of a healthy, vibrant, and safe Ward 8.

Mainstreet Anacostia
Over the next year I'm going to start posting links to articles that I read and that I found helpful in increasing my own personal "economic development toolbox" so to speak. If "knowledge is power" we could all use a hell of of lot more knowledge and some luck to boot. :)

The following article deals with the use of art as a revitalization tool. The thing that I like about using art is that it goes well with any other effort. It's not meant to be a "one and only" solution to all of a communities issues, however it can become a platform to support our current businesses and organizations while bringing new resources and services to the neighborhood. Another thing I like about art is that it can be matched with almost any other industry. You can have a vibrant arts district with art galleries and museums, but also schools, offices, wellness centers, yoga studios, entertainment venues, technology incubators, recreation centers, senior centers, employment centers, churches, restaurants, coffee shops, daycares, health food stores, universities, supermarkets, pharmacies, bookstores,  and yes, even dog parks (I threw that last one in there just to be a little controversial). The options and pairings are limitless. I've never heard a business owner say, "Hmmm, I would open a restaurant here and hire 30 local residents but there is an art gallery on the block." Sounds silly doesn't it?



During LUMEN8ANACOSTIA local eateries
reported making more money in one day than they had all month
The great thing I like about art (and I'm no artist) is that it transcends color, economics, and class. Like music, art can be a unifying force and what community couldn't use a little togetherness? It can also be a great way to temporarily use vacant and blighted space until a long-term opportunity can present itself (are you listening DC government?). Imagine what our neighborhoods could like like without the vacant, boarded up buildings, and the burned out shells? As a business owner would you be more likely to invest on a vacant, empty block or a block bustling with activity and hope? One thing we need east of the river are businesses that can provide jobs and services to our community.  A working community is a healthy community and a healthy community leads to more opportunities for growth -- financially and culturally. 


Transforming blighted vacant buildings into temporary works of art
LUMEN8ANACOSTIA 2012

If we want businesses to invest in our communities we are going to have to give them a reason to want to be here and the first is addressing the perception issue. All the Yes! Organics and Walmarts in the world aren't going to fix everything in Ward 8. You have to give people and businesses a reason to want to invest in Ward 8 and then once they do,  a reason to stay here.  Until we change the negative perception of "Southeast" as a place to avoid, businesses (and with them their jobs and services) are going to do just that. In order to continue to change the tied of negative perceptions we are going to have to start using a lot more "and" in our vocabulary and a lot less "or."

Anacostia residents making their voices heard to
a potential new business
The perception of some of our Ward 8 neighborhoods seem more hopeful than others. There is literally a buzz in the air on the other end of the avenue. Perhaps it is time we start asking ourselves, "Why?"

And that sums up my two cents for the day. ;)

If you have a chance check out Using Art in Vacant Storefronts to Rebuild A Small Town's Future by Joanne Steele.

Excerpt:

Nothing portrays decline and defeat like a block full of empty storefronts. That is the situation in small town after small town throughout the United States right now. 
With a rise in interest in “local,” – local food, authentic experiences, a slower pace of life and all that longing for something REAL, these empty small towns should be bustling with visitors, but they’re not. 
And much of it has to do with perception. If a small town LOOKS empty, and FEELS in decline, what entrepreneur is going to be able to visualize him or herself creating a successful business there?

Blogger Disclosure: By now everyone in the universe should know I work in Anacostia for the arts and culture nonprofit that produced LUMEN8ANACOSTIA and many of the new projects that have been mentioned in the media re: Anacostia's revitalization but I still like to make sure everyone is aware. :)



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