Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Reed, NEA Chairman Tour Woonsocket Arts District
Hoping to land a federal grant, Woonsocket gets a visit from top Obama arts official, Rocco Landesman
WOONSOCKET, RI – In an effort to bolster economic development through the arts, U.S. Senator Jack Reed and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman, the top arts official in the Obama Administration, today toured Woonsocket’s Main Street to get a firsthand look at how Rhode Island is using the arts as a tool for job development, education, and urban renewal.
Chairman Landesman came to Woonsocket at the invitation of Senator Reed, who oversees federal arts funding as the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, including the NEA’s annual budget of about $146 million. Senator Reed is working with the Obama Administration to increase NEA’s funding. This year, President Obama included an additional $8 million for NEA in the coming fiscal year, which would bring the agency’s budget up to about $154 million.
Last year, Rhode Island received over $1 million in funding from the NEA. According to the NEA, each dollar invested directly through the NEA is matched by an average of $8 of additional investment and generates $26 of economic activity in the community.
Over 25,000 Rhode Islanders are employed in our state’s creative sector, according to the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.
“This remains a difficult economy and while funding is scarce, creativity is a limitless, renewable resource. Woonsocket is enlisting the power of the arts in the service of economic development,” said Reed. “We need to think creatively to solve the challenges that confront us. The arts and the economy intersect right here on Main Street, creating both economic opportunities and a sense of community. City officials, local non-profits, and businesses are working together and using the arts as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization. I am pleased Chairman Landesman was able to see firsthand what Woonsocket has achieved and what more could be accomplished with additional federal support.”
During the tour, Reed and Chairman Landesman met with community leaders, non-profit organizations, and local artists. Woonsocket is seeking to strengthen its creative community and is applying for a $100,000 federal NEA “Our Town” grant. Chairman Landesman created the competitive “Our Town” grants (a reference to Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning play about the fictional small town of Grover’s Corners), which offer awards to projects that seek to improve quality of life, encourage creative activity, create community identity, and revitalize local economies.
All “Our Town” applications must reflect a partnership that will provide leadership for the project involving at least two organizations: a non-profit design or cultural organization and a government entity. Mayor Leo Fontaine, Woonsocket economic development officials, and representatives from RiverzEdge, a nationally recognized youth-development non-profit devoted to the arts, gave Chairman Landesman a firsthand look at their plans to use the arts to boost economic development on Main Street and increase community vibrancy.
“It was an honor to host Chairman Landesman as we continue our efforts to breathe new life into our downtown areas by embracing the arts in our community. By building upon the success of organizations such as the Stadium Theatre, the Beacon Charter School for the Arts, and RiverzEdge Arts Project, we are hopeful that the support of an acclaimed organization such as the National Endowment for the Arts will allow this vision to become a reality for our community as a whole,” said Mayor Leo Fontaine.
“As an organization that employs art making and the creation of arts jobs as primary strategies of improving youth and community outcomes, we see every day the power of art to change lives and places, as well as the intimate connection between the two. The arts create a pathway to economic hope in our landscape of budget deficits, unemployment and failing schools, and we can no longer imagine a Woonsocket without the creative sector and creative placemaking as a driving force behind a better future. Our youth, schools and streets are depending on it,” said RiverzEdge Executive Director, Rebekah Greenwald Speck.
Woonsocket officials are hopeful Chairman Landesman’s visit bodes well for their chances in obtaining federal funding for a competitive NEA “Our Town” grant. NEA’s final decisions will likely be made later this summer.
If Reed is able to help increase the NEA’s budget by $8 million this year, up to $5 million of that funding could go to doubling “Our Town” grant funding to $10 million.
Last week, $100,000 in federal funding was made available to Woonsocket for the competitively awarded “Main Street Livability Plan,” which will be put to use enhancing Main Street by improving traffic flow and making it more pedestrian friendly with new public art, bike racks, and other streetscape improvements. RiverzEdge Arts Project and the YWCA of Northern Rhode Island are partners in the planning process.
Earlier this year, Woonsocket received a $100,000 grant from Rhode Island’s Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley for capacity building on Main Street and to hire a “Main Street manager” who can coordinate beautification efforts and ensure that civic, municipal, and business groups work in collaboration to make this creative “placemaking” successful.
Last summer, the NEA awarded a $200,000 “Our Town” grant to help Providence upgrade Kennedy Plaza and make it a more lively center of arts and culture. Earlier today, Chairman Landesman and officials from the city of Providence and Senator Reed’s office toured Kennedy Plaza for a progress update.
In 1965, former U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI) was a driving force behind the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts.