Friday, May 18, 2012

What Can a Town do to Help?

I had a meeting Thursday afternoon with Alexis Thompson, the economic development co-ordinator  for the Town of Ashland, VA. Also in attendance was newly elected town council member Steve Trivett, who's term begins July 1st.

To be frank, the meeting consisted mostly of me rambling on for over an hour. I went through each of my blog posts Thursday morning and took notes. When all was said and done, I had three pages of them. I have no doubt that it seemed like I came to the meeting mostly to complain.

Alexis was a great listener, and every once in a while Steve would comment on a conversation he and I had had about the subject I brought up. Steve has been a commenter on this blog, in the best spirit not only of a politician (Which I don't mean as a bad thing. I know people automatically think of the word as such these days, but I mean it in the sense that he takes the whole community into consideration with his responses, and doesn't just say what I want to hear), but as someone genuinely interested in the topics I raise, and who perhaps hasn't considered that particular issue from that particular viewpoint before.

About two thirds the way through my seemingly unending list of what I'd like to see happen, Alexis asked me a question that made ME pause for a moment. "What do you think the town can do to help?"
I wanted the easy answer. Money. Lots of it. Sprinkled here and there for artists to do the things they do.

Alas, on nearly every level in this country, public money is hard to come by. Particularly on state, county, and town levels. I recently read an article that Richmond, Virginia was reducing (at least temporarily) the amount of money in the "percent-for-art" program, which is supposed to be 1% for any public project that is over $250,000. When I mentioned that the town of Clayton put aside an art budget that was a whopping 10% of the construction cost of a new law enforcement center, I was understandably met with blank stares. That kind of money just isn't possible for most towns. When I mentioned that several theater festivals I had worked with in small towns had operating budgets of a million dollars, Alexis asked "Do you know what the town budget is?" (I didn't, but I do now. It is just under 8 million dollars, and they are trying to figure out how to make ends meet)

So... handing out money is out of the question. So what are other ways a town can help?

One way I suggested was to support the newly formed "industry cluster" known as the Ashland Arts Alliance. Help promote it. Make people aware of it. Consider it as a resource any time creative services are needed.

I also suggested that the town could facilitate helping artists get grants and other corporate donations. Show them where the money is. Pair them up with not-for-profits and grant writers.

Create public art that serves to promote local business. I saw this done to great effect in Martinsburg, WV. (I'm first and foremost a commercial artist, so I don't have qualms about such projects.)

Steve also suggested that the town could officially endorse artist proposals to county and state organizations. An example would creating an after school program for at-risk kids which involved artists.

I think the biggest thing I came away from the meeting with was that we are really just scratching the surface of ideas of how a town can help. All the ideas don't have to come from one side or the other. There really are in fact, no "sides." Just different perspectives.

I'd love to see a followup meeting of artists, town government members, county officials, and even state officials to talk about how we can all work together... what the opportunities are... where the funding is... what the needs are FROM government... and how the artist can fulfill that role.

I guess what I'm asking is... What can an artist do to help?


  1. I like your comment, "no sides. Just different perspectives. My cousin in Philly participated in a photo contest (and placed) of landmarks of that city. She

  2. The city can often help with promotion ... it doesn't cost much to place notices on the city websites and in newsletters the city already produces.

    The city probably also has meeting rooms that can be leased for private groups. Ask the city if they would be willing to waive fees to provide meeting space for organizing events.

    Do you have a local paper? Often local papers will fill unused space with free ads for non-profit events. It's worth making connections! Maybe even get some features...

    In a "perfect world" you would like to have government, local business, artists, and the media all working together toward a common vision.