Arts and Downtown Developments
We can all point to the avant-garde art gallery or theater that was the first to appear in a blighted downtown neighborhood, raising questions about the sanity of owners and patrons alike. Yet almost like magic that neighborhood slowly changed into a charming, vibrant hub of civic and commercial activity.
What is known typically only by the community development cognoscenti of this nation is that arts establishments are, in fact, the drivers of community and economic development in many downtown neighborhoods. According to Scott Pomeroy, Executive Director of the 14th and U Street Initiative in Washington DC, who recently walked a group of us through his newly revitalized neighborhood , the cafes follow the arts establishments, the jazz clubs follow the coffee shops, the rental units begin to fill in, and so on.
(Check out a true gem in the neighborhood when you are next in Washington, D.C. Busboys and Poets has it all – good food, entertainment, nonprofit bookstore featuring social justice issues, internet connections, and a social networking vibe that hints at what “community” will increasingly mean in the future.)
Taking the model even a step further, is an arts innovation in Houston’s predominantly black Third Ward, led by Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses. According to a recent New York Times article, the project includes eight houses for visiting local and international artists, among a group of 22 newly renovated shotgun houses on the campus. The artists are encouraged to “figure out how to be creative within this community” during their one week to five month stay. It has also created a hub of new art shows, children’s programs and volunteerism that has now led to a broader revitalization of the area.