Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More on Providence, AS220 and creative placemaking

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2012 at 11:12 AM

One of AS220s three buildings.
  • DBVW Heidi Gumula
  • One of AS220's three buildings.

There's always so much more to a story than there's space to print. It's the writer's eternal dilemma.

That's why there are blogs, and this one, to share more on what couldn't fit into this week's cover story on Providence, R.I.'s downtown rebirth with the help of arts organization AS220 in what is commonly referred to as "creative placemaking."

One of the interesting aspects of my interview with Bert Crenca, co-founder and artistic director of AS220, was his devotion to the institution today. Crenca travels extensively, sharing his experiences and the AS220 story. Since we spoke last month he's gone to New Zealand, and after he visits Colorado at the end of the month, he'll hit the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and then move on to South Dakota. But he always heads home and back to work.

“I think what gives me credibility is that I have to come back and face the music," he says, "that I’m involved in the minutiae on a the daily basis with this work, as opposed to me having started this organization and worked here for a period of time and then writing a big book and go on a book tour but sort of begin to distance myself from the minutiae. That’s not my story. I come back and live and die sitting in the administrative office as we speak with four, five people working diligently around me as I speak."

Crenca, in a friendly, self-deprecating manner, goes on to outline what's next for AS220. Growth brings new challenges, and now the nonprofit is focusing on shoring up operational services like branding, communication, practices and policies, and backup systems.

“And also preparing ourselves for things like this," he adds, "the conversation that we’re having. To make ourself more transparent and more serviceable to the field, nationally and internationally."

The role of the city of Providence's art and culture department was similarly compelling, as I learned speaking to Lynne McCormack, its director. Instead of simply fundraising or promoting the arts, McCormack (who will also visit the Springs with Crenca) likens her office to an ombudsman for the arts.

“The arts organizations really look to us to help them solve their problems and get things done," she says. "So we do all kinds of things, we go from large scale policy projects, like economic impact studies and arts indexes and sustainability studies with national organizations down to the major theater company in town having a problem a couple months ago getting their certificate of occupancy for a theater."

McCormack works with three other staff members and an operating budget of less than $500,000, which includes grant money. Their overall budget fluctuates from $700,000 to $1 million, depending on the project and what leveraging they can garner from the community. By comparison, the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR, which is our version of McCormack's office) operates on three staff members and a 2012 operating budget of $220,000, which doesn't count in-kind donations and components such as COPPeR's rent, which is donated by Norwood Development Corp. for a $24,000 value.

For further reading, here's the National Endowment for the Arts' report on creative placemaking:

CreativePlacemaking.pdf

And COPPeR's Cultural Plan.

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