Today, Bert Crenca of AS220 and Lynne McCormack of the city of Providence, R.I., spoke at the Artists & Entrepreneurs: Creating Community and Jobs luncheon hosted by the Independent and the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC. Crenca and McCormack, both heavy hitters in Providence's arts scene, are visiting the Springs to offer support and advice on fostering culture as an economic driver here (read more about that in our recent cover story, "The Rhode to renaissance.")
Around 200 people attended, filling the room. Christina McGrath of COPPeR, Susan Edmondson of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, Steve Wood of Concrete Couch (who hosted Crenca last year), Mike Bristol of Bristol Brewing Co. and the Ivywild Project, Brett Andrus of the Modbo and S.P.Q.R. and Don Goede of Marmalade at Smokebrush attended, as well as local artists including Charles Rockey and Sean O'Meallie. (As far as we could tell, no one from City Council or the mayor's office attended.)
Crenca and McCormack spoke quickly about the history of revitalization in Providence before moving on to the story of AS220 itself. Amazingly, Providence rerouted its railroad, a highway and a river before Crenca started gathering artists and friends downtown.
"You guys haven't made the same mistakes," Crenca said. "Your streets are too wide, but whatever."
Later, the pair spoke on their relationships with Providence mayors and how they accomplished milestones such as appointing a task force to implement such items as the city's cultural plan and before that, passing tax breaks for artists and galleries in a specified downtown arts district.
The latter didn't work out perfectly at first, says Crenca, but it did draw national attention and galvanize the confidence of the city itself, something just as important, he said. "Don't underestimate the power of that."
Overall, both speakers were impressed with the state of the arts in Colorado Springs (a "roll-up-your-sleeves-kind-of-town" said Crenca). At the beginning of their presentation, Crenca jokingly asked what he was actually doing here.
"Our work here is done today, because you all have the right people in the room. You just need to talk to each other."
But he also added some advice, speaking on his experiences in Providence. For one, build up a brand. Say it enough and "act as if," he advised. Even if an organization is still getting its sea legs or a city is still building its arts scene, "act as if" it were fully fledged and use that posture to attract others.
Crenca also said that we as people aren't great at recognizing "the next great thing" that will save the city or spark the cultural fire. Even so, it's a risky tactic. Instead, he and the folks at AS220 focus on "creating a compost" to nurture an artistic environment.
That approach was illustrated at the end of their presentation, when Crenca showed a video of AS220's youth programs, in which teens talked about how they came to the organization and what it meant to them. In the final moment, one young man said, "AS220 is a home." The crowd stood in applause.
Afterward, Crenca and McCormack visited the Ivywild Project and Tuesday morning they'll talk with a group include City Chief of Economic Vitality & Innovation Steve Cox at Marmalade.