Hello NEMAA Members and Supporters,
The days leading up to the summer solstice were indeed long. From the vantage point of the NEMAA office in the California building the sun stretched slow in the sky as Ale, Anna, consultants, volunteers, the board members, and you...NEMAA’s members, all reflected on this year’s Art-A-Whirl. In the main, it was an extremely successful year. By most accounts the crowds, sales and general vibe within the community was welcomed and applauded.
There were some concerns and they deserve and will receive redress. Yet I hope to persuade you that issues are an inescapable reality associated with the successful production of a now nationally recognized open studio event. I also hope to assure you through our work this year, that a focus on ‘planning together for 2016’ will produce better outcomes than a focus on ‘solving issues’. That’s because planning together is not oppositional. Planning together suggests ways for the entire community of NE to benefit from the collective presence of studio building owners, artists, arts suppliers, arts buyers and advocates, retailers, restaurateurs, brewers, entertainment venue owners, musicians, actors, employees, business owners, and all community members (i. e everyone).
I’d like to share with you what we NEMAA peeps have been thinking on and talking about since the third weekend in May. But before I do, I’d like to share some of my own personal reflections about NE and NEMAA with you. In my other non-NEMAA board member (not as exciting) life, I am immersed in the conversation around revitalization. A lot has been written about how cities can maintain and grow economic and social vibrancy, and the role the arts can play in this effort. For several decades now it has been proffered that urban, rural, and even suburban economic development must engage the arts community, at least at some level. I’ve read a sizable portion of the books, articles, and planning documents that call for investment in and the expansion of creatives and creative economies. I’ve poured over countless case studies that discuss best practices in fostering gallery, theater, studio and live-work spaces and any and all arts activity. In summary I can say two things; first, this is not work for the faint of heart or sleep deprived (!) and second, NE as a community signals a sustained and unique arts presences; an exemplar of arts district success.
Now too, I’ve read the plethora of literature suggesting that success, at least for arts districts, is but a snapshot in time. In reflecting on the potential for gentrification, I ask that NEMAA members consider the two descriptors I chose for the NE community-sustained and unique. These descriptors are attentive to our reality at this particular ‘time’. Regarding the vast literature about arts driven economic development there are a lot of ‘templates’ that should work, and don’t, and/or partially don’t. Yet there is a much smaller number of examples of organic and unique processes, places and people who are able to coalesce and evolve as something that does work. NE is this, today.
NE reflects an economic environment where arts activity has fostered desire for and investment in the buildings and community of NE. Simply stated…NE is experiencing new investment from developers and business owners in tandem with growth in its creative economy and arts presence. Witness the 20th annual Art-A-Whirl open studio event; ramping up as opposed to slowing down.
And yes, it does look different; replete with hiccups such as road closures that unwittingly blocked our arts patron trolley, and interlopers who capitalize on the Art-A-Whirl name without being supporting members, advertisers or sponsors. Yet I was told by a restaurant owner that Art-A-Whirl was the reason they chose to open in NE (and they served many hungry arts patrons, extending their stay in the neighborhood). I was also told by a young artist that NEMAA drew her to a NE studio and once here, the housing stock drew her and her husband to a home in NE. Reflecting a 20 year evolution we cannot overlook the positive. For it is our charge to tout, brag, regale in, celebrate, and promote the role the arts have played in shaping the NE of today.
I persuade…let’s examine the patina-ed and newly shiny artistic milieu that has evolved. Let’s grow to embrace how this arts reality is intrinsically woven into the economic and social fabric of the community. Let’s engage and highlight 20 years of hard work and success so that everyone can understand the importance of the arts in this community. I know that the members of NEMAA, and Art-A-Whirl fans near and far, would like to see the particular time sensitive reality of arts district success remain in perpetuity...with only room for improvement. That is what I’d like to see. Moreover, NEMAA’s mission is to support a sustainable space for arts production and consumption. So, with the ‘arts’ on the tip of every business owner and political representative’s tongue…let’s lend the artistic experience of NE (and the 20-year cache of NEMAA’s Art-A-Whirl marketing that draws well over 30,000 people to NE during the three day event) as a face to their goal of arts driven economic development planning. As the exemplar of how this can and should be done, I propose we plan in partnership with the community for Art-A-Whirl 2016 so that we can remain the exemplar of success.
At NEMAA the work of planning has already begun (the day after Art-A-Whirl, really!) and we are embracing three goals; 1) NEMAA will foster relationships with community members through meetings with varied stakeholders throughout the next year of Art-A-Whirl planning, 2) NEMAA will empower our artist citizens through a series of focused workshops aimed at helping members shape, market and close the sale during the Art-A-Whirl open studio event and beyond, and 3) NEMAA will develop a media ambassadorship aimed at fostering a better understanding and knowledge of what Art-A-Whirl is and what our partners in the community contribute to the open studio event.
While these appear to be broad concepts, with maybe just a bit of planning and empowering jargon mixed in, the aim is clear; let’s keep the focus of the Art-A-Whirl open studio event on the arts, artists and OPEN STUDIOS and, let’s continue to grow and enhance the threads of art woven into the fabric of NE. We want to welcome our new neighbors (such as those that provide the food and drink that Art-A-Whirl visitors enjoy so much) and continue to thank and embrace our long time neighbors who look forward to the boon of activity, crowds and profit that supports their businesses during Art-A-Whirl weekend. AND we want to ask our neighbors to plan and communicate with us so that every path to an artist’s studio is open and welcoming and no Art-A-Whirl patron’s desire to attend this NEMAA open studio event is diminished. AND…we want to ask our neighbors to support us fiscally so this non-profit can achieve another successful Art-A-Whirl event in 2016, as we celebrate our 21st year!
So, even though the sun’s rays will linger less in the coming months, NEMAA will continue its long days, drawing on every tool and resource we have at our disposal to envision, create and conduct a successful community plan for Art-A-Whirl 2016.