By Lynch, Robert
Nation's Cities Weekly , Vol. 34, No. 3
On January 16, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman formally announced the agency's newest grant category called Our Town. This program will give a legitimate boost to cities and counties looking to create their very first art districts, or expand ones already in existence. As most local elected leaders know, a city with a thriving arts scene not only results in a higher quality of life for its residents, but also attracts tourists and new businesses which can greatly strengthen the local economy.
The NEA will allocate $5 million for Our Town in FY 2011, with individual awards ranging from $25,000 to $250,000. Thirty-five communities of all shapes and sizes will be considered, with a focus on economically distressed areas. Under this program, cities may also apply for one other NEA grant program, potentially increasing their chances for successful economic revitalization. The deadline for statement of interests is March 1.
Our Town is a reflection of the NEA's new strategic plan that places a strong emphasis on promoting public knowledge and understanding of the role of the arts in rebuilding and maintaining a region's economic and social well-being.
The Our Town program consists of three main parts designed to strengthen American communities:
1. Developing arts districts and promoting arts and artists as indispensible segments of community life and essential to community planning.
2. Placing art of design at the center of development, enhancing public spaces, and identifying solutions for more livable communities, while being sensitive to environmental impacts.
3. Promoting arts as the core to community livability by enhancing their availability and accessibility, especially in new settings.
The concept of community livability is a fairly recent idea brought about by mayors and city planners over the past few years. Our Town will strive to achieve such livability by funding the growth of arts and cultural districts nationwide. Additionally, the program will foster a greater understanding of, and access to, art in all of its forms.
Through community festivals, public art projects, main streets filled with galleries and theaters and financial incentives to encourage artist residency, there is no doubt that Our Town initiatives will serve as examples for localities throughout the United States to invest in the uniqueness of their cultural assets and their economic development. …