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Arts groups share ideas on boosting downtown


Representatives from four US cities took center stage at an Arts in the Loop symposium last week at the Eastman School of Music, sharing their ideas on how to boost Rochester's economic development through arts and culture.

A coalition of arts groups, community leaders, and others, Arts in the Loop hopes to help revitalize downtown Rochester with the arts. At the June 5 and 6 symposium, visitors from Pittsburgh, Nashville, Minneapolis, and St. Paul took part in four panel discussions, where they shared the strategies they had used to revive their cities.

During the first day's sessions, the panelists talked about how the arts have enhanced assets their cities were already known for. And they emphasized the value of inclusion and collaboration as key to cultivating a thriving arts environment.

Audrey Russo, CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, said her group had increased its collaboration efforts with artists in the area.

"We decided that it was really important that artists were part of our team," she said. "Pittsburgh has the greatest 'collision' of people who make stuff, and making stuff includes art. And it is embedded into who we are now."

The panelists also spoke about equity — how communities can make sure that as they move forward, they leave no one behind.

Jun-Li Wang, who directs community development at Springboard of the Arts in Minneapolis-St. Paul, spoke about the importance of building relationships, especially with cultural groups tied to historically disadvantaged communities. These relationships shape Springboard's future projects, Wang said.

"We don't just show up somewhere and say, 'Hey, we have this great idea, and now you have to get on board,'" Wang said. "But we are invited, and part of being invited is being in relationship in advance. We try to hang out. We show up in their spaces."

Jill McMillan, executive director of the Arts and Business Council of Nashville, said it was important for organizations to create opportunities for "transparent, frank conversations" about race and other forms of systemic oppression.

David Pankratz, Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, said his organization is tackling the issue of equity by scrutinizing its practices — from how grant applications are read to how hiring decisions are made.

The panelists also admitted that despite these initiatives, none of their cities provided a roadmap to an equitable society.

"I can tell you that in Pittsburgh, we are definitely leaving people behind if you look at our tech companies," Russo said. "I'm not proud of it." Her council started a fellowship program for local artists as one way to combat the problem.

Wednesday's second session explored the theme of space and the idea of "placemaking." Placemaking is a grassroots, community-led effort to cultivate a space, the panelists agreed.

"You can spend a lot of money," Wang said. "You can make it beautiful. But if you haven't engaged people in the creation of that space, it can fall flat."

Placemaking can have a dark side, as the process of revitalizing a neighborhood often goes hand in hand with the displacement of older residents. One way to insulate against this, Wang said, is to create artistic opportunities that empower people already in the neighborhood.

"It's not about artists from somewhere else coming in and finding those underutilized spaces," Wang said. "It's about the people who are there and how can we connect them to the various resources and opportunities that are there."

For the Arts in the Loop coalition, this week's discussions will inform its next steps, says Coalition Executive Committee member Maria Furgiuelle. She anticipates that the coalition will create committees to find "direct points of connection" between these ideas and the Rochester community, she said.