Arts visionaries in High Point are taking a deep look at how creativity could spark economic and community revitalization.
Residents attended a series of town hall meetings last month to voice their opinions about the arts in High Point, or lack thereof. About 50 people attended the Feb. 9 meeting at the Centennial Station Arts Center. The discussion, presented and funded by the Southwest Renewal Foundation, was facilitated by Janet Kagan of Arts Force, who had been touring the city and meeting various organizations for the week.
Kagan delivered her consultants report last week and SRF’s board will discuss the findings at a meeting next month.
“Our charge is to look at economic and community revitalization with artists, creatives and designers at the core of every initiative and enterprise, because we think that will start to reframe how we look at our physical spaces and our social cohesion,” Kagan said. “Artists are inventors and it is the invention that drives industry and jobs. Jobs bind people to places. When we are connected to our community, we have passion, we learn to appreciate one another and we will advocate for what we believe in and that’s really important in community development work.”
Dorothy Darr, executive director of the Southwest Renewal Foundation of High Point, Inc., said that brainstorming dialogue needed an outside voice on how to increase public art in the city.
“This was a dialogue about art and how we can increase art in downtown High Point and how art impacts economic development. Especially in underserved areas. We also wanted to talk about how we can bring design into city planning,” Darr said. “We wanted to bring someone in from the outside to help the Southwest Renewal Foundation to think of ways that public art might assist with making the district more attractive and create jobs. Public art is one way to do this.”
Kagan has more than 35 years of experience in strategic program planning and project management in art and economic development, leading and directing interdisciplinary planning and design teams in collaboration with communities. As civic curator and producer, she collaborates with artists, organizations, and municipal leadership to achieve creative, aesthetic, and economic revitalization goals. Kagan has worked in municipal government and regional, statewide, and national non-profit and for-profit organizations. It cost SRF a total of $6,000, with $1,000 from a grant awarded by the High Point Arts Council, plus expenses and food to bring Kegan and two of her associates to assess High Point’s situation.
“She talked to a lot of people throughout the week and we wanted her to share her knowledge of 35 years. We want her recommendations so we can take it to the next level,” Darr said. “It’s really going to be a strategic map and series of recommendations.”
Many of the grievances include restrictions from the city, not showcasing the city’s history, how to engage those who come to visit for work, spaces for creatives and small businesses to work, downtown being underutilized, lack of awareness, lack of walkability, how to attract and retain millennials, and the fact that many residents will travel to get the amenities that they’re look for.
Kegan will send a written report by March 31 based on a series of observations, ideas, suggestions and recommendations of ways that the arts and design can enhance the quality of life and livability for residents.
Darr said that SRF will make that information available to the community. Although she doubts that they’ll be able to use everything suggested, she hopes to be able to implement at least one or two of Kegan’s ideas.
“Public art is a part of economic development,” Darr said. “I thought we needed to push ourselves just a little bit outside of what we are typically thinking when it comes to economic development and raising the quality of life. It’s always been about that.”
Debbie Lumpkins, executive director for the High Point Arts Council, said that she hopes the report and town hall was a catalyst to a collaborative effort to find funds for the arts.
“At some point, there has to be a collaborative effort between public and private funding with the focus on doing it for the people that live here every day out of the year,” Lumpkins said. “We can’t stop. We have to preserver. The conversations are out there and you have to let your public officials know what you want.”