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State of the Arts in the Ohio Valley

Part 2: Painting the Town (part 1)

February 23, 2013
By GLYNIS VALENTI - Staff Writer (gvalenti@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

"Art Builds Communities" is a banner phrase for arts and culture organizations and advocates. The words are nebulous: art (what is art?) builds (how is this done?) community (who are these people?).

Much of the time arts, culture and tourism are linked within the economy. Galleries, theaters, museums and auditoriums serve the local population, but count on drawing those who live outside the city limits.

Case study 1, Cannon Beach, Oregon. A picturesque, ocean-side town of 1,700 full-time residents, its natural beauty attracted artists "from day one" according to City Manager Rich Mays. Those artists began more cohesive tourism efforts during the 1970's. To set itself apart from other beach towns, Cannon Beach instituted strict design standards including no "chain restaurants" or "big box" stores and covering all building facades in cedar shingles. This boutique atmosphere draws tens of thousands of people to more than 20 art galleries and specialty shops annually.

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T-L?Photo/GLYNIS?VALENTI
Powhatan Point School has been purchased the Powhatan Point Revitalization Association. Once the students are relocated to the Switzerland of Ohio school district, the PPRA plans to repurpose the 50,000 square foot building to showcase performing arts, crafts, fitness and history while working towards incorporating a restaurant and hotel.

Art permeates the environment with public art projects and interactive and quirky events open to all. Festivals and events cross business boundaries as hotels host art shows and restaurants donate cakes for the art association cake walks (standing room only).

Eric Johnson, director of the CB Chamber of Commerce, estimates that two weekends - the "Stormy Weather Arts Festival" in November and "Spring Unveiling" in May - could account for as much as 50 percent of gallery owners' annual revenue. He notes that many art buyers come from Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia - more so even than from Portland less than two hours away.

Mays thinks that government should support the arts and culture efforts, if possible, and promote tourism in a positive way that in turn benefits the town as a whole. Public art projects are sponsored in part by the city. Cannon Beach also has a "one percent for the arts" grant to local arts and culture nonprofits which comes from a lodging tax.

"Formally, supporting the arts has been a goal of every City Council I have served during my seven-year tenure here, and has been articulated in the annual goals and objectives from their annual retreats," says Mays. "Informally, I would say support of the arts has been a strategy of the community as a whole for decades."

The City of Wheeling's 2008 version of the "2020 Plan" for downtown includes components to feature the Capitol and its history, envisioned with music shops and restaurants hosting live acts in a "Music Row" district. It emphasizes making Wheeling a destination for both locals and visitors, focusing on assets like the Ohio River and attracting businesses that will enhance both the local and tourist markets. This is not, however, the city's "official" strategic plan, but Tom Connelly, Wheeling's assistant director for economic and community development, says that the current plan from 1997 is being updated. The plan, according to State Code, will address goals, plans and programs for "cultural needs," "a sense of community" and recreation and tourism.

The Capitol Theatre continues to be "an economic driver," according to Olivia Litman of the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau. She says a study by the Benedium Foundation found that the estimated economic impact of 50,000 attendees per year to the Capitol is $8 million. In 2012, performances at the Capitol brought in 54,000 people.

Kathleen McDermott, president of Oglebay Institute, says this region has potential and because of a smaller population, the drive towards arts and culture could have a greater impact. But, she adds, the support will have to be "a collective effort," one that encompasses tourism and schools.

"What we're looking at are audiences," says McDermott. "They are younger and more sophisticated. We have to determine what they want and know that we're competing with everything - television, social media, iPods. How do we attract and engage today's audience? How do we differentiate ourselves?"

Stereotyping and disappearing ethnic bonds may be part of the reason the arts in the Ohio Valley have declined, speculates Susan Douglass, director of the Belmont County Community Improvement Corporation. "There is a perception that artists don't work," she notes. "It isn't seen as a viable way to make a living. People here grew up with coal mines and steel mills. They've had hard lives."

She thinks some of the lack of support comes from parents during the 1960s and 1970s wanting their children to go to college and find "real jobs" in accounting, education or business, fields perceived to be more secure than the arts. In addition, Douglass says family and ethnic ties have loosened over the recent generations as children did move away for college and better jobs.

"There used to be dances, clubs and church events that included traditions," says Douglass. "We've lost the folk arts that were so prevalent in this area. There was that communal outlet." She sees walk-able communities as integral to arts revival, and notes that full-time artists today need more than natural talent to survive - business management skills are crucial to becoming successful and competitive.

And it is the traditions and area history that are focal points for Dorothy Milton in Powhatan Point. Milton has become involved in efforts to revitalize Powhatan and make it a destination for visitors. She has purchased properties and has one store with goods produced by local craftspeople and the Amish. Her other building is an art gallery where classes and events are already taking place. She, too, sees the potential of utilizing the past.

"Art reflects the surrounding area, people and ideas," Milton says. "I believe art is more than fine and performing arts. It's culinary, gardens, folk art, color, design. Appalachia has treasure in its storytelling that needs to be documented."

She is also part of the Powhatan Point Revitalization Association (PPRA) that recently purchased the 50,000 square foot Powhatan Point School. Their goal is to keep as much of the building intact as possible, since it is structurally sound. The size is daunting and renovation costs more so, but with concerted and coordinated efforts, the PPRA, Milton and a few local artists believe the project will bring visitors in for events, performances, festivals and activities. With a successful project, more businesses like shops and restaurants will follow, providing local jobs and increased prosperity to the community.

Like Douglass, Milton adds that community involvement and support is critical to success, and artists need to have venues that will help people better understand what they can do within the community.

"Art needs to be elevated to a vocation, not 'just a hobby'," says Milton. "We can distinguish those who are developing their crafts through organizations that keep art relevant. We're very close to cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland with major art programs. We have to come together here and showcase artists and great art, so that people there will want to come to the Ohio Valley."

Tomorrow, read more about building community by supporting the arts.

 
 

 

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