CreateHereNow has added a future to its present-tense name. The innovative arts/business initiative, which has been running a pilot program in Bridgeport for the last several months, will go statewide thanks to a major grant—half a million dollars!—from ArtPlace America, a deep-pocketed “collaboration of 13 leading national and regional foundations and six of the nation’s largest banks” which works closely with federal agencies in the interest of “investing in art and culture at the heart of a portfolio of integrated strategies that can drive vibrancy and diversity so powerful that it transforms communities.”
The $500,000 “art placemaking” grant was the second largest of the 54 awards announced yesterday by Artplace America, which received over 1200 applications this year, from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The average grant is around $280,000.
Working with real estate professionals, local government, and especially artists, CreateHereNow utilizes empty storefronts and other spaces to create new small business with a creative purpose. The program has some similarities to the award-winning Project Storefront intitiative in New Haven, and in fact they share a co-founder, Margaret Bodell.
Bodell’s interest in turning abandoned or otherwise empty storefronts into arts centers goes back decades to the Art in Heaven gallery she co-founded on Crown Street in New Haven. This was in the late 1980s, when the Ninth Square was a blighted area following an eminent domain clearing-out of the neighborhood for a proposed pedestrian mall that never happened. Bodell now consults with the state of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development’s Arts Initiative. She’s a co-director of CreateHereNow with marketing specialist Rod Frantz.
ArtPlace America is on the cutting edge of arts funding in America, in synch with the latest trends in community arts development. “Creative placemaking” is the buzz phrase in the arts these days, acknowledging that serving arts communities in these days often involves looking at the community as a whole and investing in longterm art projects which benefits a range of artists and community members.
In other parts of the country, ArtPlace America’s art placemaking grants are being used to start festivals, build performance venues, commission art installations, hold monthly community arts events, create playspaces (for both children and adults) and even build an artist-designed mini-golf course.
Pittsburgh received funding for a project similar to CreateHereNow, funding artists to revitalize an area of the city that will be redeveloped in the future but needs a splash of creativity now.
The description of CreateHereNow from the ArtPlace America website reads:
CreateHereNowCT is a pilot program of the State of Connecticut DECD/COA that will build a network of distinctive, artist-repurposed vacant spaces statewide in twenty participating towns and cities, for the creation and growth of businesses and sustainable placemaking initiatives by fostering cooperative partnerships among municipalities, artists, entrepreneurs and property owners.
In Bridgeport, CreateHereNow has focused on small business opportunities and connecting artists to downtown property owners, in keeping with the city’s overall efforts at redevelopment and economic stability. The other cities the program will now serve may have different priorities. Some don’t have community centers now, and may use a storefront for that purpose. Others need to anchor their arts community with regular performance events or other gatherings. Others may center around administrative needs. But the general model for CreateHereNow involves
Bodell has been consumed with work at CreateHereNow’s Bridgeport headquarters, which just opened several storefront arts enterprises in the city’s newly renovated Arcade shopping plaza and has turned numerous shop windows into art displays. All that time, she was waiting patiently to see if CreateHereNow would get its ArtPlace America grant, so the project could expand to other cities. Now it has, and artists and art-lovers throughout Connecticut will benefit.