Downtown Lawrence leaders hope to paint a prettier economic picture with a new arts district that will be operating by August.
Jane Pennington, director of Downtown Lawrence Inc., confirmed that a group of local business organizations and artists have formed a not-for-profit company that will manage a new once-per-month art event.
“I think it can be a great economic engine,” Pennington said. “It will bring people downtown and they will spend money downtown.”
Organizers have filed the paperwork to create the Downtown Lawrence Arts District corporation. The new entity will do management work and marketing for Final Fridays, the preliminary name for an event that will feature everything from paintings to performances in downtown shops, restaurants, and even vacant storefronts.
The arts district is seeking a $10,000 grant from the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission to help fund marketing of the event during its first year. The arts commission is recommending approval of the request, in part, because it has $10,000 left in its budget after it did not hold an outdoor sculpture exhibit in 2009. City commissioners will consider approving the request at their Tuesday evening meeting.
“With this $10,000, we’ll be able to do a pretty intensive marketing campaign for the first year,” Pennington said. “It will get into people’s heads that on the last Friday of every month, Lawrence is the place to be to view the arts. Then in future years we won’t need as much money to continue the marketing.”
The new corporation will be run by a board that includes members from Downtown Lawrence Inc., the Lawrence Arts Center, the chamber of commerce, the convention and visitors bureau, the arts commission and shop owners and artists.
Pennington said the new entity’s non-profit status will allow it to do private fundraising. Pennington believes the event will catch on with the community. She expects to have art at about 15 locations throughout the downtown on the last Friday of each month. Plans call for both visual arts and performance arts, with many of the venues inside stores or restaurants.
“You may be looking at bicycles one minute at Sunflower and then go upstairs and see a dance demonstration the next,” Pennington said.
The group also is working to convince downtown property owners to temporarily donate vacant storefronts to be used as galleries.
Tourism leaders said the district has potential, especially if the new arts district corporation can provide leadership in marketing and building the events.
“I think that organizing force will be very, very helpful,” Judy Billings, director of the convention and visitors bureau, said. “I think that is what can solidify and sustain the effort.
“It could be very positive. Arts-based and heritage based tourists are thought of as high spenders and good travelers.”