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Massive undertaking aims to transform Lawrence from artsy to ArtPlace

Arts Center leads charge for ‘creative placemaking’ projects

April 7, 2013

This story is the first in a two-part series on Lawrence's goals for creative placemaking in the city. Tomorrow: Could creative placemaking bring much-feared gentrification to the very neighborhood whose character it’s trying to highlight?

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A taste of the attractions to be found inside Lawrence's newly designated downtown cultural district. First Row: The Granada Theater, Lawrence Arts Center, Aimee's Coffee Shop, Second Row: Bowersock Mills and Power Company, SeedCo Studios in the Warehouse Arts District, Site of Langston Hughes' home, Row Three: The East Lawrence Waltz mural, Pachamama's, St. Luke's A.M.E. Church, Row Four: Turnhalle Building, Wonder Fair Art Gallery, Americana Music Academy.

A taste of the attractions to be found inside Lawrence's newly designated downtown cultural district. First Row: The Granada Theater, Lawrence Arts Center, Aimee's Coffee Shop, Second Row: Bowersock Mills and Power Company, SeedCo Studios in the Warehouse Arts District, Site of Langston Hughes' home, Row Three: The East Lawrence Waltz mural, Pachamama's, St. Luke's A.M.E. Church, Row Four: Turnhalle Building, Wonder Fair Art Gallery, Americana Music Academy.

Susan Tate, executive director of the Lawrence Arts Center, talks with community members gathered at Ecumenical Campus Ministries on Wednesday, April 3, 2013. Tate and others from the Arts Center are spearheading an effort to win an ArtPlace grant that would bring in resident artists to pursue a creative placemaking project in Lawrence.

Susan Tate, executive director of the Lawrence Arts Center, talks with community members gathered at Ecumenical Campus Ministries on Wednesday, April 3, 2013. Tate and others from the Arts Center are spearheading an effort to win an ArtPlace grant that would bring in resident artists to pursue a creative placemaking project in Lawrence.

Related document

Lawrence Cultural District Map ( .PDF )

Being an artsy town is one thing.

Sculpting that into a concrete concept that will win grant money — over hundreds of other artsy towns vying for the same prize — is another.

You brainstorm. You try to reach every stakeholder. You form a plan, one that can be explained on paper, and build support for it. You ease suspicions of dissenters within the ranks and prepare answers to all the questions people you’ll never meet need to be convinced your plan is worthy. And you bring in the big guns.

And after a year of that, the Lawrence Arts Center has a toehold. But only that. So far.

Lawrence is among a sliver of national finalists for a coveted arts grant that could change the landscape of downtown and propel the city to model-status in the world of creative placemaking.

Creative what?

Even proponents acknowledge the term “creative placemaking” isn’t very concrete in itself.

“While it has generated great interest,” reads a report from ArtPlace, the organization doling out the grants, “defining creative placemaking and its results is still a work in progress.”

But basically, the concept is like arts- and culture-based community development.

The process is supposed to work from the inside out. The idea is to take a community’s existing artistic and cultural attributes and bolster them to increase local vibrancy.

At least that’s the gist of how Lawrence is interpreting it.

Winning an ArtPlace grant would enable the Lawrence Arts Center to hire an internationally acclaimed pair of artists to create a public art project aimed at highlighting Lawrence’s radical roots.

But that’s only the first inning of a much larger, long-term vision, Arts Center director Susan Tate said. If Lawrence doesn’t make the final cut, she said, the time and money that’s been spent chasing the grant won’t be for naught.

If nothing else, a designated downtown cultural district created in the process is here to stay.

Making the cut

ArtPlace, a collaboration between national and regional foundations and six of the country’s largest banks, announced in January that Lawrence is one of 105 finalists for one of the organization’s creative placemaking grants. Generally, about 40 grants are awarded each year.

The Arts Center’s proposal calls for using grant money, if obtained, to bring in resident artists that specialize in creative placemaking activities. The plan envisions a project by public art duo Sans façon — French architect Charles Blanc and British artist Tristan Surtees — who have embedded themselves in communities worldwide, exploring each place’s unique culture and creating public art projects that bring it to light. Their latest project, “Watershed+,” involves exposing underground pipes and pumping stations in Calgary to highlight the city’s important relationship with water.

To get the placemaking ball rolling in Lawrence, in addition to the ArtPlace grant application, the Arts Center spearheaded an effort to designate Lawrence’s art- and amenity-rich downtown area a “cultural district.” In February, the City Commission approved the designation, which covers a three-quarter-square-mile area roughly bounded by the Kansas River, 15th Street, Vermont Street and the north end of the Burroughs Creek Trail.

Tate has been chasing this vision for roughly a year, working the crowd of local interests, from businesspeople to government officials to neighborhood residents, to promote the possibility of a cultural district. Some stakeholders required more persuading than others, such as East Lawrence residents who fear the project will lead to gentrification that would push out low-income inhabitants of their neighborhood.

It’s part of the effort to fulfill two key ArtPlace requirements: that the community is on board and that now is the right time for a placemaking project.

‘Free the Radicals’

Tate said the goal is creating a downtown atmosphere for Lawrence “that isn’t just like every other place in the world.” To do that, the obvious choice is building on a theme your community has that others don’t.

For Lawrence, the Arts Center has decided, that’s radicals.

William Clarke Quantrill, the pro-slavery leader who sacked Lawrence in 1863, remains the most popular inquiry from drop-ins at the Lawrence Visitors Center, said Fred Conboy, who leads the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.

The pro-freedom survivors of Quantrill’s Raid rallied, rebuilt and seemed to spur a spirit of radicalism in the town that would last for generations. Inspired by this track record, the Arts Center’s ArtPlace project proposal is titled “Free the Radicals.”

“It’s a city that encourages controversy in the quest for truth,” Conboy said.

A century or so later, around 1970, the issue was civil rights, and protests, many of them centered on the Kansas University campus, were violent.

“Once again, Lawrence, Kansas, and KU in particular became kind of a flashpoint for the enduring struggles for freedom,” Conboy said.

And of course, there are the radical artists in the city’s cultural history. Among Lawrence’s most famous past residents are poet and social activist Langston Hughes and counterculturist author William S. Burroughs.

New artwork in Lawrence continues to tell those radical stories in fresh ways, Conboy said. The Arts Center’s annual “Kansas Nutcracker” ballet replaces the traditional characters with historical figures from Bleeding Kansas. Quilter Marla Jackson’s masterpieces include textiles inspired by African-Americans’ quest for equality.

Conboy likes the idea of using creative placemaking to tie these stories together.

“Art is a way to experience what is kind of under our nose but in a way to keep it vital and fresh for the new visitor, as well as for the next generation,” he said.

Second try

Lawrence has been here before. In 2010, the Lawrence Arts Center and the city made an unsuccessful bid for a National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant to fund a creative placemaking project.

Even though that application failed, Tate said, the process got conversations rolling and revealed something else important: Lawrence couldn’t answer the question, “How does this project fit into your community’s larger portfolio of strategies for cultural and economic development?”

There was no “larger portfolio.”

As much as the community supports its cultural assets, the city didn’t have an official cultural plan.

The ArtPlace grant application has a similar requirement, and this time the Arts Center was prepared.

Tate took the lead in getting the cultural district idea drawn up and, ultimately, approved. While the city has yet to OK any projects in the district, having it on paper indicates formal municipal support. And that’s what keepers of the grants want to see.

In addition to the proposed ArtPlace grant, the Arts Center has applied for a $75,000 Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission grant for creative or cultural district planning. Tate said that money, if secured, would fund the development of a formal county- or citywide cultural plan.

All aboard

When it comes to community support for a cultural plan, Rocco Landesman said he hasn’t seen it at Lawrence’s level in any other place. And Broadway and arts impresario Landesman is a guy who would know.

The recently retired National Endowment for the Arts chairman and ArtPlace chairman emeritus visited Lawrence last year and found himself seated at a table with everyone from the mayor to artists ready to discuss Lawrence’s placemaking goals.

“It was amazing,” Landesman said. “You had everybody in that community sitting around, which told me that there was tremendous buy-in by all elements ... I was struck right then that everybody seems to be on the same page.”

That’s important, Landesman said, because organizations like ArtPlace want to invest in places that have a good chance of success.

Landesman is no longer involved in choosing who gets ArtPlace grants, but he said Lawrence has the three critical components: A tradition of artistic production, significant arts support from the private sector and a political structure that understands the value of arts in the community.

“You can’t just create an arts district in the middle of the Sahara Desert,” he said.

‘The energy level is just right there’

The scene Landesman experienced during his visit repeated itself in February, when an ArtPlace representative came to the city for an in-person site visit. The mayor, Arts Center patrons, business leaders and local artists filled a room at the Arts Center. Even Sans façon’s two artists were there, flying in despite an impending snowstorm.

Mayor Bob Schumm cited the popularity of Final Fridays and the Warehouse Arts District, plus the community’s support of the new school bond that will save neighborhood schools.

“You can see how these piecemeal things have all indicated we’re ready for the next big step,” Schumm said. “The energy level is just right there at this moment.”

Warehouse Arts District developer Tony Krsnich told the group that even before the Poehler Loft Apartments opened at 619 E. Eighth St., the units were all spoken for. Plans are already in motion to build more.

Even East Lawrence community leaders are on board, though they say they’ll keep close watch over conversations to ensure plans are a good fit for their neighborhood.

“It’s a cautious optimism. It sounds like a lot of good things can come of it, but we have to be wary of our own long-term residents,” Josh Davis, president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, said of the cultural district plan.

Moment of truth

Lawrence finds out next month if it’s been chosen for one of this year’s ArtPlace grants. In its first two years of awarding grants, ArtPlace gave a total of $26.9 million to 76 organizations in 46 communities. Past grants have ranged from about $150,000 to half a million dollars.

Whether she’s managed to convince the ArtPlace selection committee or not, Tate said she knows Lawrence is ready for a creative placemaking project that will bridge the gap between being “artsy” and truly investing in art as a social and economic catalyst.

“Lawrence is ready for a big leap,” she said. “We’re ready to be a model.”

If Lawrence isn’t chosen for ArtPlace grant, she said, the Arts Center will apply again. And grant or no grant, the effort they’ve put in trying is good for the city’s future.

“Much of the work in considering what adds vibrancy and diversity to a place is done in the application process, and so it has absolutely not been a waste of time,” she said.

Tate said she’s confident creative placemaking can move forward in Lawrence in a way that benefits everyone.

“Neighborhoods don’t stand still,” Tate said. “Neighborhoods are always in the process of changing — all neighborhoods. And any time we have the opportunity to bring people together to discuss how investments are made and why, it’s an improvement over randomness and chance.”

Comments

Robert Rauktis 1 year, 5 months ago

What Lawrence needs is to get the Vatican to transfer from Rome. Watch out! I figure there's an economic study on art dollars spent vs. reaped coming.

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cammieb 1 year, 5 months ago

Although meant as a dig (I'm sure), I love it - especially the seceding part! It Lawrence seceded from Kansas, Brownback would have to worry about praying for us any more. And, Lawrencians could stop being embarrassed if their state.

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overthemoon 1 year, 5 months ago

Interesting that not one artist is included in this story.

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msezdsit 1 year, 5 months ago

This article is not about art its about exploiting the arts. If there is a buck to be made then lets pretend to be supporting the arts.

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irvan moore 1 year, 5 months ago

thank goodness, somebody has the vision to have the government involved in deciding where art should flourish

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 5 months ago

The concept is on target although local politicians are out of touch with what's going on in spite of their comments. City Hall/Commissioners are about 20 years behind.

Somehow $31 million on a rec center has yet to make sense and we know IF someone wants local tax dollars to make this art industry come to life Lawrence has no money.

Meanwhile another article on this matter... http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2013/apr...

East Lawrence reps have the proper attitude going into this endeavor. Their eyes are wide open. The focus should be developing the industry not taking over neighborhoods.

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Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 5 months ago

What Lawrence really needs is some common sense leadership that does not get immersed in this "artsy" crap.

A leadership that recognizes the need for more businesses that have good jobs like Hallmark and not a bunch of idiots scavenging the junk yards for trash to weld together and clutter up the downtown area with.

Some businesses not associated with the University that offer careers and means for a person to have a career and raise a family.

But with the clueless, spineless gutless nerds that are elected to the city commission by a miniscule portion of the eligible voters , we are treated to unnecessary projects like the replacement of the 23ed street bridge over the long- gone railraod tracks complete with city park lighting. What an incredible waste of our tax money!!

We are a community at risk with the lousey on- agenda jerks that run the city and I do not see any common sense surfacing any time soon.

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George_Braziller 1 year, 5 months ago

Art work is work. That "artsy crap" is a $135 billion industry in the US.

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chootspa 1 year, 5 months ago

And where art flourishes, tech often does too. Look at how many of the big tech hubs in the US right now are also big art hubs: New York, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Austin.

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patkindle 1 year, 5 months ago

did ya ever notice , once they get thier money from uncle sam. everyone denounces govt subsides and pork barrell spending?? it is only a waste if it doesnt come to you

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overthemoon 1 year, 5 months ago

Pat, honey, there is no mention of gov't money in this article. Are you stuck in eternal repeat mode?

"ArtPlace, a collaboration between national and regional foundations and six of the country’s largest banks, announced in January that Lawrence is one of 105 finalists for one of the organization’s creative placemaking grants. Generally, about 40 grants are awarded each year."

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Sally Piller 1 year, 5 months ago

Take away "the Leftys", artists, creative types, University intellectuals and what kind of town would you have left? I always amuses me when "the Rightys" criticize the the best place to live in Kansas and the people who make it that way.

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FarneyMac 1 year, 5 months ago

It's a 3-minute walk from downtown. Get on your motorized scooter and go there, and stop whining.

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Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 5 months ago

I mentioned this in my previous post. Those lights are a very bizarre addition and probably cost a great deal of money that could have been used better elsewere. But what would you expect from the management of this city??

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overthemoon 1 year, 5 months ago

Except for the fact that it is a teaching facility with classrooms and library for KU students?

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Thinking_Out_Loud 1 year, 5 months ago

wilbur, I do not think you understand the academic mission of the Spencer Art Museum. It cannot fulfill its academic mission if it is downtown, separated from the campus and its faculty, researchers and students. Opening a downtown "branch" would not be visionary; it would be myopic.

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Kontum1972 1 year, 5 months ago

funny how the city has not fixed the sculpture located on the south end that was destroyed by vandals..its my understanding that all these art works are insured. I was told by the artist that the city told him there was no money to repair it and he was responsible for all the repairs. What kind of deal is that?

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Kontum1972 1 year, 5 months ago

i meant the South end of Watson Park where the train is located....my PC when crazy...the Net is really weird today...thx

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Kontum1972 1 year, 5 months ago

anyone following the basketball tournament...? Good thing we got out early....!

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Clinton Laing 1 year, 5 months ago

Uuh, guys... focusing on art ois a great way to distract from a more fiundamental problem for this town, at this time: JOBS. And GOOD JOBS. Keep repeat that until we start electing leaders who understand that with no excess income floating around, the only customers for art will be government.

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George_Braziller 1 year, 5 months ago

Uuh, you're wrong. I had $885 in sales at one local event in one day and not a single customer worked for the government. And I collected sales tax which was paid to the State of Kansas.

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chootspa 1 year, 5 months ago

Didn't they know that only poor people on welfare buy art?

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Clinton Laing 1 year, 5 months ago

Gee, were any of them Lawrence residents?

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chootspa 1 year, 5 months ago

Focusing on art is a good way to create jobs. And good jobs.

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Paul Wilson 1 year, 5 months ago

Lawrence has been doing that for 20 years. Hasn't happened yet. Comparing Lawrence to New York, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Austin is a complete fantasy.

Tax incentives create jobs in small secluded cities like ours. Good or bad...you have to give businesses a reason to come here. Artists...most of which are a drain on tax dollars...do not inspire businesses with well paying jobs to set up shop. The correlation is not there.

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chootspa 1 year, 5 months ago

Ok - so towns like this need businesses that come here because they drain our tax dollars with incentives instead of artists (who are, in fact, self-employed small business owners) because you think they drain our tax dollars. mmmkayyy. Let's break down why that's the opposite of logical.

Big Box is only going to come here with a tax incentive, because Big Box can't make money here. They'll set up shop and discover that the size of Lawrence is big enough to support them on paper, but not in economic reality. I've seen the story countless times.

Meanwhile, the self-employed artist has lower overhead and can make enough money to live here while attracting shoppers to the area for something they can't buy at a chain store. People who come here to shop might stay to get a bite to eat and eventually maybe stay the night in one of those massive hotels downtown. The whole economy is bolstered. A small artist isn't going to engage in a bidding war with nearby communities to see who offers the best deal, and the economy is stabilized by supporting arts activity rather than one large employer who can pull up stakes and leave on a whim.

Why not focus on giving those artists the tools for better entrepreneurship instead of getting focused on a bidding war with companies that aren't going to build the economy long term?

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George_Braziller 1 year, 5 months ago

Here's an economic survey showing exactly what you're talking about. Covers 182 regions across the US and how much revenue art brings in. Both directly through art events and sales, and indirectly through meals and lodging.

http://www.americansforthearts.org/information_services/research/services/economic_impact/iv/local.asp

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Liberty275 1 year, 5 months ago

I wish it were different but Lawrence is never going to be an "art" town, It's a university town. All the money that comes in wants to drink and experiment with their sexuality; they aren't really interested in folk art or even snooty art.

We recently visited a small town in N Carolina and literally every store on main street was an art store or a tiny restaurant. This was all up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it had lots of tourists.

We have students, not tourists, most of which don't care that Lawrence was burned to the ground, so we aren't going to compete with Eureka Springs and it's haunted asylum hotel. We have a doorway to hell five miles west and we don't even try to capitalize on that.

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chootspa 1 year, 5 months ago

There's absolutely no reason it can't be both an artsy town and a college town.

Just because the students aren't buying Picassos doesn't mean they're not buying jewelry and fashion or frequenting live music venues. Heck, they can even do it while getting their drink on. They shut down 6th street in Austin twice a week for drunken bar-crawling orgies, yet the city still has an artsy vibe and attracts plenty of tourists, some of whom just come for the bar-crawling and live music scene.

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Liberty275 1 year, 5 months ago

So how do we make Lawrence more like Austin?

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chootspa 1 year, 5 months ago

It would help if it were bigger and not 30 minutes away from better shopping and better pay. It would also help if we weren't years behind all the efforts KC has put into reviving their art and tech scenes, since that just makes the problem worse.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 5 months ago

Move with caution and stop doing the cart before the horse. Yes Lawrence has an art community however if Lawrence wants to develop the art community into an industry that's all well and good. BUT don't leave the art community out of the planning stages for it is this community that makes this thinking relevant.

This art community is NOT stupid by any means nor is this community ignorant about art economics. The Lawrence art community comes with brain cells,practical thinking and tons of talent.

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