Ninth Street corridor proposal is finalist for national arts grant

The Lawrence Arts Center is, for the second year, a finalist for a major national grant that would fund a so-called creative placemaking project in Lawrence.

The Arts Center announced Monday that its $500,000 proposal — “Free State Connection: The 9th Street Corridor Project” — was among 97 finalists for this year’s ArtPlace America grants. Winners are expected to be announced in June.

The proposal calls for “re-imagining” Ninth Street between Massachusetts and Delaware streets, adding public art, multimodal pathways and events highlighting Lawrence’s “iconoclastic, free-thinking past and present in the heart of the Lawrence Cultural District,” according to the Arts Center’s announcement.

Officials hope that having firmer city and community buy-in will elevate this year’s proposal over one submitted last year, which also was a finalist but ultimately fell short of the winner’s list, Arts Center executive director Susan Tate said.

ArtPlace seeks to fund creative placemaking — in essence the use of public art and cultural amenities to add to an area’s vibrancy and highlight its unique identity.

“It’s very important to ArtPlace to catalyze and create community investment,” Tate said. More so than last year, she said, several factors about Lawrence’s proposal send the message: “We are institutionalizing art and culture as a priority.”

For one, Tate said, developers whose projects bookend the corridor have both pledged to commission public art installations if Lawrence gets the grant.

Warehouse Arts District developer Tony Krsnich said he was excited about the corridor proposal and has already started the process of picking a location and size for such a project. “We’re doing this,” he said. “We’re going to invest in public artwork.”

Doug Compton, who heads the development group planning a multistory apartment building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, said in a letter to City Commissioners that building plans already include two 15-by-15-foot panels designated for art. One possibility for those, Compton said, is commissioning artist David Loewenstein to recreate his “Pollinators” mural in the space, as the existing mural’s wall must be taken down to make way for the new building.

Additionally, Tate said, at this time last year the city had only just approved formally designating the downtown area as the Lawrence Cultural District. The Cultural District Task Force has since completed a formal report with recommendations for the area, and city commissioners have committed to hiring an arts and culture director to work within the city manager’s office.

The city has plans to improve Ninth Street, which would move up in priority if the Arts Center wins the grant, Tate said. And the Arts Center has received or is applying for several smaller grants to fund complementary projects in the area.