A smiling woman with blond curly hair
Program Director, Research & Creative Economy
NEFA

On a beautiful day in June, folks from around New England who are invested (or engaged) in space development for the creative sector met in Providence, RI. They came to meet their peers from other New England communities and to learn about two very different, but very complementary, organizations that have developed important spaces that have changed the landscape of Providence. The organizations are artist-driven, but they intentionally serve the entire Providence (and broader) community. Here are my notes from the day (with special thanks to Stephanie Fortunato and her intern Liza Yeager from the City of Providence Office of Arts, Culture, and Tourism for their contributions). There’s also a video of the Q&A with the organizations.

Fifteen people from the New England Creative Economy Network came early for a tour of the Steel Yard by Executive Director, Howie Sneider:

  • Learned history of the amazing maker space: transfer of ownership, establishment of nonprofit, brownfield challenges and upgrades, income and business model (Classes! Local commissions!), strategic partnerships and neighborhood projects, future plans for more public use of space (and the legalities of this.)
  • Example of slow, steady, intentional growth in service to artists and community

Meeting (35 people – five out of six New England states represented)
PART 1: Welcoming, Introductions, First Thoughts & Questions

  • Attendees hailing from around New England sat in discussion groups to trade names and backgrounds
  • People came from a variety of organizations and occupations, working with more established engaged art communities as well as new and growing groups:
    • Arts
    • Local government
    • Education
    • Urban planning
    • Business development
  • In an introductory activity, attendees introduced one another and shared art-space-related questions to stimulate thoughts and discussion
  • Question topics ranged from specific organizational tactics to ideological standards

PART 2: Tour of AS220

  • Attendees visited various AS220 spaces including where youth programs, live-work studios, stages, labs, and local start-ups are housed
  • Tours also included a briefing on AS220 history as well as the impact the organization has had on the city of Providence

PART 3: Q&A from AS220 & the Steel Yard

  • Attendees raised questions for AS220’s Bert Crenca (Founder & Artistic Director), Cynthia Langlykke (Development Director), and Sheyla Rivera (Director of Programs) as well as The Steel Yard’s Howie Sneider (Executive Director)
  • Emphasized takeaways included the importance of building community partnerships, collaborating with other creative organizations, and focusing on organizational integrity and values in art space development
  • A video of the conversation: It’s worth watching for the specific words and examples, but below is what I learned from these two organizations that evolved in very different ways but have very similar core principles. Their thoughts are about space development, but could apply to the initiation of any program or organization.

  • Build a space that appeals to you/artists and then get out of the way. Be a steward of the space, and of the community without egotistical motive.
  • Respect artists and come from that core.
  • Have bold vision statement(s) and share them publicly and often
  • Have a business plan – ask the tough questions early on
    • Be clear about your values and gauge all decisions and action against them
    • Organizational policies that put your values into practice are crucial
    • Know your methodologies
    • Know your value to others (what they can expect from you)
    • Deliver on your promises (show up on time, do the most difficult thing first, respect all skill levels, ages, etc.)
    • Operationalize mentorship and leadership development
  • Tap the entire community as a resource (value = access) – everyone is a potential partner (even funders.)
  • Look for efficiencies, not additions
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Incubate ideas and broker collaborations to get them implemented
  • Return to your original business plan/values and methodologies often to guide sustainability
  • Placemaking is all about community organizing – participation is key
    1. Really creating a space for people to share makes room for exchange, respect, and expansion
    2. The “New” Cycle by Bert: great programming/access > great communication > participation > great programming/access
    3. “Opening a gate and letting people in is a revolutionary act” – Howie

NEXT STEPS:

Thank you to both AS220 and the Steel Yard staff for sharing your time - and your amazing spaces - with us!

Share