Pawtucket , RI

Contact Name
Herb Weiss
Project Dates
January 4, 1999 to present
In 2012, the City of Pawtucket’s Arts and Entertainment District attracts hundreds of artists into its mills to live and operate studios. Pawtucket has slowly emerged as newest regional artist Mecca. Fourteen years ago, city officials went before the General Assembly that year and successfully lobbied for the creation of a 307 acre district, encompassing 23 mills and sixty streets. The goal of this effort was to utilize the State's tax incentive program to attract artists into a blighted downtown to fill empty and underutilized mill buildings.

The City hired an Arts Educator to develop its cultural plan to provide policies, programs and services to support the growing artist community in Pawtucket. The City's arts policy is that we view as small businesses and treat them as such.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
The project goal was to utilize the arts to attract both small creative sector companies and artists into its industrial and commercial property. Arts was the vehicle to also attract residents into the City's historic downtown, right in the heart of the City's 307 acre Arts and Entertainment District. A final goal was to attract restaurants, galleries, theater and artistic venues to bring people into the City and to be amenities for the City's residents.
Have they changed over time?
No, the project goals are still the same.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
The project partners were the City of Pawtucket, business community, Pawtucket Foundation (a business group)and mill and commercial and building owners.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
First the project was strongly endorsed by the Mayor. City officials effectively marketed the affordability of property, its location (between Providence and Boston), easy access to Interstate 95. A City official, responsible for economic development,was designated as a point person to work with the City's growing artist community. The Planning Department official became their advocate to new businesses and the existing artist community and helped to ratchet up the City's level of customer service offered.
Have they been refined over time?
What were your major obstacles?
There were financial obstacles in filling a position to be an artist advocate. The City had to work hard to erase and negative image, from Pawtucket being a City of empty or under utilized mill buildings to one where mills were filled with small artists, craftsmen, and creative sector companies. While some looked down on the City's blue collar and ethnic diversity, this project made it hip to be part of the economic revitalization.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The City did not hire a person to be an artist advocate. Job enlargement was the answer. The City's economic development official just performed additional duties. Over the years, news paper coverage in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Providence Journal and local newspapers, even a 53 minute documentary, Pawtucket Rising, about the economic revitalization of the City through the arts began to turn the negative image around.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
There must be strong support from the Mayor or Town Manager to attempt this project. There must be one person assigned to oversee this project to serve as the artist's advocate, hopefully the person charged with economic development duties. The City's economic development philosophy must view artists as "small businesses" and the economic development tools that are used for traditional businesses can be used for these individuals.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
City: Amended zoning to include live/work housing, enabled development of mills for residential lofts; Created $35K in annual Arts Operational & Program grants distributed on competitive basis; Created one of the largest Arts Festivals in New England; Created a revolving loan program to assist restaurants in the Arts District; Provided in-kind services to arts organizations; Created a new class of liquor license that ties license to location; Created a state-wide Arts High School (the first in Rhode Island); Increased entertainment amenities, including two theaters, two music venues, five art galleries. In addition, the historic Pawtucket Armory was turned into a performing arts center and four mills transformed into artist lofts in the Arts District.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
As mentioned, hundreds of artists flocked to Pawtucket to take advantage of affordable mill space, arts incentives, convenient location and concentration of working artists. Redevelopment of blighted property increased the City's tax base. Theaters, art galleries, and music venues were opened.
Were there unexpected impacts?
While the City attempted to attract developers, artists and businesses into the City's Arts and Entertainment District, there was a spillover effect. An example, a 600,000 sf historic mill that was empty was redeveloped and now housing over 80 small businesses employing over 250 employees. The developer will shortly obtain financing to add 140 artist lofts to this mill.