What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
After 5 years of very successful and dynamic summer programming in the tents and rustic studios of our campus in the woods, the City of Belfast (18 miles away) offered the organization a recently decommissioned 16,375 square-foot school to create an art center in town. City officials saw the need for a public artmaking space that appealed to all ages and felt that WA was the creative grassroots group to run it. Waterfall Arts viewed this as an exciting growth opportunity to reach more people, expand to year-round programming, and increase revenue. The Board decided to take this big leap and -- with little fundraising track record, one part-time office staffer, and no short-range, let alone long-range, plan -- won the bid on the school. Can you see the challenges here?
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
The goals of offering transformative arts experiences to more people, running education, exhibitions and events year-round, and increasing revenue did not change. The ways we achieve these are constantly shifting. One goal of the founding group – to bring art and nature together – has remained a part of our mission but harder to achieve in town. This goal was easily attained in our rural campus, but we’ve had to work to creatively incorporate an environmental sensibility to the Belfast building and programming. Examples: working with local schools, we’ve installed a very popular vertical living wall on the exterior; we show environmental art regularly both inside and on the grounds; our new print studio uses only “green” practices and materials.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Early on, the Board of mostly artists, led by 2 stalwart and generous founding members, jumped into high gear to renovate the 1935 brick building prior to occupation, and to quickly raise funds for the purchase. Seventeen private citizens from the community were successfully solicited to put up $225,000 in guaranteed loans. A local foundation stepped up with a 3-year grant to kick-start organizational and facility development. One vocal downtown businessman, also on the City Council, was instrumental in making the case to the community. The City supported the project by keeping the price low ($155,000) and issuing a low PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement. Partners today, in some aspect of our facility, include the City, which runs an ice rink here in the winter; the summer Farmers Market and autonomous Art Market; our local downtown revitalization project, Our Town Belfast, which included us in their boundaries; the Belfast Creative Coalition, a creative economy organization we co-founded; and GOLogic, a local green design/build firm that provides pro bono consulting to us.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Strategy might be too strong a word. Community individuals have focused on making arts and culture more central to Belfast’s downtown and its economy since 1980. Then, chicken feathers wafted through town from the processing plant on the waterfront (now replaced with a bustling high-end shipyard). Today Belfast hosts many art galleries, cultural festivals, restaurants, and music and theater performances year-round. The Waterfall Arts building is certainly a creative hub in Belfast and the county. Fifteen artists and musicians rent studios here; we exhibit local and national artwork in three spaces. Our little stage in the basement (the Fall Out Shelter) is used by local and traveling bands, student recitals, theater shows, dance parties, talks, meetings, etc. A recurring community discussion for over 20 years is about the development of a bona fide, well-appointed performance space. Several less-than-ideal venues exist, but none large enough nor modern enough to attract significant performing artists. Number of seats desired/deemed fillable varies widely, and, despite several afforts, no viable community solution has yet emerged. For the past two years, Waterfall Arts has engaged in serious internal discussions and has committed to expanding the building to include, among other things, a flexible-use state-of-the-art performance space, as a step in that direction.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Probably the common practice of artists re-purposing old buildings – barns, defunct manufacturing spaces, lofts, and old school buildings. The large classrooms with high ceilings loaned themselves well to art classrooms and studios.