Arts need government advocate to help grow local jobs
ART HUB: Herb Weiss was originally hired in 1999 to verify artists belonged in Pawtucket’s then-nascent arts district. As artists began turning to him for help, his role became helping the local arts community grow.
Herb Weiss has worked for 14 years to transform and revitalize the historic mill town of Pawtucket through a dynamic infusion of the arts into the economic-development fabric of the city.
As economic-development and cultural-affairs officer for the city, his creative vision has helped Pawtucket blossom into a community of working artists and arts organizations that continues to be a factor in creating and attracting new business.
With the fall arts-festival season launching into high gear, Weiss is on the leading edge. The Pawtucket Arts Festival has grown into a three-week celebration, from Sept. 6-29, with activities that include Chinese dragon-boat races, a film festival, a concert by the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Zydeco music, the Taste of the Valley food festival, plays at the renowned Gamm Theater, and of course, a spotlight on regional artists.
His work has not gone unnoticed. He’ll receive the Excellence in Arts and Business award from the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council at its annual awards dinner on Oct. 3.
PBN: What drew you to the arts as part of economic development?
WEISS: Actually, it wasn’t planned. I wasn’t specifically drawn to the arts. It just happened that my first day on the job in Pawtucket, on Jan. 4, 1999, was when the Pawtucket Arts District kicked in. The planning director told me it was part of my duties to certify that people residing in our arts district were qualified to be there. I could have just been a bureaucrat and asked them to give me the three documents that proved they’re allowed to be in the arts district, certify that and send them on their way to the Department of Taxation. … I could have done the job strictly by the book. But instead, artists started calling me and I started looking around for places to bring artists. … I developed a knowledge of spaces and places around town.