Updated March 25 at 6:25am
creative economy

Cicilline details city plan to boost arts

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PROVIDENCE – Mayor David N. Cicilline today unveiled a new arts and culture plan for the city entitled “Creative Providence: A Cultural Plan for the Creative Sector,” the outcome of a nearly two-year, $70,000 community-wide planning process designed to strengthen and promote the arts in the capital city.

The plan “honors the voices of a variety of stakeholders who generously shared their time, expertise and experience to develop strategies to maximize resources while strengthening one of the Creative Capital’s most important economic drivers,” Cicilline said in a statement. The arts bring in nearly $112 million in annual economic activity, according to city officials.

The 40-page plan, formulated with the assistance of the Florence, Mass.-based consulting firm Dreeszen & Associates, includes both long- and short-term goals, according to Lynn McCormack, director of the city Department of Art, Culture + Tourism. Some recommendations can be implemented within the next 12 to 18 months and others will require five to seven years to bring to fruition, McCormack said.

The plan relies mostly on the use of existing facilities, increased visibility for existing funding and promotion mechanisms for the arts, and stronger alliances among various partnerships that already are in place, such as those with the private sector.

There are some new initiatives, however, including proposals for tax credits; community cultural centers; and tax and development incentives for initiatives that would support artists living and working in Providence.

McCormack’s department is designated as the lead agency for implementation, and there are no plans at this time to add more employees to her six-member staff, she said. “Our budget is very lean,” she said, “so the plan looks at resources we already have in the community, and how we can use them in a more strategic way.”

Barbara Fields, executive director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Rhode Island, chaired the 19-member steering committee that oversaw development of the plan during its final phases. The steering committee was made up of representatives from the local arts community; nonprofits such as the R.I. Council for the Humanities, AS220 and The Rhode Island Foundation; government agencies such as R.I. Housing; and private companies such as GTECH Corp., Cornish Associates and Textron Inc.

Fields noted that the plan does more than address the downtown area. “One of the top goals,” she said, is “fostering neighborhood vitality.” She spoke of the need to “build bridges across our neighborhoods” so “different people in different neighborhoods” can partake in and benefit from the arts.

Fields predicted the “health and vibrancy of Providence as we move into the next decades” will come from the neighborhoods. The LISC, a national organization, promotes development of neighborhoods and says it has invested more than $200 million in Rhode Island since 1991.

The plan proposes the creation of a series of “signature cultural centers” across the city utilizing existing public buildings. Each center would have a site coordinator to facilitate artist residency opportunities in the neighborhoods. Funding for the proposal still needs to be identified and secured.

Other highlights of the plan:

  • Recognition of Providence as a center for film, design and entertainment, as one of five anticipated results of the plan.
  • The Department of Art, Culture + Tourism would be permanently established by city ordinance and reorganized to work more closely on a daily basis with the city Department of Planning and Development on economic development. “We’ve already started to lay the groundwork for that,” McCormack said.
  • Adding to zoning regulations and other ordinances yet-to-be-defined incentives for real estate development that would make space available to artistic and cultural organizations, as well as “permanently affordable and accessible artist work spaces.”
  • Tax stabilization, tax-increment financing and other financial incentives should mandate that a percentage of the affected businesses’ employees be required to serve on cultural boards.
  • Creation of a Downtown Cultural Authority, an idea McCormack called “nascent” that is done in other cities and requires more research before implementation in Providence. The authority’s job would be “to strengthen, centralize and effectively market” downtown creative activity and public space, the plan says.
  • Explore use of new market tax credits for creative facility development. Fields explained that the “shallow” credits, at about 4 percent of a project’s value, are offered as a federal tax credit in targeted low-income areas of a community in exchange for private investment.

  • Urging the legislature to amend the film tax credits program to require more use of local businesses and services.
  • Revisit and enforce the 1980 Art in City Life ordinance, which requires one percent of total project costs be spent on art for the construction or remodeling of any building, park, street, sidewalk, parking lot or utility paid for in part or whole by the city.
  • Renewal of the Business Volunteers for Arts program where business leaders would work with nonprofit boards.
  • Establish a rehab-to-own program between the city and cooperating banks to encourage artists to occupy, rehab and own vacant buildings and foreclosed homes.
  • Create incentives for local businesses to buy and show the work of local artists.

Initial steps to begin formation of a new cultural plan began in the fall of 2007, with the convening of several local focus groups, McCormack said, and continued through last year.

The process included a series of community forums attended by hundreds of people, interviews with community leaders and an online survey with more than 2,000 respondents. Assisting the steering committee was a working group of 29 community representatives, including artists and art advocates, college and university personnel, and members of nonprofit organizations based in the city.

Copies of the “Creative Providence: A Cultural Plan for The Capital City” report are available online at CreativeProv.org and in the Office of Neighborhood Services at Providence City Hall.

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