On Friday, I attended the unveiling of Creative Providence, a cultural planning effort conducted primarily by Dreeszen & Associates over the past two years. A nice-sized crowd came out for the catered event at the Hotel Providence to see the Mayor of Providence, David Cicilline, Craig Dreeszen, Robert Leaver of New Commons, and Lynne McCormack of the Providence Department of Art, Culture and Tourism explain the plan’s strategies and action steps.
I was impressed at the level of public engagement with the plan, and so was Craig Dreeszen, who said that there are “many more things that are right than wrong” with Providence’s cultural community. The plan involved the participation of a staggering number of residents: ten people on the planning team, a 33-member working group, a 20-person steering committee, 200+ attendees at the first Claiborne Pell lecture at which a progress report was given, 200 people involved with six planning “studios,” 150 participants in two community forums, 275 faces in 25 focus group discussions, 18 one-on-one interviews, and more than 2000 respondents to a joint online survey with the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. (Apparently this level of collaboration between a city and state agency on a cultural plan is unprecedented.)
The six goals of the cultural plan are as follows:
- Position the Department of Art, Culture, and Tourism as a leader in creative economic development
- Build community and foster neighborhood vitality through increased access and diversified cultural participation
- Educate and inspire the next generation of creative thinkers
- Foster sustainable [there’s that word again] cultural organizations
- Create conditions for creative workers to thrive in Providence
- Raise public awareness of the creative sector
Robert Leaver spoke briefly, noting that while the plan represented a major shift from where the city was at at the start of the process, it still has not gone far enough for some artists. The Mayor followed with a presentation of ten action steps, all of which he claims can get done in the next 18 months. Here they are:
- Reorganize the Department of Art, Culture, and Tourism to focus on economic development issues
- Push branding of Providence as the Creative Capital
- Explore the possibility of creating a Downtown Cultural Authority
- Strengthen neighborhood vitality by increasing public access [not sure what the exact target is here -IDM]
- Develop policies toward the preservation of public art
- Partner with arts educators to enhance current collaborations
- Develop youth summer employment porgrams in partnership with Workforce Solutions
- Continue to work toward fostering sustainable cultural organizations by networking with local and national stakeholders
- Develop affordable arts spaces
- Appoint a Creative Providence Leadership Council
I’m really glad I went to this event. One thing I’ve learned in the course of my cultural policy studies is that there are people thinking about this stuff almost everywhere, even in smaller cities. It’s always heartwarming to me to be around it in person, though, especially in a city where I’ve spent a lot of time the past two years. I wish the folks involved with Creative Providence the best as they attempt to turn vision into reality, the hardest (but most important) part of any cultural plan.
The full planning document (along with a huge number of other resources) can be downloaded here.