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Artists, art, and design are at the center of manufacturing renewal in three North Carolina communities through this cross-sector program led by Public Art Collaborative that places artists in residence at under-capacity manufacturing plants and supports the production of artist-conceived and designed works.

ArtPlace spoke with Janet Kagan and Jean Greer, Principals of the Public Art Collaborative Art-Force Program, an innovative effort to diversify economic development in three rural counties by partnering artists with manufacturers to generate core products, expand a workforce, and stimulate a community’s social and economic connection to place.

ARTPLACE: What do you have to do really, really well to achieve success?

KAGAN AND GREER: There are two intersecting paradigms, each dependent upon the other for success.  The first is the creativity and ingenuity of the Artist – Manufacturer Alliance to enable new product lines to emerge and thereby retain, create, and attract workers and add jobs.  It is anticipated that new product demand will require a diversity of labor skills and that these people will locate in the towns where they are employed because people move and settle-in where there is meaningful income.  As a direct result, residents become substantively engaged in the community : they vote, pay taxes, send children to school, shop for groceries and hardware, seek entertainment, need services, use public parks and playgrounds, and develop a sense of belonging and in turn create a place of pride called home.

A concurrent and influential aspect requires that we identify and partner with leaders in the towns in which we are working to maximize their capacity to impact extraordinary and appropriate civic art integral to each of these three communities.  We are catalyst, facilitator, and glue among all moving parts to support these new potent directions.

To sum, there are three variables that will drive success in rural projects such as ours.  The first is Physical and includes Innovative Investment and Development on a block-by-block basis, which expands and realigns how people connect.  The second is Creative Activity, which we define as how artists rethink and rework existing tangible (material and architectural) and intangible (social and intellectual) assets.  Inevitably, artists will identify the authentic and its role in transformation because they are entrepreneurs and risk-takers.  Finally, Economic Opportunity is launched as the result of the interaction among these elements and conditions.  This is the step where we also locate emerging and new leadership, a higher quality of public space, and community identity.

ARTPLACE: How are you doing this?

KAGAN AND GREER: As you know, we are working in three distinct communities whose demographics and histories are distinguished from one another by their original industries and locations, population size, and natural assets and cultural resources.  Furthermore, each of the artist teams work in distinct methodologies and the three manufacturers are in divergent stages of the life cycle of their business.  In each community, we have convened civic leadership and organizational representatives to share their agendas and roles in the orchestration of reversing a diminution of their town.  In addition to program management, we are integrating the artists and the manufacturers into this organic redevelopment process that sometimes echoes a jazz ensemble.

ARTPLACE: How do you expect these rural communities to change as a result?

KAGAN AND GREER: By way of example, let’s look at two of the towns: Greenville NC and Siler City NC where each is engaged in a new or updated downtown master plan (see street grid and identification of current building inventory in Siler City) and we are slip-streaming our efforts to align and amplify this undertaking.  In Greenville, local leadership discussed positive and negative trends as well as opportunities to enrich and leverage our work.  Greenville is the largest of the three towns and has a strong history as the industrial and academic hub for the eastern part of the State.  The economic development director describes its status as a large town becoming a small city.  They are struggling with how to attract and retain younger talent in permanent professional positions in the health and industrial sectors when the City has limited access to desired and expected activities as part of the lifestyle of a younger demographic.  Together, we are reimagining the downtown corridor that leads to the riverfront Commons and Park.  Textile artist Jan-Ru Wan and Parrott Canvas Company may design and produce a series of installations that extend the five blocks of historic Downtown Greenville to the Tar River, and the City has already decided to rename one of their existing festivals the Arts Festival that will now celebrate the birth and branding of an artist-in-residence.   The arts council intends to expand this annual event by offering to exhibit the artist’s work in its street front gallery windows.

ARTPLACE: What opportunities and plans are anticipated for Siler City?

KAGAN AND GREER: The Collaborative launched its partnership with artist Hoss Haley and manufacturer Floorazzo Tile LLC as the town began its third year with the NC Rural Center’s NC STEP Program (North Carolina Small Town Economic Prosperity), an extensive grass roots effort to create economic possibilities for the Town.   They have identified 14 strategic projects – from parks to sidewalks and from wayfinding to becoming a Certified Retirement Community.  The Mayor has publicly stated that art and economic development go together.  Envisioned are a downtown nine-block core enlivened and filled with cottage industries, connected rear courtyards with art studios, music, new restaurants, and public spaces.  As a community, they are relying on the NC Arts Incubator to be a leader in this metamorphosis; development of a downtown master plan, a new park, and an Art and Artisan District are high priorities.  Product development at Floorazzo Tile, located virtually beyond the Arts Incubator, has just begun and all of us are considering the numerous opportunities to add vitality to Siler City’s streetscapes, lighting, signage, and proposed parks.  It is clear that artists will continue their pivotal creative role in rethinking and reinvigorating Siler City’s historic center as it stabilizes and redevelops its social and marketable presence.

IMAGE:  Siler City NC Downtown Master Plan, Current Zoning and Existing Land Use. Image Courtesy of Coaly Design and Clarion.

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