Cross-Currents : Art + Manufacturing Strengthening Place


Funding Received: 2012
Multiple, NC
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
July 31, 2012

ArtPlace spoke with Janet Kagan and Jean Greer, Principals of the Public Art Collaborative Art-Force Program, as they mobilized an innovative program to diversify economic development efforts in rural counties. The Program places artists, art, and design at the center of the creative process by partnering artists with manufacturers to generate new products, expand a workforce, and stimulate a community’s social and economic connection to place. The Collaborative is working with three separate teams in three rural North Carolina counties.

ARTPLACE: What is your elevator pitch when you describe your project to people?

KAGAN AND GREER: The Public Art Collaborative’s Art-Force Program believes that artists are highly trained and underutilized creative thinkers, visionaries, and problem-solvers. America’s small cities and towns desperately need their imagination and innovation to retool essential manufacturing and keep communities alive because people live where there are jobs and feel a sense of belonging. America’s economic history is grounded in how product-defines-place and The Collaborative considers this a 21 century link and response to recreating communities with an authentic and sustainable vibrancy. According to one of our three rural manufacturers, President of Sanford NC's WST Industries Tim Skibitsky, "We are excited about getting away from industrial thinking and moving to out-of-the-box thinking to better the community by changing the way we do things. We will be challenging ourselves; this is a tremendous educational opportunity."

ARTPLACE: Has does the history of North Carolina sync with this project and what is the imminent need?

KAGAN AND GREER: Towns in rural North Carolina are like other rural communities across America that are stagnating with low education rates, an absence of employment opportunities, and shuttered downtowns that have been forsaken for strip malls and suburban housing. There are large tracts of land now fallow or for sale that once were agricultural engines of wealth and jobs. But North Carolina is unlike other states insofar as it has an enthralling history of art, craft, and indigenous artistic assets. From Black Mountain College in the western mountains, an interdisciplinary institution that integrated art at its core, to the notable Penland School of Crafts, the oldest craft school in the United States, to the Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, to Seagrove in the east, the State has an unbroken tradition of valuing its artists and their work. Capturing this legacy of art and design, we selected manufacturers and artists to extend and expand several core industries including textiles, stone, and metal.

ARTPLACE: How do you expect to increase vibrancy in the place you are working?

KAGAN AND GREER: The Public Art Collaborative first addressed the fundamental issue of joblessness in America, and for this effort we identified three rural counties in North Carolina. We focused on a new paradigm for enhancing production deficiencies of local manufacturers hardest hit during the recent recession. Without jobs, there is no community stability nor reinvestment or circulation of capital in local businesses, and thus limited potential for civic vibrancy and social interaction.

ARTPLACE: So that’s an ambitious starting point, but where did this research take you?

KAGAN AND GREER: Through the Economic Development offices and Chambers of Commerce in Chatham, Lee, and Pitt Counties, we connected with locally owned manufacturers seeking expansion and redefinition of their products, plant capacity, and job growth. We proposed an Artist + Manufacturer Alliance to a business in each of the towns of Siler City, Sanford, and Greenville to collaborate, design, prototype, and manufacture new products to be identified with each company. The manufacturers currently produce stone aggregates, specialty metals, and textiles using local and regional suppliers of these raw materials.

ARTPLACE: How is this approach unique and how does it impact vibrancy?

KAGAN AND GREER: The potential impact for product development and for vibrancy significantly depends on the singular match of Artist to Manufacturer. In this project, we carefully identified and vetted nationally recognized North Carolina artists and paired an artist with a manufacturer to develop and produce products in materials familiar to each. The artists not only understand product design, but they have exhibited and created art for public spaces, so they grasp the visual impact and requirements of working at an urban scale. In addition to product design, each artist has accepted the challenge to create a public installation of this product or application in a pivotal public site selected by town stakeholders. Finally, we are working with local leadership in the towns who are concurrently implementing economic initiatives and city plans that coincide with the ArtPlace grant now being mobilized.

PHOTO: Mobilization and Planning at WST Industries with Shop Floor Team and Artists