JOPLIN, Mo. —
Using art to enhance public places or bringing artful experiences to the public rather than confining it to traditional galleries and theaters can be accomplished with grant funding that is available through the National Endowment for the Arts.
Such grants have been used by other cities for a number of purposes related to rebuilding or redeveloping as Joplin is now doing as a result of the 2011 tornado, said Michael Killoren, director of programs for the National Endowment for the Arts.
He was in Joplin on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of the cultural arts committee of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce to speak about grant programs that are available to help pay for public art projects and to discuss the types of programs that have been successful in other cities.
“I think you have amazing opportunities” to do public art projects that could dress up the city or bring performance and visual arts to Joplin, Killoren said at a presentation made Friday in the North Middle School auditorium.
He cited examples such as Fargo, N.D., where an artist was hired to help design water retention ponds in the flood-prone city that would add visual interest to neighborhoods rather than look like a drainage ditch.
The city of Paducah, Ky., offered a district of older houses to import artists as a base of the city’s arts and tourism industry that has been successful, Killoren said.
Such ventures are called “creative placemaking,” and they are intended to add visual interest and character to cities.
He said that a study by the Knight Foundation and the Gallup Organization asked, “Why do you love the place where you live?”
“Surprising to the Gallup Organization, it wasn’t jobs, it wasn’t schools and it wasn’t the economy,” he said. “It was social offerings, it’s openness and it’s aesthetics.”
Openness means making all in the community feel welcome. He also talked about the importance of designing structures that are decorative. “We all want to live in a place that’s beautiful,” he said.
He said art is important, especially to children, because it can change lives. “It’s a poverty fighter. The arts open up a world of possibilities.”
To be successful, art initiatives need visionary leadership, he said. They need to be tailored to distinctive features of the community and be open to everyone. There has to be transparency to keep public support, Killoren said.
The “Our Town” grant program is designed to be a public-private partnership. Projects have to have a letter of support from city officials and at least one cultural nonprofit, such as a convention and visitors bureau, involved. “The outcome has to be that the community is strengthened by the arts,” Killoren said.
Recipients of the grants in addition to Fargo and Paducah are Grand Rapids, Mich., which used money to display art in all the city’s restaurants and to hold art festivals, and Boise, Idaho, where a dance company moved from New York and performed at schools and nursing homes rather than in theaters to bring the experience to the people.
Becky Brill, co-chairwoman of the local arts committee, said Killoren was asked to visit Joplin to bring information that would help educate those interested in furthering the arts effort here.
Other groups within the community have looked at ideas on how to rebuild, and arts supporters wanted to do that too.
“We wanted to know how other cities have done it, and what you can do to blend the functional with aesthetics,” Brill said.
There must be a local match equal to the amount requested in an “Our Town” grant, which can be given in amounts from $25,000 to $150,000.