Art Works Blog

Postcard from Bethlehem

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania


ArtsQuest President Jeff Parks, Lafayette College President Dan Weiss, me, Easton Mayor Sal Panto, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, & NEA Design Director Jason Schupbach at the July 15 MICD 25 grants announcement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Photo by Victoria Hutter

I was in Pennsylvania yesterday for the announcement of our Mayors? Institute on City Design 25th Anniversary grants. We were in Bethlehem, right in front of those hulking, rusty old steelworks. And I think it was a perfect place to showcase the new economy rising literally out of the decaying structure of the old economy. It was the perfect setting, and we had tremendous participation there. Mayor John Callahan of Bethlehem and Mayor Sal Panto of Easton were there representing the two areas in Pennsylvania where we gave grants. We made one to ArtsQuest in Bethlehem, and the other recipient was Easton?s Lafayette College.

The Bethlehem grant was to commission a sculpture that would be a kind of signature icon and symbol of the new arts center that?s being built there, right across from the steelworks. There?s going to be a plaza and a park area, and this sculpture will be based on a blue flame. It will pay tribute to the steelworks, but also announce a new era in Bethlehem. The Lafayette College grant has to do with arts festivals and temporary arts installations and the kind of work that we think can be done to revitalize communities.

The former blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel formed a dramatic backdrop to the press conference announcing the MICD25 grants. The plant closed in 1995 but is getting a new lease on life thanks to ArtsQuest. Photo by Victoria Hutter

This event really was the perfect kickoff for the whole MICD 25 series of grants, and this program, of course, is new for the NEA. We?re giving away $3 million worth of grants, and we announced that at one stroke. There are 21 grant recipients, and they?re all over the country. And I?m very excited about what this means for the next few years at the NEA. We really are up and running now in terms of our support for the work of arts as a catalyst for urban renewal and economic development.

As I said in my remarks yesterday, arts workers don?t make widgets, they make places.  Artists are great placemakers. They are small business owners, they?re entrepreneurs. When you have a cluster of artists in a town, it changes that town profoundly. It changes the civic engagement in that town, and it changes the economy of the place. To the extent that we can get arts activities in as many of these places as possible, we think arts are going to have a huge role in the new economy and in the future.

For example, artists will go into a city like Detroit and take a house that?s selling for $10,000, and be happy to live there, remodel and remake that house. You do that in a cluster with a whole group and you?ve remade a neighborhood. And you tie that to arts organizations and arts activity, and I think you have a new place, no question.

I think it?s clear how arts are tied into what really will be major changes in these MICD 25 communities. The arts have a huge role to play, and when cities acknowledge that, I think that you start to have major change. We?d like to do this everywhere.

You can learn more about the MICD 25 grant initiative here.

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