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West County seeks arts grant to grow economy

SHELBURNE FALLS — The Shelburne Falls Area Business Association is seeking a $50,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to put into place an economic plan for what’s often called “the creative sector” of local artists and artisans.

“Much like farmers, artists are viewed as separate from — not integral to — the economy,” says the grant application. “Yet, in rural places, the Creative Sector, like agriculture, defines and is a mainstay of a region’s prosperity, quality of life and livability. Also, the arts are often the leading edge of renewal, which in our region’s case is paramount because of the devastation caused by (Tropical Storm) Irene.”

The initiative, for all 10 West County towns, is called “From The Ground Up Together,” and it was started through the Shelburne Falls Area Partnership to improve the economy of West County. The two-year grant would finance three activities:

First, creative sector asset mapping to identify the capacities, skills and assets of artists and cultural institutions.

Second, public outreach and community engagement to spark discussions among the 10 towns and among artists about the value of the arts to the region’s identity and economy, to find ways to capitalize on Shelburne Falls as the only rural “Cultural District” in the state, and to “brand and market” the region via the arts. The towns included are: Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Hawley, Heath, Monroe, Rowe and Shelburne.

Third, regional planning to help the communities develop a master plan that fosters the arts, preserves the rural quality of life, and strengthens their economy.

The goals are to bring about economic renewal and improve the livability of the towns, expand arts programing, and to bring residents and businesses together to shape the region’s future.

Other aims include taking an inventory of businesses and mapping such assets as artists, galleries, museums, organizations and businesses.

From The Ground Up Together hopes to increase artists’ involvement with planning events by 20 percent, and to work with more nonprofit groups to bring more arts programming to the region. It also hopes to engage more hilltown artists in annual events in West County, increase ticket sales in performing arts venues and fill vacant buildings, both in Shelburne Falls and in other town centers with prosperous businesses.

The plans include forming a Creative Arts Council for West County, to foster public arts events and public art installations.

In Shelburne Falls, the hope is to increase visitors and attendance at annual events by about 10 percent, increase the number of hours that shops and galleries are open during the peak tourism season, and to install kiosks in the village to collect visitor data more efficiently.

Partners to be involved in the project include Buckland, as the lead town, the Art Garden as the primary arts partner, and the SFABA as the managing partner.

Buckland would administer the grant, while the SFABA would oversee the project. The SFABA is to document the activities and report to the public about its progress through the creative sector network, the news releases and emailed news bulletins.

The overall budget for the two-year program is calculated to cost about $100,000, with the NEA grant to be matched by contributions from foundations, businesses and local sources.

SFABA Executive Director Mary Vilbon said it could be up to six months before she knows whether the proposal will be funded.

“Brattleboro has done something similar and was funded by the NEA,” she said.

In October, Shelburne Falls was among the first western Massachusetts towns to earn the state’s “Cultural District” designation. The Cultural Designation Program was enacted by the Legislature in 2010, as a way to open doors to more grants, more publicity, and more resources for boosting businesses.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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