Join the Conversation: Animating Neighborhoods


Use the hashtag #ArtsFwd to join Eleanor and Virtual Summit participants from around the world for a conversation about this topic on Monday, October 21 at 5:30pm EST. Learn more and register for the free Virtual Summit here

This summer I spent several weeks traveling to cities across the country speaking to artists and creatives about how they are building successful and sustainable careers as part of a tour to promote my new book Grow. To connect with artists, I partnered with organizations focused on art, craft and entrepreneurship, many of them located in urban centers. My biggest takeaway from these conversations was something I already knew: artists, creative businesses and nonprofit organizations that nurture them are playing a key role in the revitalization of neighborhoods at the hyper-local level in cities across the country.

To stir ideas and questions for the live online discussion I will lead as part of the National Innovation Summit for Arts & Culture, I’d like to share a couple examples from Detroit and Cincinnati about how art can act as a catalyst for a vibrant, urban community.

In Detroit, I visited D:hive, an organization designed to welcome and engage artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and visitors and residents alike. At its location in a walkable downtown area, I observed tourists seeking advice for creative activities in Detroit; shoppers and friends visiting the incubator “pop up shop” that allows new business owners to test their concept; and a business basics class for aspiring entrepreneurs. It was fantastic to see lifelong Detroit residents who felt comfortable and welcome in the space, and utilized it as a resource. D:hive connects artists and art business owners with the skills and network they need to nurture new ideas, and then carry their creativity forward into the areas of Detroit that need innovative thinking and creative problem solving.

I observed a similar approach at ArtWorks Cincinnati, where I spoke to the members of their Springboard program for artist entrepreneurs. ArtWorks is located in Cincinnati’s historic Over the Rhine neighborhood, which was also the location of violent clashes between police and residents in the early 2000s. While walking around the neighborhood I was struck that, while the area still has a long way to go before fully addressing the needs of low-income residents, artists who had graduated from the Springboard program were placing their studios there, opening shops, and hosting exhibitions. The neighborhood feels animated and welcoming and, thanks to these arts activities, residents from the greater Cincinnati area are coming back to downtown Cincinnati to experience it as a place where art and culture is created.

Join the conversation!

The discussion I will lead during the Virtual Summit will be inspired by these examples, as well as the case studies presented by the speakers in the Animating Neighborhoods Talks series. All 6 speakers will share engaging stories about how arts organizations can enliven their communities and connect with local stakeholders. I especially look forward to hearing Mary Rowe from the Municipal Art Society speak about how arts and culture at the ground level revitalize neighborhoods and Noël Raymond’s thoughts about how arts and social services can be connected to support a neighborhood’s current residents. Some questions I look forward to thinking through with participants during this online discussion include:

  • What does a neighborhood animated by art look and feel like?
  • What makes a neighborhood a lasting arts destination?
  • How can arts and social services organizations connect beyond one-off workshops or superficial partnerships to create a meaningful presence and serve their communities?

Finally, I want to discuss the arts and gentrification. This is a huge topic, but I’d like to talk about how to nurture the arts in a neighborhood without simply becoming a signal for developers to move in. Instead, how the arts can support a sustainable, economically and culturally diverse neighborhood? Is it possible?

I look forward to connecting with you about these themes and more on October 21!

Join Eleanor and Virtual Summit participants from around the world during the Animating Neighborhoods Talk series on Monday, October 21 at 5:30pm EST. Learn more and register for the free Virtual Summit here

Speakers in the Animating Neighborhoods Talk Series

Rick Dildine, Artistic Director and CEO, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
A New World

Rick Dildine is the Artistic Director/CEO of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and the Director of the MFA program in Arts Management & Leadership at Webster University. He holds an MFA in Acting from Brown University / Trinity Rep and is a member of the Society of Directors and Choreographers.

Noël Raymond, Co-Artistic Director, Pillsbury House + Theatre
Creative Practice + (Social Service and Neighborhood Revitalization) = Happy People

Noël has helped make theatre for over 13 years. She holds an MFA in Acting from the University of Minnesota and a BFA from Ithaca College in New York. Noël currently serves on the Boards of Directors of the Multicultural Development Center and the Burning House Group Theatre Company, which she co-founded in 1993. She is also a company member of Carlyle Brown and Company. She has taught acting classes and theatre movement in multiple settings to children, college students and adults with developmental disabilities. Noël has served on numerous panels including TCG/American Theatre, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Playwright’s Center, and United Arts.

Trey Devey, President, Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra
Harnessing the Power of Art to Inspire and Transform Communities

Trey Devey was named President of the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra in 2009. He has led the organization in a period of great transition, overseeing growth in contributions and attendance, as well as advances in community engagement and innovation. Devey also serves as President of the Cincinnati May Festival. He is a former consultant with The Boston Consulting Group and past president and executive director of the Syracuse Symphony, Alabama Symphony and Florida Philharmonic. Devey holds an MBA from The Wharton School.

Jay Bad Heart Bull, President/CEO, The Native American Community Development Institute
Reclaiming Our Community: A Profile of Partnership and Innovation in Indian Country

A member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, Jay was raised throughout North and South Dakota and is a graduate of Oglala Lakota College, and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He has worked as a Lakota Language Instructor, Youth Worker, Food Shelf Manager, non-profit administrator, Vice President of Little Earth of United Tribes housing community and currently serves as the President/CEO of the Native American Community Development Institute. Jay has made a priority of working with and for American Indian people throughout his career with an emphasis on promoting self-determination and progressive models of success. Jay is also a poet.

Mary Rowe, Vice President, Managing Director, Municipal Art Society
How the Rubber Hits the Road: Arts and Culture on the Ground to Create Livable and Resilient Communities

Mary W. Rowe connects the work of the society with the broader goals of livability and resilience, and deepening its role in identifying and promoting community-based approaches to city-building. Mary has been a grant-maker (at blue moon fund, in Charlottesville, Virginia), a social entrepreneur, a facilitator, and calls herself an ‘urban animator.’ Prior to coming to Municipal Art Society, Mary was based in New Orleans, where she witnessed firsthand the resilience of community-led initiatives, and the need to approach city-building holistically, always connecting social, economic, cultural and environmental considerations.

Jack Reuler, Artistic Director, Mixed Blood Theatre Company
Radical Hospitality

Jack Reuler founded the Mixed Blood Theatre Company at age 22, after receiving a degree in zoology from Pomona College and Macalester College. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jack established Mixed Blood dedicated to the spirit of his dream: to promote cultural pluralism and pursue a culturally rich, culturally conscious America. Reuler has received many honors for his work. In 2010, the Theatre Communications Group presented Jack with its Peter Zeisler Award for exemplifying pioneering practices in theatre, dedication to the freedom of expression, and for being unafraid of taking risks for the advancement of the art form.

Eleanor Whitney is a writer, educator, arts administrator and musician raised in Maine and living in Brooklyn, New York. She has also worked at the Rubin Museum of Art as the Coordinator of Educational Resources, the Brooklyn Museum as the Academic Programs Coordinator, and at POV/American Documentary as a development assistant. She is completing her Master of Public Administration degree at Baruch College and received her bachelor’s degree from Eugene Lang College in Cultural Studies and Education.