Our Town Grant, from Fayetteville perspective | Rock Candy

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Our Town Grant, from Fayetteville perspective

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 8:25 AM

The press release from the University of Arkansas on the Our Town grant for a creative community in downtown Little Rock adds a bit more information: Partners include the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Ballet Arkansas and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Little Rock Downtown Partnership and Reed Realty Advisors.

Reed Realty is Scott Reed, developer of a jazz club set to open in August in the old Gus Blass building at 315 Main St. I've got a call into him to learn more about the future of the arts in downtown Little Rock.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Creative entities in Little Rock are one step closer to becoming a stronger collective force, thanks to an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The $150,000 grant, awarded to the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, Marlon Blackwell Architect and the city of Little Rock, will provide for the initial design phase of a new Creative Corridor on Main Street in downtown Little Rock.

The Our Town grant was one of only 51 grants awarded nationwide, NEA officials announced today in a press conference at the NEA offices in Washington, D.C. Our Town is the NEA’s new leadership initiative focused on creative placemaking projects. In creative placemaking, partners from both public and private sectors come together to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city or region around arts and cultural activities. With 447 statements of interest submitted, the NEA awarded $6.5 million in grants to communities in 34 states.

The Creative Corridor is intended to spur comprehensive revitalization of historic buildings and transform a segment of Main Street into a visual and performing arts district in Little Rock, which has a metropolitan area population of about 700,000. The city of Little Rock is the lead partner, and additional partners include nonprofit arts organizations, such as the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Ballet Arkansas and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Little Rock Downtown Partnership and Reed Realty Advisors.

“Communities across our country are using smart design and leveraging the arts to enhance quality of life and promote their distinctive identities,” said Rocco Landesman, NEA chairman. “In this time of great economic upheaval, Our Town provides communities an opportunity to reignite their economies.”

The Community Design Center, an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, is directed by Steve Luoni, Distinguished Professor of architecture. Marlon Blackwell, whose firm is based in Fayetteville, is also a Distinguished Professor and head of the school’s architecture department. This is the sixth NEA grant awarded to the Community Design Center during the last four years.

This initial design phase of the Creative Corridor will focus on the south end of the corridor, across the street from the Repertory Theatre, which is undergoing a $6 million renovation. The design calls for four buildings to be renovated for mixed use to cluster Ballet Arkansas, the Arkansas Symphony, theater education space and artist studios, with a gallery showcasing artists from the Arkansas Arts Center’s museum school. These buildings will also feature affordable living units for artists and others who enjoy that environment.

“We are thrilled at this opportunity to triangulate a design partnership among the state’s flagship university, talent in our capital city, and one of the country’s premiere architectural firms. The NEA’s signature grant program gives us the chance to consolidate various cultural resources around urban development unparalleled in the state,” Luoni said.

Blackwell shared Luoni’s excitement, adding that the public-private partnership facilitated by the NEA grant “will allow our design team to speculate on a vision for possibilities — architectural, cultural, civic and more — for the city of Little Rock.”

This Creative Corridor project started with a three-day charrette, conducted in late 2009 by the Mayors Institute on City Design and attended by 120 people. These projects reinforce a forthcoming cooperative agreement from the Environmental Protection Agency that will provide environmental streetscape designs to make Main Street more livable and sustainable.

This project is an extension of the downtown economic revitalization through cultural development that the city of Little Rock promoted when creating the River Market District and the MacArthur Park District. The master plan for the latter project was done by the Community Design Center. The nearby River Market District, once a neglected area of abandoned waterfront warehouses, is now a thriving area that boasts restaurants, shops, urban lofts, nightlife and a farmers market.

The Community Design Center will create an urban design plan, managing the project with input from project partners. Blackwell’s firm will provide preliminary conceptual design and visualization services for the renovation and restoration of four existing buildings on Main Street in Little Rock, as well as a parking garage.

A design charrette with the participating nonprofit arts organizations and artist groups will be held this fall. With that input, Marlon Blackwell Architect and the Community Design Center will generate drawings, diagrams and models to illustrate the conceptual design. That will be followed by a presentation to the city of Little Rock and representatives of the symphony, ballet and other artists groups to show the design direction and to elicit feedback. The final presentation of the conceptual design to all partners is slated for February.

Through integrated and inclusive planning, this design will develop brand identity; connect the community to the Creative Corridor as a cultural hub; and generate world-class, iconic, destination architecture designs. The Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architect will produce a project portfolio for website distribution, fundraising and branding. The project team will promote the project through industry award programs, exhibitions and publications.

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. More information about the NEA is available at www.arts.gov.

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