A Plan for the Future

The creation of the Raleigh Arts Plan

The leaders of the Raleigh Arts Plan have asked Raleigh citizens and community members the same questions for months: What do you observe and value about the culture of Raleigh? What do you see it become? And how do we get there?

“Our belief behind this process is that the ideas have to come from citizens, from artists and from community members who are involved, or want to be involved, and to get their feedback,” said Cassie Schumacher-Georgopoulos, senior planner for Raleigh Parks and Recreation and co-chair of the Arts Plan. “That’s where we are in the planning process now.”

In short, the Raleigh Arts Plan is an extensive effort by the Office of Raleigh Arts to improve the cultural experience of Raleigh through arts events and education.

“I see it as a strategic plan to improve and increase the return on investment for arts stakeholders — the taxpayers,” said Jerry Bolas, co-chair of the Arts Plan. “It raises the question: What is the role of our municipal government in nurturing the arts for the benefit of the community?”

The city government started to define this role in 2009 when a comprehensive plan update allocated one half of one percent of municipal construction funds for public art.

According to Schumacher-Georgopoulos, the plan grew to consider how the arts could shape a vision for the city and position Raleigh as the Southern Capital of Arts and Culture.

“The Raleigh Arts Plan is not just about investing tax dollars, it’s about developing resources in addition to and around tax dollars,” Bolas said.

The city not only commissions permanent public pieces but supports temporary community projects such as the Glenwood Avenue tree sweaters, knitted by residents for the past two years in an effort to unite the neighborhood.

“How do you manage something that’s wildly successful, something that’s a creative outlet for folks?” she said. “How can you provide a sense of whimsy for the city to engage in?”

To help answer these questions, the city hired a consultant for the Arts Plan and appointed a steering committee to gather community feedback and report back to the Raleigh Arts Commission and the Public Art and Design Board.

Most of this community feedback came during Engagement Week March 9–13 with a series of public meetings and events to engage the community in the development of the plan.

One by one, Raleigh community leaders gathered in meeting rooms at the Walnut Creek Wetland Center. A range of race and profession surrounded each meeting table, bringing together consultants, attorneys, business owners, artists, Internet providers, educators, planners and journalists.

“The goal this week is to engage as many people as possible with the plan and to share their input,” Schumacher-Georgopoulos said. “I hope people take the opportunity to collaborate and connect with each other at the meetings and network to continue to engage with city processes and the art and cultural community.”

According to Schumacher-Georgopoulos, the Arts Plan’s biggest obstacle is ensuring equitable access and exposure for all community members. Despite the vast diversity represented at Engagement Week, all groups and attendees addressed the same concern.

“Putting sticky notes on a map, you begin to see these holes where we don’t have facilities or venues for people to participate in,” she said. “If people are having to go further to participate in arts opportunities, then maybe that’s something that’s missing from their lives.”

Mike Williams, digital curator of ArtsNow, immediately addressed the need for integration in the Raleigh arts community. His idea sparked a discussion among the community leaders about how the arts can be the bridge between Raleigh’s demographic and geographic landscape.

Attendees addressed concerns about budget constraints, lack of textbooks and divisive language that currently limit the ability to bring art to the community and the community to art.

Equitable access was also a hot topic among arts educators in the Raleigh area. Many teachers saw a need for more variety and distribution of arts educators in the county. Educators said with budget cuts, arts programs are often the first to be cut, reinforcing the idea that arts is extra, rather than integral, to education.

Each Engagement Week event progressed from raising these problems to brainstorming solutions. With consultants and committee members leading the conversation, they discussed how the Arts Plan could ease these issues and shape a vision for the city.

“The plan should address how funding should be prioritized for the arts or even establish more city wide funding,” Schumacher-Georgopoulos said. “Understanding what people want to participate in is also beneficial to the arts partners that are applying for those grants and receiving those funds.”

“It’s about developing leadership with a plan that can be communicated,” Bolas said. “It’s about city planning and infrastructure. It’s been said that the arts are Raleigh’s river. We have an opportunity with the arts to consider how we want to build and develop that waterfront.”

The planners hope to achieve this goal by reaching as many community members as possible. The steering committee conducted intercept surveys on Fayetteville Street and held more than 40 Community Conversations around the city.

“The staff of the Office of Raleigh Arts has been engaging people that they’ve been familiar with for years as well as people who are moving into the city,” Schumacher-Georgopoulos said. “We’re reaching out to people who are somewhat already engaged in the process and asking them to get beyond who we already know.”

The Raleigh Arts Plan will be submitted for approval to the Arts Commission and City Council in the fall and undergo a 10 year implementation process.

After the plan has run its course, the planners hope to see a more creative Raleigh. A Raleigh that fosters creativity in every neighborhood, school and city block. Through a partnership with the city, the arts community hopes to make that vision a reality.

“We’re striving and really wanting to have these social opportunities and to be neighborly and connect with people we live by,” Schumacher-Georgopoulos said.

“I think that’s something really strong that the city should pick up on. How can we capitalize on really wanting to bring people together? It’s not about filling space with programs, it’s about filling capacity in communities.”

Originally published at x-and-v.tumblr.com.