The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has given Woonsocket a $50,000 “Our Town” economic development grant the city will use for a sculpture contest to encourage artists to live and work in the city's arts district.
City Planner Jennifer Siciliano said the grant will fund a plan to draw artists to live and work in the city, in the already-established arts district on Main Street. Within the district, artists do not have to pay sales tax on work they sell, nor do they have to pay state income tax, Siciliano said.
To attract artists to live and work there, Siciliano said the city will use the lion's share of the grant money, about $45,000, to commission the work of the winner of a sculpture contest. The contest will ask artists to design an interactive work that references the Blackstone River and the city's historic character.
The interactive part of the sculpture could use touch, movement, or sound as part of the work. "Its' more than just the visual sense," Siciliano said. The entries will be judged by a juried panel including members of the Rhode Island Council for the Arts, a NEA grant-awarding art professional, and public input.
The balance of the grant will be used to create a web site and other efforts to market the contest that will also showcase an inventory of the city's available spaces for artists to live and work. Siciliano said the plan is to use the contest to generate excitement about Woonsocket as a place for artists to work and live and then provide convenient information on where to set up shop in the city.
The top three sculpture finalists will have their designs produced in miniature and displayed at the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor's train depot, in the heart of the city's arts district, for a month. A public gala will be held at the depot where the public will be invited to judge the works. The winner will have their sculpture produced into a full-size piece to be displayed as public art in the Main Street area.
Siciliano said the contest will likely be officially launched in August, though interested artists can call her now at 401-767-1418.
The city must also match the $50,000 grant through donations and in-kind contributions, but Siciliano said local businesses and organizations are already pitching in. The Cakery and Chan's are donating food for the gala, she said, and the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor's donation of their space for the event also counts toward the grant.
The plan is based on the idea that drawing artists to live and work in the city .."will transform the Main Street/Arts District from an area with many vacant storefronts into a thriving hub of activity," according to the grant proposal.
On April 10, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), who oversees federal arts funding as the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, including the NEA’s annual budget of about $146 million, brought NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman, the top arts official in the Obama Administration, to Woonsocket to meet with Mayor Leo Fontaine, tour RiverzEdge Arts Project, the Arts District, and the Stadium Theater. At the time, Woonsocket had applied for one of the competitive “Our Town” grants, which are tailored to encourage partnerships with local arts and cultural organizations to help revitalize Woonsocket and use the arts as a catalyst for urban renewal.
Today, Reed announced the city had won the grant, though it's only half of the $100,000 the city had applied for. Siciliano said the city can still make the plan work with the smaller amount.
"Creativity is a limitless, renewable resource and Woonsocket is enlisting the power of the arts in the service of economic development. Investing in the arts will pay dividends culturally and economically for the entire city,” Reed said.
“Vibrant artistic and cultural activities are an important part of an overall strategy to revitalize the City, especially Main Street," said Mayor Leo Fontaine. "A challenging economy and tenuous fiscal condition have conspired together to create difficult obstacles for the City, but with federal and state assistance we are moving forward with planning and implementation around our arts and entertainment district; the help provided was sorely needed and will have great impact.”