U.S. Senator Jack Reed today announced the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is awarding a $50,000 "Our Town" grant to help boost Woonsocket's Main Street and Arts District and bolster economic development and education through the arts.
Earlier this year, Senator Reed, 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, the City of Woonsocket had applied for a competitive "Our Town" grant to build partnerships with local arts and cultural organizations to help revitalize Woonsocket and use the arts as a catalyst for urban renewal.
"This competitive grant recognizes Woonsocket as an important arts hub and the potential of the community's cultural plans. This grant will help Woonsocket officials, local non-profits like RiverzEdge Arts, and businesses further their efforts to use the arts as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization. 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," said Reed.
"I am thankful to Senator Reed for his efforts on behalf of Woonsocket. I appreciate his drawing attention to the merits of the City's "Our Town" grant proposal," said Mayor Leo Fontaine. "Vibrant artistic and cultural activities are an important part of an overall strategy to revitalize the City, especially Main Street. 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."
RiverzEdge, a community arts center and social enterprise that provides innovative pathways to success for youth and their communities, is particularly pleased with this opportunity to work more closely with the city on arts-led placemaking and economic development. "We appreciate Senator Reed and Mayor Fontaine's efforts and cannot overstate the importance of this initiative to our talented young artists and designers," RiverzEdge Arts Executive Director, Rebekah Greenwald Speck, said. "First of all, it engages teens directly in a larger revitalization effort creating pride in place and the satisfaction that comes with making a difference. Secondly, it paves the way for more economic opportunities in the creative sector in the future, in their future. Economic woes may come and go, but the power of art to transform lives and places remains a powerful constant and a positive antidote to our current challenges. Woonsocket has a long history of creative innovation, so look out, here we come!"
The competitive "Our Town" grants are designed to invest in collaborative public-private projects that seek to improve quality of life, encourage creative activity, create community identity, and revitalize local economies. All "Our Town" applications must reflect a partnership that will provide leadership for the project involving at least two organizations: a non-profit design or cultural organization and a government entity.
Over 300 communities across the country applied for "Our Town" grants this year and NEA awarded 80 grants nationwide, totaling $5 million.
According to the NEA, each dollar invested directly through the NEA is matched by an average of $8 of additional investment and generates $26 of economic activity in the community.
Last year, Providence received a $200,000 "Our Town" grant to help upgrade Kennedy Plaza and make it a more lively center of arts and culture and overall Rhode Island received over $1 million in funding from the NEA.
Over 25,000 Rhode Islanders are employed in the state's creative sector, which generated over $750 million in economic activity in fiscal year 2008, according to the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.