Cultural Revival Starts At Home

I just rediscovered a CityLab story I bookmarked last September discussing how a woman’s effort to revitalize culture and creativity in York, PA started in her apartment.

Bored with the city’s limited cultural offerings, Dwyer and her roommates decided to create their own homegrown events—a series of monthly arts shows in her living room…

The shows were modest affairs. “We would put art on the walls, move the furniture out of our living room. We made sure everyone’s bedroom was clean,” she says. “It was like a meltdown every month preparing for it.”

Soon, the shows started to draw hundreds of people through an evening. That attracted the attention of Dwyer’s landlord, Josh Hankey.

While some landlords might see large impromptu gatherings as something to stop, Hankey saw a business opportunity. “I knew that art could create an attraction,” he says. “I knew it could change the perception of a neighborhood, and I was going to help them whatever way I could.”

This was somewhat timely for me. I had attended a session hosted by my buddies, the Creative Cult where they asked everyone to write down what assets they might bring to revitalizing the creative environment in town. I wrote “my front lawn.”

I was partially inspired by the PorchRockr festival and Porchfests going on around the country. In many places people host music concerts on their front porches and attendees wander through the neighborhood taking it all in.

I am not sure my neighborhood is the best for a concert series, but I was intrigued by the idea of hosting a conversation or speakers series in the shade of my lawn.

The directors of my local art museum are already doing something along these lines. They live in a building across the street from the museum and invite everyone who attends an opening at the museum to walk across the street for an “after party.” This usually happens around 3 pm on a weekend so it is pretty accessible to all. Between passing through their studio spaces on the first floor and the ever growing and changing collection of art in the living space on the second floor, there is a lot for people to see and talk about.

Over the last few years that I have attended the “after party” events, the demographics of those at the party have really diversified in terms of an increase in first-timers and those who wouldn’t be considered museum insiders.

If you are finding people balk when you throw open the doors to your organization and invite them in, maybe the answer can be found in throwing open the doors to your home.

Politicians know the power of retail politics where they meet people one on one at small gatherings. Living room meetings are the hallmark of politicking in New Hampshire.

A similar approach may be useful to breaking down barriers for some people in a community.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University. Among the things I am proud to claim are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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