County News

Engaging Artists, Building Community: A Meeting of the NACo Arts and Culture Commission

Joe Ryan, manager, Office of Drug Control Policy, Harford County, Md., details the county’s use of the arts to fight opioid addiction. Photo by Jessica Yurinko

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The arts can lift an economically deprived area

Who spoke:

  • M. Simone Boyd, writer
  • Julie Whitney Brown, founder, Old School Farm Pottery
  • LeXander Bryant, photographer, visual artist and founder, ORGNZD VISUALS
  • Jay Dick, senior director, State and Local Government Affairs, Americans for the Arts
  • Barry Glassman, county executive, Harford County, Md.
  • Joe Ryan, manager, Office of Drug Control Policy, Harford County Department of Community Services
  • Caroline Vincent, Public Art and Placemaking director, METRO ARTS, Nashville Office of Arts and Culture

What participants learned: Adding the arts to the fabric of blighted neighborhoods in a county can help transform them into thriving communities.

That was the message NACo members heard July 14 at the “Engaging Artists, Building Community: A Meeting of the NACo Arts & Culture Commission” at NACo’s Annual Conference in Davidson County, Tenn.

The arts can lift an economically deprived area, according to the numbers. Just ask Jay Dick, senior director, state and local government affairs, Americans for the Arts.  The arts industry contributes more than $760 billion to the U.S. economy, he noted in his address to members of the commission. Non-profit arts generate $27.5 billion in federal, state and local revenue, far surpassing the collective allocations of $5 billion, he said.

To help spread the word, members of the commission received green and white buttons that said “Ask Me About $27.5 Billion.” Guilford County, N.C. Commissioner Kay Cashion, who heads up the commission and presided over the meeting, asked NACo members to be sure to grab a button at the back of the room. “I want you to wear those,” she said. “What an opportunity for us to talk about the arts. That’s the value of the return on investment.”

A panel of artists got into the nitty-gritty, discussing how their work in Davidson County helps local communities, in a talk led by Caroline Vincent, the interim director of Metro Arts Nashville Office of Arts & Culture. Metro Nashville Arts Commission or “Metro Arts” is the office of Arts & Culture for the city of Nashville and Davidson County.

Vincent noted that one of Metro Arts’ programs, called THRIVE, gives grants directly to artists usually in amounts of $4,000 to $10,000. Funding supports artist-led projects that encourage artistic and cultural experiences, community investment and neighborhood transformation.

Writer M. Simone Boyd, Julia Whitney Brown, founder of Old School Farm Pottery and LeXander Bryant, photographer, visual artist and founder of ORGNZD VISUALS were on hand to talk about their art and how it has transformed parts of Davidson County.

Bryant said Metro Arts coached him on displaying his photography in neighborhoods. He wanted to paste it to buildings, after being inspired by a French artist known only as “JR,” who pastes giant photographs in public places in Paris. “It was something different than Instagram,” he said “I wanted something really interactive you could touch and feel.”

“As artists, sometimes we know the direction we want to go, but not the destination,” Boyd said. Through her writing, she said she explores what makes relationships in neighborhoods work. She said Metro Arts helped lend credibility to her efforts and helped her access additional funding. Because of Metro Arts, she was able to work with a library, the YMCA and local college students to help young children in the neighborhood. “You can help us navigate red tape,” she told the audience.

Funding from Metro Arts helped Brown get her Old School Farm Pottery off the ground, she said, turning a hobby into a business. “It’s grown way beyond my expectation,” Brown said. The non-profit now creates employment opportunities for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities by crafting dinnerware.

The meeting ended with a screening of a Harford County, Md. video, “Addicted,” a play written by a Harford County art teacher and featuring Harford County high school students in the roles.

The dramatic video production was one part of a prize-winning package that used the arts as addiction prevention tools.  It won an Achievement Award Best in Category for the Arts, Culture and Historic Preservation.


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