The National Association of Counties (NACo) and Americans for the Arts (AFTA) proudly announce the winners of the 2022 Creative Counties Placemaking Challenge, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. NACo and AFTA invited small- and medium-sized counties to assemble a team of county leaders, local artists and community stakeholders to imagine how art can be used to solve local challenges.
From Potter County, Pa.’s “Highway to the Stars” through Cherry Springs State Park to the storied and breathtaking beaches of Hawai’i County, Hawai’i’s Puna district, the winners represent the geographic and social diversity of the nation as a whole. The teams will seek to address a wide array of challenges confronting their local communities, from drug addiction to climate resilience.
Over the next 10 months, AFTA experts will provide virtual training and mentoring of these teams as they explore the arts as an applied strategy for meeting policy objectives. On July 25, the counties will participate in an in-person convening in Adams County, Colo., in conjunction with NACo’s 2022 Annual Conference. The completion of the program is slated for January 21, 2023. Check out each of the winning Creative Counties Placemaking Challenge teams:
Van Buren County, Mich.
Located in Southwest Michigan along Lake Michigan, Van Buren County boasts 14 miles of Great Lake shoreline, a large food processing industry, two major interstate highways and two major rail lines. Through its South Haven Center for the Arts, Van Buren County has installed decorated bicycle racks, numerous sculptures in downtown South Haven and an ongoing mural project with South Haven High School.
Despite its natural and manmade beauty, Van Buren County is not without problems. With a poverty rate of 13 percent, Van Buren County will soon experience major economic displacement with the planned closure of the Palisades Power Plant in May 2022. Additionally, various public and private partners are currently working to support artist Sarah Rydecki’s project Create and Connect to respond to the trauma of two recent public shootings in the community.
Through the Creative Counties Placemaking Challenge, Van Buren County is bringing together stakeholders from county government, Van Buren Mental Health, and the South Haven Center for the Arts to identify ways to increase the mental and physical well-being of county residents by incorporating arts into public spaces.
Potter County, Pa.
A small county with a long history of commitment to the arts, Potter County, Pa. (population 16,400) borders New York State in north central Pennsylvania. Potter County entered the Creative Counties Placemaking Challenge to advance the county’s strategic goals from the Potter County Comprehensive Plan (PCCP) 2020-29. Among the PCCP objectives that the county hopes to address through the Placemaking Challenge are reversing population loss by stemming the outmigration of young adults and building appealing communities that preserve local identify while attracting tourists and young families seeking to relocate amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Potter County has struggled with years of declining population, and its median age is 48 years compared to the state’s overall median age of 40. Among the county’s arts-related goals are a revitalization of the now-defunct Potter County Arts Council through involvement of Potter County schools administrators, teachers and students in conjunction with local government, civic organizations and businesses.
Major partners in this project include Potter County Commissioner Paul W. Heimel, Austin Area School District Music Director Timothy Walck and Mr. Arthur E. Metzger, a retired teacher and former chair of the Potter County Arts Council.
Hawai’i County, Hawai’i
Bearing the namesake of the state in which it lies, Hawai’i County, Hawai’i’s natural beauty often masks the suffering its residents have borne in recent years. Prior to the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2018 Kilauea volcanic eruption and 2019 Category 5 Hurricane Lane cost the county $974.9 million.
Hawai’i County seeks to engage the communities most affected by the natural disasters through creative placemaking. For example, the historic fishing village of Pohoiki lost its access to fishing and its main road as a result of the 2018 eruption. As the county works to restore the road, Hawai’i County will engage Pohoiki’s community in creative placemaking to restore trust between residents and local government while creating works of art that will reflect the island’s history and instill respect for its people and resources among visiting tourists.
La Crosse County, Wis.
Located in Western Wisconsin along the Mississippi River, La Crosse County, Wis. is home to a unique landscape of bluffs and valleys called “Coulees.” La Crosse County’s natural beauty has come under severe threat in recent years due to the devastating impacts of climate change. High intensity rains are becoming more frequent and rising water levels have threatened municipal levy systems.
La Crosse County leaders joined the Creative Placemaking Challenge to bring together local leaders in government, planning and art to create a series of interconnected murals and placemaking works that raise awareness of the impacts of climate change in the region. These works of art will be located along the river and La Crosse’s scenic bluffs and valleys and will include a recorded oral storytelling component.
Perry County, Ohio
Once one of the nation’s largest coal-producing communities, the Village of Somerset within Perry County, Ohio is home to 1,480 residents. Recently designated a part of the Columbus, Ohio metropolitan area, Perry County now serves as a major commuter community for the larger city. Somerset is home to an artists’ cooperative that engages in youth programming, including partnering with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra to present a concert with the local high school band.
Through the Creative Counties Placemaking Challenge, Somerset and Perry County plan to partner with the Ohio Arts Council, Somerset Builder’s Club and Perry County Job & Family Services to create projects that will attract new residents and young people to the community.
Greenbrier County, W.Va.
Home to the famed Greenbrier Resort (the county’s largest employer), Greenbrier County, W.Va. and its county seat Lewisburg have been designated as one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America,” “100 Best Small Art Towns in America” and “1000 Places to See in the USA and Canada Before you Die.” Unfortunately, Greenbrier County has struggled for decades with the opioid epidemic that has gripped the Appalachian region and the nation.
In 2019, 28 percent of Greenbrier County residents held prescriptions for a controlled substance and 10 percent of residents received an average daily dose of 90 morphine milligram equivalents or more, an indicator of those who may be at higher risk of overdose.
Representatives from county government, the local arts community, the health department and the non-profit health care community will utilize Creative County Placemaking Sessions to identify ways to utilize the arts to battle addiction and promote healing.