Linking the Arts and Sustainability: Creative Communities

January 16, 2013

Why do some communities seem to have the advantage in terms of creative energy?   Do you think it’s possible to plan and transform a town to be a creative community?  Well, there is an emerging body of knowledge, and a host of case studies that demonstrate tangible outcomes from connecting with the arts and creativity to build stronger and economically vibrant communities.

The arts bridge all of the components of sustainability: economy, environment and society.  We think there is creative potential inherent in every community.  That is why Sustainable Jersey’s Arts and Culture Task Force is developing two new actions to help communities be more creative.  The first step is to form a Creative Team that will be the catalyst for development in your community by linking arts and culture directly to sustainability.  Read our March 2012 blog for more information on Creative Teams.

WAG MuralImage: Woodbridge mural made with recycled tile and glass by Woodbridge Artisan Guild members in November 2012.

Five Benefits of a Creative Community

Municipalities have a lot to gain from connecting with the arts:

  1. Improved local business vitality, community spirit and public safety
  2. Rejuvenated neighborhoods and job growth, within and beyond the arts and culture sector, contributing to overall economic development
  3. New reasons for others to visit, invest or live in the town
  4. Pride and commitment to place, including the physical environment and nature
  5. Diverse people are brought together to celebrate, create, inspire and be inspired, improving quality of life and community well-being

Creative Teams in New Jersey

Across New Jersey there are existing and emerging examples of Creative Teams. These towns are the trail blazers having begun the process outside of the Sustainable Jersey guidance that is being developed.  We highlight Morristown and Woodbridge because these towns contain the key elements of vision and collaboration that are at the core of this initiative.

Creative Morristown

What happens when you mix a Municipal Planner, the Office of Sustainability and the Executive Director of the Arts Council? In Morristown, it turned out to be a good recipe for a Creative Community.

In March 2012, the staff of the Arts Council of the Morris Area, the Town of Morristown’s Office of Sustainability, and a city planner from the Jonathan Rose Companies established Creative Morristown (an initiative of Creative New Jersey) in order to foster creativity, innovation and sustainability through community engagement and cross-sector collaboration.

Creative Morristown’s leadership began its work by creating a Creative Team that is a culturally diverse team of stakeholders from a wide range of sectors including education, the arts, local business, social services, city government, philanthropy, media and healthcare.

This Creative Team, in cooperation with Creative New Jersey, produced a community-wide Call To Collaboration, a two-day convening where they posed the question:  “How Can Our Diverse Community Engage Creativity and Innovation to Ensure a Thriving, Sustainable Morristown?” Eighty participants attended the ground-breaking forum.

Image: Creative Morristown participants

Results and Projects from Creative Morristown

The resulting discussion from the Call to Collaboration convening inspired not only a wealth of ideas but also concrete steps toward the implementation of those ideas.

Tom Werder, the Executive Director of the Arts Council of the Morris Area, said “I’m excited about the unexpected new partnerships and collaborations that have formed through Creative Morristown.  Phil Abramson (the Town Planner), Paul Miller (Office of Sustainability) and I were asked to report to the Town Council about Creative Morristown.”  The town planners recently submitted an application to the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town Grant Program for a Creative Placemaking project. The grant proposes a process to transform Speedway Avenue, which has a long and rich history of cultural and ethnic diversity.  The Speedwell Artworks grant, if funded, will involve artists, engage the community and retailers to come together and determine what will work best for the area.  A Request for Proposals will then be released to solicit artists and creative entities to submit proposals based on the identified needs and goals.

Below are a few of the interesting things have happened since the initial convening:

  • The ballroom at the Hyatt Morristown was the home of Morristown High School’s beautiful Sol LeWitt Project.  An art installation of a replica of a Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing was a project of the Freshman Experience Program at the high school, run by English teacher (and Creative Morristown participant) John Madden.  The LeWitt project was particularly relevant to Creative Morristown because of the value placed on process. There was a great deal of excitement about the project and there were numerous conversations about how to get more people to view the work.
  • The Arts Council of the Morris Area coordinated the temporary display of all ten of the Sol LeWitt Project’s 4’X8’ panels at the Gallery at 14 Maple.
  • Morristown plans to incorporate the arts into the Master Plan process.  An open house for this event kicks off next week: Morristown Open House.
  • As mentioned above, an innovative grant was created and submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town Grant Program for a Creative Placemaking project.

Woodbridge Township

Woodbridge Township, a Sustainable Jersey silver-certified town, also pursues a deliberate course to incorporate the arts and culture in order to improve the overall community.

Based on direction from Mayor John E. McCormac, a group of about twenty town leaders from creative fields, representatives of Greenable Woodbridge and local government representatives meet bi-monthly to steer the efforts for growing a creative Woodbridge. Larry McCullough, the Woodbridge Township Grants Officer, is on the Sustainable Jersey Arts and Culture Taskforce that is creating the new Sustainable Jersey actions.

Results and Progress for Woodbridge Township

  • Eight Woodbridge Township middle and high school teachers were awarded Green Arts Grants for designing classroom projects that help promote the municipality’s commitment to clean energy and sustainable living. The $250 grants are part of a larger community-wide Sustainability awareness project coordinated by the Cultural Arts Commission of Woodbridge Township and Friends of Greenable Woodbridge, Inc. Funding for the grants comes from a grant awarded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Each student-made project will employ the arts to express the concept of sustainability. Topic areas include environmental science, computers, aquaculture, math, solar technology and world history.
  • Sponsored by the Township’s Greenable Woodbridge Green Team, the EcoRhythm Music Adventure program will begin in January.  It combines education and entertainment specially geared for pre-schools. Accredited music educators from the  Professional Music Academy of Woodbridge will bring instruments made from recycled materials to a school. They will show students how to play the instruments, discuss how the instruments were made, show how to make an EcoDrum or EcoFlute, talk about the importance of recycling and respect for the environment and engage students in collaborative performing.
  • A student-made video series is shown at the local schools highlighting sustainable activities by students and their families: “Show Us Your Green, Woodbridge”
  • Night of Environmental Poetry at the Barron Arts Center by the Poets Wednesday group
  • Bike Rack Design Contest
  • Student Recycled Arts Object Contest
  • Outdoor Nature Sculpture Workshop
  • Street Mural-Making with Environmental Themes by Woodbridge Artisan Guild (see first photo above)

The Sustainable Jersey new guidance actions for arts and culture are under development and should be available to municipalities in 2013.

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Images courtesy Sustainable Jersey

Sustainable Jersey staff and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog