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Regional initiative promotes role of arts in economic development

By MASON BLANFORD mblanford@paducahsun.com

The Delta Regional Authority recently announced its Creative Placemaking Initiative, a federally funded program to promote arts and culture-based economic development in the Mississippi Delta region.

The DRA is contributing nearly $460,000 for the initiative, which will be divvied up into grants up to $30,000. Grant recipients also will receive up to 50 hours of coaching and technical assistance for community projects.

Those wanting to learn about how to submit a grant proposal should attend one of the authority's Creative Placemaking Regional Workshops taking place from late June to mid-July in various locations.

The only workshop in Kentucky will be held at the Paducah Chamber of Commerce, 300 S. Fifth St., from 8:30 a.m to 5:30 p.m. June 26 and 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. June 27. Other workshops will be held in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

In addition to receiving information about how to apply for a grant, workshop participants, including local elected officials, local development districts, economic development staff and leadership, and other non-arts sector decision-makers, can learn about the creative placemaking approach.

DRA Federal Co-Chairman Christopher Masingill said while workshops will address how to apply for funding, local leaders and economic decision-makers also will discuss community goals fostering an arts-oriented economy.

Topics will include job creation, expanded artists' entrepreneurship, revitalized infrastructure and improved general quality of life.

Paducah has already displayed a "vibrant energy" for such goals, he added, praising the restored Coke Plant as "creative placemaking at its best."

"It created jobs and economic opportunities while investing back into the community," Masingill said.

"The energy in Paducah is contagious."

In November 2016, the city of Paducah received a $400,000 Community Infrastructure grant from the DRA to aid in floodwall rehabilitation.

Masingill said such projects -- though not directly arts-based -- support the concept of creative placemaking, which uses arts and culture to achieve a broader agenda of community growth.

"That goes into infrastructure, a key development project," he said. "These things are all tied together. Integrating the creative placemaking idea into the local economy can have significant (impact) on small business development and entrepreneurship. It creates a value of place and an energy for people, because they're doing it through culture."

In 2014 the arts and cultural sectors accounted for $729 billion -- 4.2 percent -- of the U.S. economy, ahead of other sectors such as construction ($619 billion) and utilities ($270 billion), according to the DRA website.

Arts and culture grew in its contribution to the nation's gross domestic product by 35 percent from 1998-2014.

Paducah city officials said while creative placemaking is "nothing new" for our area, the workshop will be instrumental in brainstorming ideas for economic development.

Downtown Development Specialist Melinda Winchester said much has already been done to expand artist entrepreneurship. Local businesses frequently collaborate to display local art for sale, enriching the cultural atmosphere, she explained.

The recently announced multi-million-dollar Market House Theatre expansion was mentioned as a key example of creative placemaking.

City Planner Sheryl Chino said resources are continually being explored both federally and locally for such projects.

"An arts-based economy is already here," Chino said. "We want to see what their program entails, then we'll brainstorm on how we can utilize that resource."

Adding that creative placemaking wasn't in the common vernacular a few years ago, Chino said the idea has always been there, "just not consciously."

"It's been realized that the arts is an economic tool," she said. "It can be used to create jobs â ¦ and a unique sense of place that offers connectivity."

To register for the June 26-27 workshop in Paducah, visit dra.gov.

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