Arts coordinator evaluates 'creative' needs of Paducah


Nelvin Howell, the city of Paducah's arts and culture coordinator, feels he's firmly in the swing of things after six months on the job.

Much of Howell's time since December has been spent learning the history of Paducah and talking with local creatives to learn exactly what the people he'll be serving feel they need.

"Usually, for me, the best way of learning the complexities that exist in spaces is going out and talking to people," Howell said. "During that time, everyone stated, to some capacity, a need for professional development.

"For artists that have been here for a long time, it's the need for an update to current practices or how to do things online. Folks that have just graduated from Paducah School of Art & Design have other barriers, like student loan debt."

His research facilitated the creation of a database of more than 200 artists that the city will be able to use for future plans and events.

"When Nelvin joined us I told him that art needs to be interjected in everything we do. That's a base identity of Paducah and yet sometimes we silo it," said Tammara Tracy, Howell's supervisor and director of the city's planning department.

"We can tap into this database when we're doing various projects and find creative approaches and solutions to the problems that we have."

Howell's discussions directly led to the planning of May's Creative Impact Symposium, a professional development event in collaboration with the Kentucky Arts Council for local creatives. More than 50 people attended the workshops, which focused on artist empowerment and entrepreneurship.

"Everyone that participated wants it to happen again, and a lot of people came away with new skill sets," Howell said. "Events like that are really great, because it demonstrates that there is a need in the community and an opportunity for growth."

In addition to research and event planning, Howell also contributed to the marketing and branding of the spring QuiltWeek and the planning and installation of the "Defining Paducah" art exhibit downtown in February.

The city announced last week that Howell would be joining its new Customer Experience Department, a program geared toward streamlining citizens' experiences with governmental processes. Howell's role, Tracy said, is shifting but he will continue to carry out arts and culture-related projects.

Future symposiums, which Howell hopes the city can secure a grant to fund, would hone in on things like intellectual property laws, building business models, monetization of an artist's craft and improving artists' web presence.

Howell hopes to collaborate with the Kentucky Arts Council again in the fall to host a program on cultural preservation. He also hopes to work on a program that will incorporate local schools to educate children about the art of the Harlem Renaissance, learning its history and doing projects oriented around the era's style.

One of Howell's big picture goals moving forward, he explained, is the expansion of the definition of "creative" so that people can more fully appreciate the talents on display around the city.

"When we talk about creative, we don't just mean someone who's a visual artist, we're talking about storytellers, musicians and brewers, too. That's a craft, that's a very creative mindset to have," he said.

"I've been working on trying to change our definition of art and creativity, because the national (perception) has opened it up to being a much broader concept."

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