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City Asks For More Input On The Arts

by Aaron Layman

Representatives  from the Roanoke Arts Commission and Planning Commission presented highlights from their Arts and Culture Plan for Roanoke to the public at the Roanoke Civic Center’s Special Events Center on Tuesday, asking for one more round of input before the plan moves on to the Roanoke City Planning Commission and City Council. A crowd ranging from gallery owners to Roanoke Symphony Orchestra conductor David Wiley came to give their input on arts priorities in the Roanoke Valley.

The plan started taking shape in May 2010 when the Planning Commission realized that strategies for arts and culture development were  not well-defined in the city’s comprehensive plan.  After what Roanoke Arts Commission (RAC) chairman Nathan Harper called  a “very local, grassroots effort” of information gathering from stakeholders, artists and the general public through surveys, focus groups and meetings, the commission and city staffers constructed a draft for review.

Planning, Building and Development Director Tom Carr gave a quick overview of the plan’s structure on Tuesday. After reviewing some of the city’s arts and cultural accomplishments, Carr introduced the plan’s three building blocks: developing the arts as part of Roanoke’s economic brand, promoting the arts as an essential component  of city neighborhoods and promoting education   and awareness of the arts. Each individual building block contains a list of possible strategic initiatives,  such as establishing advisory groups of artists to help develop neighborhood plans.

The unifying theme of synergy and collaboration runs throughout the plan.  In a time of limited economic resources it  promotes strategies of collaboration  in marketing and  suggests that building partnerships among sectors are a better approach than additional city funding. Sections on implementation and potential partners for collaboration complete the plan

RAC member Doug Jackson  encouraged audience members to select what strategic initiatives were most important to them, as laid out on large charts in the Special Events Center. Each individual was given two dot stickers to mark as the most important to them and were also told to write additional suggestions as needed on Post-Its.

Most of the crowd first flocked to the “Vibrant Region- Healthy Economy” section. Strategies such as identifying local government incentives and the structuring of city grants ended up blanketed by stickers. Written suggestions included a unifying festival similar to Charleston, SC’s Spoleto Festival (the Roanoke Arts Festival failed after three year), along with arts organizations consolidation  for more streamlined grant writing.

The most highlighted “People-Education-Lifelong Learning” strategy  suggested  convening regular meetings with arts and cultural organizations to create developmental partnerships and facilitate learning opportunities. The audience marked a possible art school downtown as another priority, as was working with existing institutions  like Virginia Western Community College.

While there were calls for summer art camps, high school/college internships and early art instruction programs,  representatives from  Mill Mountain Theatre and the Taubman Museum of Art asserted via written comments that such programs were already in place  within their organizations.

Former Roanoke City Councilman and RAC member  Rupert Cutler pointed out that results in the “Livable Communities – Engaged Neighborhoods” section indicated a push towards expanding art in public places. He noted the availability of venues for murals downtown and mused that putting more public art on the greenway “merged [my ] two favorite interests.” A barrage of stickers marked the section  that favored establishing a neighborhood grant category to support festivals and arts events.

Many of those in attendance suggested potential partnerships;  the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge listed several economic development action items. The Greenway Commission, Kiwanis Club and the Rotary Club were all suggested  as possible allies for placing more public art in Roanoke’s neighborhoods.

Cutler finished by saying that he hoped that those present felt “a sense of ownership in this process.” In addition to the goal of promoting collaboration between artists and arts organizations, Cutler  said the Arts and Culture Plan was intended to make Roanoke  recognized for its lively arts much as it is for greenways and recreation initiatives.

He encouraged those present to attend the final hearings for the plan at the Roanoke City  Planning Commission public meeting on June 16th (1:30 p.m.) and the City Council  session (July 18th, 7:00 p.m.). “I’d like to see all advocates ‘rock the house’ on July 18,” said Cutler.

To view a draft of the plan, visit


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