by Max Brantley
The city of Little Rock has received a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help encourage creation of a corridor for the arts on Main Street. The grant will pay for design worked aimed at rehabbing four vacant buildings across Main from the Arkansas Repertory Theatre for use by arts organizations.
In time — and presumably with deal more of as yet unspecified additional financial support — project supporters hope for revitalization of the street with housing, arts groups such as the symphony and ballet and a gallery for artists.
The city news release:
Mayor Mark Stodola announced today that the City of Little Rock will receive an Our Town Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), one of only 51 grants awarded nationwide. The City will receive a $150,000 grant to spur comprehensive revitalization of historic buildings through the development of a “creative corridor” for the visual and performing arts on Main Street.
Our Town is the NEA’s latest investment in creative placemaking, through which partners from both public and private sectors come together to strategically shape the social, physical, and economic character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.
This phase of the Creative Corridor project will focus on the design of a segment of the Corridor. On the south end, and across the street from the Repertory Theater (which is undergoing a $6 million dollar renovation), four buildings will be renovated for mixed use to cluster local performing arts non-profit organizations such as the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Arkansas, and other dance organizations, along with theater education class space and visual artist studios attached to a gallery showcasing museum school artists from the nearby Arkansas Arts Center.
The buildings will also feature affordable living units for artists and others who enjoy living in an artistic environment.
National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman says, “Communities across our country are using smart design and leveraging the arts to enhance quality of life and promote their distinctive identities. In this time of great economic upheaval, Our Town provides communities an opportunity to reignite their economies.”
Mayor Stodola, who spearheaded the grant request, expressed his great pleasure to be selected from 447 statements of interest.
“The NEA Our Town Grant is exactly the stimulus the City needs to bring back Main Street. With the Arkansas Repertory Theatre at the core, bringing other arts organizations to Main Street will give the corridor a cultural excitement and identity that is so vital to the renaissance of our downtown,” Stodola says.
Stephen Luoni, Director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC), is creating the Urban Design Plan and managing the project with the input of all of the partners. “We are excited for the opportunity to work with the City of Little Rock, Marlon Blackwell Architect, and the representative cultural
arts groups on this important project for downtown,” Luoni says. “The project has the potential to be a national model for consolidating cultural arts functions—artist housing, production spaces, galleries and performance spaces—as a catalyst for sustained urban development in downtown. We are proud that the NEA recognizes this potential and has directed resources from its signature grant program for this project.
“We’ve been working to bring life back to Main Street,” says Sharon Priest, Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership. “That block in particular is completely filled with empty buildings, and we are excited about this new effort for its revitalization.”
The areas immediately surrounding it have been redeveloped. Contiguous to Main Street running east and west, is the River Market District. Once a forgotten district full of abandoned waterfront warehouses, the River Market area is now home to restaurants, shops, nightlife and a farmer’s market. By contrast, Main Street is at the beginning of redevelopment with lots of property stock available for the “Creative Corridor,” with development actually beginning to occur, with the renovation of The Rep. The project kicked-off with a three-day charrette with 120 attendees conducted by the Mayors Institute on City Design in late 2009. The Environmental Protection Agency has also provided environmental streetscape designs pursuant to a grant the City received for “The Greening of America’s Capitals.”
The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector.