The first building purchased by AS220, a nonprofit community arts center located in Providence, R.I., was a mess. In "AS220 at 25," published by the Providence Phoenix, one artist remembers a toilet in the bowels of the basement, literally brimming with sewage. No one would touch it, except Bert Crenca, AS220's lead founder. He went in with a sledgehammer.
It wasn't the first time these artists had gotten their hands dirty. For a long time, they couldn't count on electricity and plumbing in the buildings they inhabited. And buying this new Empire Street building had been quite an exercise in sweat equity: They'd raised more than a million dollars through community and volunteer help, grants, and financing from public and private sectors.
That's the kind of devotion that made AS220, now approaching 30 years old, such a success story. Not only for itself, but for the city it helped revitalize. Now both are models for other places looking to use the arts as an economic driver.
Often called "creative placemaking," it's a firm concept with proven rewards. But how to actually do it is less well-defined. Colorado Springs' push for concentrated culture lies in a particularly nebulous stage, which we profile in our cover story starting here.
To suggest ways of nurturing it, Crenca, along with the director of the city of Providence's arts and culture department, will visit the Springs at the end of the month. Hopefully we won't need the sledgehammer approach.