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Guest Commentary: Arts District would bring a new beginning to W-B arts community

i Feb 11th 2016

By Howard Grossman, for the Wilkes-Barre Citizen’s Voice

There is a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity that is be­ing or­ches­trated across Wilkes-Barre, and it rep­re­sents a great step for­ward to­ward down­town re­vi­tal­iza­tion. It is the po­ten­tial for­ma­tion of an arts dis­trict.

Con­sider the lo­ca­tion of the Wy­oming Val­ley Art League at 130 S. Franklin St., the set­ting of the Mar­quis Art and Frame store on South Main Street, the move of the Sor­doni Gallery to South Main Street, the po­ten­tial for other build­ings nearby to have an arts fla­vor to their fu­ture, and the prox­im­ity of the F.M. Kirby Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, the role in the arts that the Oster­hout Li­brary plays, the growth of Third Fri­day as a mo­men­tum changer for the en­ter­tain­ment of cit­i­zens who visit down­town, and the var­i­ous venues that are im­por­tant to the arts and econ­omy of Wilkes-Barre, and it all adds up to a pos­i­tive view of what is likely to be a new Wilkes-Barre in com­ing years.

An Arts District has many vari­a­tions in ac­cor­dance with what these des­ig­na­tions have meant in var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties across the United States. Con­sider the other arts or­ga­ni­za­tions that are im­por­tant to this com­mu­nity and val­ley. They in­clude, among oth­ers, the North­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia Philhar­monic, Bal­let North­east, Lit­tle Theatre and a host of other arts re­lated groups that dot the land­scape of this area.

There are ac­tu­ally too many to be able to name them all. The Arts District would be a new be­gin­ning for the arts com­mu­nity of Wilkes-Barre and en­vi­rons and cre­ate a tremen­dous fo­cus on the de­vel­op­ment of the arts as a frame­work for the re­birth of the com­mu­nity.

The Irem Tem­ple is an­other venue that has pos­si­ble po­ten­tial for the growth of the arts and re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties if suf­fi­cient fund­ing can be found to re­store the grandeur that this fa­cil­ity pro­vided for many years. Among the or­ga­ni­za­tions that could fo­cus at­ten­tion on this venue is the Greater Wilkes-Barre Cham­ber of Busi­ness and In­dus­try and the Di­a­mond City Part­ner­ship along with the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business As­so­ci­a­tion. A gath­er­ing of lead­ers to think and act upon the fu­ture of both an Arts District and the Irem Tem­ple would be a ma­jor step for­ward for the com­ing to­gether of or­ga­ni­za­tions, all look­ing to­ward the same goal to uti­lize the arts in a fash­ion and di­rec­tion not usu­ally found in North­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia.

There are some ex­cep­tions to this such as the city of Pittston, which has made a star­tling come­back with lead­er­ship from the elected com­mu­nity, to­gether with the role of non­prof­its and the pri­vate sec­tor, look­ing to­ward the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Se­cond Fri­day in that com­mu­nity and new busi­nesses and de­vel­op­ments and a streetscape pro­gram that has led to other events such as a se­ries of mu­rals in the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict.

Think in a large way about what an arts dis­trict can do for the ben­e­fit of the com­mu­nity, the gen­eral pub­lic, and the var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions in and around Wilkes-Barre. It can at­tract more artists to con­sider rent­ing a stu­dio in down­town. It can be an at­trac­tion unto it­self as a place for en­ter­tain­ment. It can turn around a whole down­town area to­ward progress and pres­tige.

It can be­come an im­age builder for Wilkes-Barre. Th­ese are just a few of the ben­e­fits that an arts dis­trict can bring to this com­mu­nity. Join with the Wy­oming Val­ley Art League and build a sys­tem that would be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a bet­ter to­mor­row for this and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions who call North­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia their home.

Larry New­man, Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Di­a­mond City Part­ner­ship wrote a four-page pa­per at my re­quest about arts dis­tricts. Some of his think­ing in­cludes the fol­low­ing:

“Down­town Wilkes-Barre will be a re­gional cen­ter of the arts, cul­ture, din­ing and en­ter­tain­ment.

To­day, re­tain­ing and at­tract­ing tal­ent re­quires not just qual­ity schools and safe, af­ford­able neigh­bor­hoods; it also means a full ar­ray of recre­ational, en­ter­tain­ment, and cul­tural op­tions … when we sup­port the arts, we not only en­hance our qual­ity of life, but we also in­vest in down­town Wilkes-Barre’s eco­nomic well­be­ing be­cause con­sumers of down­town’s arts of­fer­ings are spend­ing more of their time and more of their dis­cre­tionary in­come in our city cen­ter.

Directly and in­di­rectly, the arts are good for busi­ness.

Re­cently something very in­ter­est­ing has oc­curred: sev­eral dif­fer­ent art venues, in­clud­ing the Wy­oming Val­ley Art League’s Cir­cle Cen­ter for the Arts, Mar­quis Art and Frame’s Se­cond Floor Gal­ley, and now Wilkes Univer­sity’s Sor­doni Art Gallery, have ei­ther lo­cated in the sec­ond block of South Main Street or have an­nounced plans to do so within the next year. …

What do we mean when we talk about an “arts dis­trict?” The na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion Amer­i­cans for the Arts de­fines it as “a well rec­og­nized, la­beled, mixed area of a set­tle­ment in which a high con­cen­tra­tion of cul­tural fa­cil­i­ties serves as the an­chor of at­trac­tion.”

Fos­ter­ing the emer­gence of the nascent “Arts District” in down­town Wilkes-Barre will si­mul­ta­ne­ously help us to meet some of our other down­town goals, such as po­si­tion­ing Down­town as the re­gion’s “walk-to-ev­ery­thing” neigh­bor­hood of choice, its col­lege neigh­bor­hood; its “in­no­va­tion dis­trict,” and as a safe, clean, and at­trac­tive place to live, work, shop, and visit.”

Howard J. Gross­man is the past pres­i­dent of Wy­oming Val­ley Art League.