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.