Louis Armstrong had enormous musical gifts, and he does one of my favorite renditions of Pennies From Heaven. Every budget season, I break out the old CD and play Pennies from Heaven looking for a little financial inspiration from the lyrics “when it rains, it rains, pennies from heaven.” Part of my job is to look for those puddles full of pennies but I also know that you can’t move forward with your eyes always peeled to the ground, so I try to spend an equal amount of time looking up in the sky to see where those penny clouds tend to form — and I try to do all I can to seed those clouds. One of the most productive cloud formations comes from the arts and culture jet stream. I’ve written many times about cultivating the creative class, but here’s an interesting article from Middlebury Vermont that talks about how that city is organizing it’s economic strategy around waterfront development and the arts (sound familiar?).
Middlebury’s creative drive gathers momentum
July 2, 2007
By Lisa D. Connell Herald Staff
MIDDLEBURY — Renewable energy, waterway development and the arts groups that give Middlebury its cultural reputation are several avenues residents and state officials will pursue to help develop the town’s economy.
These three choices are facets of the still evolving focus of the state’s Creative Communities Program. The meetings are part of a statewide discussion sponsored by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. The meetings were held at the Isley Public Library in Middlebury.
The program began May 15 with a second seminar on June 5.
Defining what a creative community and, in turn, what a creative economy is, formed the first hurdle to overcome.
“If you have a vibrant community, it feels better to live, work and play here,” said Liza Sacheli, marketing director of Middlebury College’s Center for the Arts, at the June 27 meeting. “It’s a feeling that also has a dollar sign attached to it.”
Residents in a county aiming to grow economically may first need to take a step back and review the local assets. To take a turn on a familiar adage, familiarity can breed complacency. People who have lived in one community or area for a long time may not notice the attributes their respective municipality has to offer.
Compiling a list of social service, cultural and business resource networks and contact information for people with special skills and professional expertise is one step that many communities may already have accomplished.
Certainly, there is more work to be done, but attendance at the three meetings indicates the area’s entrepreneurial spirit will likely support the ideas. At least 60 Middlebury area residents, plus state officials, filled a meeting room at the library for each of the three meetings.
According to the Web site,www.vtrural.org, Vermont communities can apply to participate in the Creative Communities forum. Those municipalities earlier accepted also include: Grand Isle County, Hardwick, Manchester, Plainfield, Randolph, Richmond, Rockingham/Bellows Falls, Rutland, St. Albans City, St. Johnsbury and Windsor.
Once accepted, residents from the towns and cities do more than create a wish list. State officials, particularly Helen Labun Jordan, the director of the creative communities program, guide participants through the steps that will lead to results.
It’s a bit of trickle-down theory. Attendance at a cultural event can lead to people spending money at local eateries or service stations or municipal parking garages, for example.
Building an economic base typically means an existing company adding new jobs or a new business setting up shop in Middlebury, for example. Sacheli offered one definition of a creative economy to a man in the creative association breakout group last week. Look at the creative economy as an economic multiplier, she explained to a group of 24 people in one section of the library.
Recycle local money that’s already in a community and find new ways to bring more money in, Sacheli said.
It’s not a simple process, especially when defining or branding a city or town, said Patricia Kreitzer, chairwoman of the arts committee for the Creative Economy Initiative in Rutland. Kreitzer said Rutland’s efforts to follow a creative economy model began at least two years ago. It takes time and concerted effort to move the three proposed development paths of energy, water and arts to an economic entity that produces income, she said.
What’s next: Each of the three groups will have follow-up meetings. Additionally, a fourth group evolved from Thursday night’s meeting, an incubator group, aimed at building further business projects. Nancy Malcolm, chairwoman of Middlebury’s creative economy planning group, is the local contact for this project.
Ted Brady, who works for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is the facilitator of the waterway group. This group will focus on Otter Creek as an economic and natural resource. Two challenging ideas are building a boardwalk for pedestrians to stroll near the creek or river and eyeing financial solutions to develop and market the waterway.
“Public-private partnerships aren’t the easiest thing to put together,” Brady said.
Middlebury resident Steve Maier will guide countywide residents interested in making more use of renewable energy. Maier told all those present, in a wrap-up of the 2-1/2-hour program, that the energy group is at a good starting point, given the college’s ecological plan. Earlier, Middlebury College pledged to become carbon-neutral before 2020.