Monthly Archives: February 2010

SILK – a Creative Community Moves Toward Development Despite Recession

When leadership and teamwork are combined with vision and expertise, even a down economy can’t stand in the way of progress. We’re thrilled to pass along word that the redevelopment of the huge Simon Silk Mill complex in Easton, PA has passed the next great milestone, with the completion of the architectural and site plans. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2011. We were the arts and cultural planners called in at the start of the process, and it is a true joy to see a venture of this scale continue. Easton’s visionary Mayor, Sal Panto, Jr. deserves tremendous credit for strongly backing the concept of the mill property as a center for the arts and culture that will, in turn, continue to position downtown Easton itself as a cultural hub. Also hugely deserving of credit is Lafayette College, which has been a solid partner with the City in supporting the creation of what has now been branded as SILK, A Creative Community.

A number of this blog’s readers participated in discussions about SILK as a potential home for their studios and creative work. I think you’ll be as thrilled as we are with the progress that has been made.

For more information, see release

America’s Treasures Need You, Now!

Interest in America’s historic buildings, places, streets and landmarks has dwindled for years. Many say that after the Bicentennial high point of national pride in Revolutionary War-period America, it has been one long downhill for American history.

Nothing could more unfortunately symbolize our nation’s declining value for America’s heritage and historic sites than the President’s proposed Federal Budget for 2011. As a part of the President’s cost savings for the domestic budget, he has proposed completely eliminating funding for Save America’s Treasures and its related educational and outreach program, Preserve America. He stated in so doing that the programs “weren’t working well.” The White House officially said that the programs lack performance metrics so their outcomes are not clear.

The last time America’s history and historic preservation was so threatened at the Federal level was in the early 1980s.

Why should you care?

How about the American Flag, the one tattered and torn that flew through the night and inspired our National Anthem? It was saved by Save America’s Treasures.

How about Ellis Island? Saved, after long dismal years of neglect, by Save America’s Treasures.

How about Valley Forge? The lessons in courage in the founding of America. Saved, by Save America’s Treasures.

How about Cannery Row of John Steinbeck’s vivid telling? Saved, by Save America’s Treasures.

How about those Main Street projects that have transformed small town America? Saved, by Save America’s Treasures.

How about the list of the most threatened sites in America?

The unique and nearly lost ironwork of Galveston Island. Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece Unity Temple, falling apart from decay and lack of funding. They’re just a few of the most threatened of 2009. A few more years’ decay and they will truly be history. Knocked out of a chance for Federal funding to spur a match, their chances for survival are vastly diminished, and will no doubt cost a great deal more to restore in future decades.

As for the idea that Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America are not “working well?” Every Save America’s Treasures project requires a FULL match in non-Federal dollars. The Preserve America communities that get a nod of recognition usually go on to build a vibrant new economic base through their realized historic revivals. By any measure, it would be beyond comprehension to say that these don’t work well.

Did the two programs actually do enough to count, some might ask? To date, they have been directly responsible for saving 1200 of America’s treasures in all 50 states.

Do these programs hurt America’s tax payers? Never have. They were to be funded in perpetuity by a percent of the revenues of offshore oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf. But this is to be robbed by the proposed White House budget bill, to be used for other purposes other than the intended and federally mandated “preservation of ecosystems, buildings, collections and objects” that have national significance.

The proposed cuts will also dramatically impact our country’s National Heritage Area funding: the President has proposed a 50% cut. What are National Heritage Areas? A program of the National Park Service, National Heritage Areas are those that tell the vital stories of America, places like Buffalo’s Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor, or the Yuma Crossing of the Colorado River, a gathering place for over 500 years, (and now, an important wetlands restoration project. The Hudson River Heritage Corridor, the historic whaling port of New Bedford, and the Northern Rio Grande were all vitally helped toward restoration and preservation through the NHA funds.

America has long been described a country that doesn’t value its art. Now, it appears we have come one step closer to being a country that also doesn’t value our history and the heritage of our land.

Can we afford to let this happen?

Work for Free?

I was pretty soundly criticized earlier this week for questioning the NEA call for artists to develop a logo on spec. I’ve circled back to the issue in reflection, and I still have a rough time with this.

True, the winner receives $25,000, but aren’t thousands of artists are being encouraged to design for free at the request of the Federal government? To my way of thinking, this sends all the wrong signals to the arts field and the rest of the country – where the opinion that artists should work for free is still far, far too widely held. Will the government next ask composers to compose symphonies in honor of ArtWorks for free? Will playwrights be asked to submit one act plays written to the ArtWork theme on spec? Will architects be asked to respond to the ArtWorks theme with concept designs on spec?

Let’s be honest. There is plenty of spec work done throughout the arts field, and almost every artist sees it as a necessary evil.

Yet, the NEA is supposed to set quality standards for policy, which is then typically widely followed by state and local level policy. The private sector then listens, and many again mirror their policies accordingly.

These issues have concerned me in reading all the ArtWorks hype, so I appreciated seeing the very measured and thoughtful response to the NEA published today by the AIGA, the professional association for design. Please read it and think this issue through. As AIGA states, this happened before, the policy blunder was corrected, and the prior spec competition was pulled. There is time to pull this, again, before thousands of artists commit themselves to spec work for the Federal government, and the very concept becomes policy. At the very least, this is worthy of good dialogue concerning professional standards.