The municipal initiative “Year of the Artist” with citizen participation launches online meetings on Tuesday | Arts & Theater

ANNE SAMPSON Special for the Roanoke Times

Roanoke has enjoyed a vibrant arts community for decades. As this community adjusts to a health crisis and its challenges, the city has designated the 2022-2023 fiscal year as the “Year of the Artist,” a program aimed at developing a creative collective of problem solvers. .

The program will launch on Tuesday, with the new Roanoke Artists Network meeting online to begin planning. The network will meet four more times before the official kick-off on July 1. It is not yet known what this kickoff will look like.

“We’re building this as we go,” said Douglas Jackson, the city’s arts and culture coordinator. “We have a certain structure, but we hope that we will build a community of learning. We intentionally don’t post everything at once because we want to see what we can do.

The mission of the network is threefold: to think about new ways to support young creative people; addressing community challenges; and further integrating the arts into the urban fabric. Implementation would follow.

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“We want to get everyone together first and talk about what’s possible,” Jackson said. “We will have trainings, provide grants, organize exhibitions and mentorship, involve artists in the city and have artist-led plans and projects. We will learn as we go. »

The concept is not limited to the visual arts, said William Penn, Roanoke’s loyal jazz pianist.

“The Year of the Artist is aimed at all forms of art, musicians, writers, dancers; it’s for the whole artistic community,” said Roanoke-based jazz pianist William Penn. “We don’t have a narrow definition of art.”

Penn, whose music career spans decades, chairs the fundraising committee for the Roanoke Arts Commission.

Studies show that the arts have a growing and positive impact on people and communities, including better physical and mental health; better school grades; a greater capacity for compassion and empathy; and more local engagement. The collective result: more livable communities.

“We thought a lot about the difficulties of the pandemic,” said Katherine Devine, a local visual artist with a long history of community involvement in the Roanoke Valley. “We’re asking, ‘How can we as artists impact our community amid the recovery? [from COVID]? Artists are the bridge to the community.

The Roanoke Artist Network will meet online at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. Themes for subsequent meetings include “Artists as Artistic Leaders”, “Partnerships and Collaborations” and “Building on Strengths and Resources”. The organizers of each meeting will launch a new “call for artists” – an invitation to submit works for a specific theme or purpose.

The project received approximately $270,000 through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, city money, and the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act federal stimulus package.

“It’s so great not having to worry that if we support one effort we’re neglecting another,” Devine said. “It’s a generous budget.

The Year of the Artist coincides with the city’s implementation of a new comprehensive plan.

“A year ago, with the adoption of the Comprehensive City Plan 2040 and the annual strategic plan, we reinforced our commitment to strengthening the vitality of our neighborhoods,” City Manager Bob Cowell said in a press release. . “Expanding public art efforts is one way to explore alignment with the goals set out in these plans. We invite artists to explore with us, create with us, and help us bring about change.

The Global Plan 2040 addresses public space in a section titled “Livable Built Environment: Interactive Spaces”. It reads in part: “Roanoke recognizes that vibrant spaces create a sense of community and social interaction. Policies for interactive spaces focus on creating physical and public places for people to come together.

“We want to co-create these projects with our community of artists,” Roanoke Arts Commission Chairperson Cari C. Gates said in the press release. “We know that the arts can help us build a healthier, more prosperous and more welcoming community. The arts can foster strong and effective civic engagement and connect us in surprising ways. With these projects, we seek to find out how this can be done in a unique way here in Roanoke. »

As part of the collaborative nature of the initiative, all city departments can bring ideas to the table.

“Susan Jennings was the first [arts and culture director], and she was fantastic to work with the city across all departments,” Jackson said. “Now, say, Public Works or Transportation will come to us and say, ‘Hey, what about this art project? So we put an artist at the table while we talk about it. We will insist a lot on this aspect.

Organizers hope the Year of the Artist will become an ongoing policy to address the challenges at Roanoke, rather than a one-time project.

“Art making is creative problem solving,” Devine said. “We have a number of issues that are new to our community due to the new situation we currently find ourselves in. Strengthening our creativity will help us solve these problems.

Jackson added, “We want to be a welcoming community where everyone can contribute. This is what we are trying to build. Artists are a substitute for everyone. We want people to be able to say, “This is what the arts do for me, this is how I am creative and this is how I grow.”

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