TEXTS EXCERPTS: Arts Districts, Cultural Districts, Design Districts - Planning, Designing, Managing, Auditing

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Selected excerpts & reviews from texts, training manuals & articles for arts, design, & cultural district leaders, economic development specialists and urban planners


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TRAINING GUIDELINES FOR SUBMITTING RFPs to Arts, Design or Cultural Districts... an excerpt from Planning, Developing & Managing Arts, Design & Cultural Districts (available late summer, 2007)


  1. Deadlines are firm. No extensions made to anyone for any reason. There are two rounds: preliminary, and final.
  2. Only one proposal per round, per site, streetscape or gateway; no multiple proposals will be considered.
  3. The maximum dollar amounts (if any such limits are set forth) stated, below, are non-negotiable.
  4. Incomplete proposals or proposals with errors will be discarded; all proposals become the sole property of the Sponsor.
  5. Official notifications will be sent via U.S. mail to every proposal writer on or about the date stated, below, for each category of work.
  6. All proposals must be type-written or computer generated papers; all copies must be legible.
  7. All proposals must include a reference from either the Sponsor's Executive, <name>, or the Artist-in-Residence, <name> in order to receive any consideration from the sponsor's awards panel.
  8. All proposal writers and proposed project/program participants must be members of the Sponsor's chosen association/organization in good standing; all annual dues must be received and the proposal writer and participants must have attended at least one monthly meeting of the association/organization in person within three months of the date the proposal was submitted.
  9. There are never any application or proposal fees for any district projects or programs for this Sponsor.
  10. All slides, photographs, files, line drawings, curricula vitaes, biographical data, resumes, artist/artisan statements, photographs, slides or copies thereof, submitted for consideration become the property of the sponsor, the submissions to be filed in the local art bank for future reference.
  11. No proposal will ever receive 'fast track' approval or consideration or other preferential treatment. The awards panel will not receive the top sheet identifying the proposal writer until after the second round of proposals has been considered on the merits and the appropriateness of a case offered.
  12. Only one proposal may be submitted from one writer or group of submitting artists or artisans, i.e., one artist or artisan cannot be mentioned or included in connection with more than one proposal for a district site, a streetscape, a gateway or a presentation during the same competition period.
  13. Sponsor preferences include the following, and are listed in order: Collaborations over single artists or artisans; one week timeframes to finish work on site (building, streetscape, gateway, special installation) over longer timeframes; local members of the chosen association/organization over members who live the majority of the time a dstance of over 150 miles away from the project/program site.
  14. All approved payments and/or all reimbursements will be made at the conclusion of the site work being completed within the district. There will be no exceptions.
  15. No personnel, thematic or material substitutions will be tolerated under any circumstances.
  16. In the event only a single proposal shall be submitted to fulfill the decorative or expressive work to be scheduled for a requested task or project or program within the district, the awards panel can elect to make no award whatsoever, the awards panel can award a commission or contract at its sole discretion, or the awards panel can, with the approval of the Sponsor, re-vamp the original RFP to expand upon the pool of talent who can be considered to properly fulfill a commission or job order.
  17. All proposal submissions must state clearly that the proposal is for work to be undertaken by the artist/artisan working as a sub-contractor for either the Sponsor, <name>, the district association, <name>, or for the designated contractor, <name>.
  18. All proposals must be submitted in triplicate, including three copies of files, line drawings, curricula vitaes, biographical data, resumes, artst/artisan statements, photogrpahs, slides or copies thereof.
  19. General description of the site: <type of district>
  20. General description of the work to be undertaken: <siting work description>
  21. Detailed site, work, budgetary constraints, time constraints, installation/moving/insurances constraints will be sent to individuals, studios, businesses and institutions that complete the data requested in lines 25-32: <Sponsor's terms, conditions, fees, allowances>
  22. Thank you.
  23. Contact people: <names, phone lines, fax lines, e-mail addresses, web sites>
  24. RFP calls can be answered at <number> between <times> on <dates>
  25. PROPOSAL WRITER: <name>
  26. AFFILIATION, if any: <name of organization/business/institution>
  27. DATE: <day/month/year>
  28. ADDRESS: <street/p.o. box>
  29. CITY: <name>
  30. STATE/ZIP: <name, number>
  31. Contact numbers/addresses: <phone>,<fax>,<e-mail>,<website>
  33. Meetings with Proposal Writers and/or their team of Artists/Artisans will be scheduled, following the second round of Proposals, no later than <date>




by Patricia Bronwen Brown, Special to ARTS ANSWERS

What is one of the quietest and most successful trends for developing and re-developing America's Main Streets? It may surprise you to know that the arts are a major contributor to the rejuvination of business districts and neighborhoods.

A study by the 7 Arts Foundation, the leading advocate for arts districts as viable catalysts for reviving business corridors, historic superblocks, clustered neighborhoods and traditional main streets in North America, has shed new light on the significant benefits these arts, government and business partnerships have contributed to both the bottom line and the quality of life. Arts spaces, whether clustered together by design or as a consequence of burgeoning growth by established commercial and nonprofit arts organizations, raise property values, add to the net tax base, help attract new businesses and neighbors, often become tourist magnets, and add jobs to the employment picture. The report concludes by offering a costs-to-benefits analysis which demonstrates the efficiency of arts districting and the comparatively low costs of establishing, developing, and managing both public and private spaces.

The reason so many locales forget about arts districts is apparently because planners and officials are either unaware of the benefits and the attendant low risks with arts districts or because the idea of working with arts professionals is foreign to them. The report states that the majority of planners and officials have had little or no direct contact with any arts communities; it further explains that many planners and officials have rarely or never made an economic impact study or a quality of life study to determine the suitability of an acclaimable arts, government and business partnership.

With over 400 destination sites around the USA utilizing or developing arts, design or cultural spaces which are purposely given a sense of place within their downtowns, as opposed to isolated destination spaces which have few if any connections with community life and values, the arts district revolution is evidently here to stay. What began years ago as a way for artists to simply survive and work has, like nearly everything, become a tool for economic stability and growth for progressive communities that want to enjoy the vibrancy of art being made, presented, displayed, taught and appreciated on their main streets, in their depressed zones and connected in meaningful ways to their neighborhoods, resource centers and schools.

This updated article is cited in The Arts District Building Manual, courtesy of Arts Answers and Ms. Brown.



Marshall Thomas has grown up with the North American arts district as artist-in-residence, board advisor and administrator since the 1970s. As founder of the nation's first interdisciplinary arts district - serving until 1991 - he has dealt at first hand with the rapid changes sinces the second decade of urban arts revitalization.

At this point of near-crisis in the destiny of the arts district, he addresses himself first to the question of its survival, and then to the question of its future path. In so doing he describes its inner workings, so little known and understood.

What Dr. Thomas gives us in THE ARTS DISTRICT BUILDING MANUAL, summed up in its subtitle, is an organized exposition, rich in detail, brief in compass and rapidly paced, of today's arts district: how the whole artistic and human enterprise works; the dangers that beset it; and, the reforms it requires.

What he explores and what he proposes are crucial to the quality of North American life... the more so for going directly against our most cherished thought cliches and tags regarding the relation of the arts district to 'the world.'

Marshall Thomas is the author of the three-part text, Planning, Developing & Managing Arts, Design & Cultural Districts, Art Acquisition Manual (a guide to acquiring & de-accessioning art [a primer for arts districts]), Mission Manifesto, and Proposal Writing... (Fundamental Planning, Researching, Developing & Presenting Approaches for Writing Grant, Aid & Assistance & Subsidy Proposals & Applications)



This book is for the general reader who takes an interest in arts districts, either as a participating artist, an inventive urban re-developer or as an urban leader of a town or city which will invent or re-invent one. Among general readers, I venture to count also my colleagues in foundations, nonprofits and financial firms, both front-line artists and operators, and the toilers in administration and management. Experience shows nowadays few persons on any arts district site have the leisure to become familiar with the circumstances of more than one sector, a situation that accounts for many of the misunderstandings and dis-satisfactions found at arts district re-developments.

What I offer by way of a view is an interpretation, based on experience folded into a report embodying combined figures and 'studies.' Most of our studies* have consisted of daily work at problems and mission-driven initiatives I describe, supplemented by travel, talk and consults with colleagues and clients. Reflections on art-in-society, coupled with the details of the position I have long since taken about education and the arts, finish out the rest.

No one who is curious about North American arts districts need fear that statistical research about them is being neglected: the 7 Arts Foundation staff, interns and anonymous compilers alike is collecting data without cease; many arts districts at any time can be found filling in or sending out a questionnaire about some important part of its operations. The facts so gathered are often useful, but their importance is determined in the end by the choice among possible directions, attitudes and purposes. The Selected Reading List in the Appendix points to statistical views.

Now, nobody can choose a direction for the North American arts district as an institution; nor do I think its best future can be plotted from figures arising out of practices found in hundreds of independent town and city overlays and establishments. Practices are not always compatible throughout a range as wide as that between the rural town square, the capitol city cluster, the artists colony and the major metropolitan Superblock. Nearly all types of arts districts have their place in our continental scheme, and we may be grateful for their emergence and the devotion they bring out and absorb. The arts district can serve as an institution transcending time, genre and geography. When strong and self-aware, the arts district belongs to civilization rather than to one state or province, and it elicits from the nations a kind of devtion other than that which goes to the local art park, just as it turns its energies to other ends than merely supplying the market with a standard line of arts and architectural products and services.

Since only the strong and self-aware arts district can direct itself, the aim of the public's concern is often to think rather than to do. Thinking on such a subject means attending to important details, the understanding of which may modify attitudes, and thus indirectly lead to a desirable, lasting change. Sometimes, all that is needed is for public opinion to grasp the 'idea' of the arts district, so that this refreshed concept may reach those in charge of particular arts districts and remind them of where the true roads lie.

In the chapters that follow I have sought to give those important details and to show their relation to the idea of an arts district as it might emerge from the present contradictions and predicaments of our significant insitutions. The book is, therefore, description, analysis and indications of a manageable future.

The obligations I have incurred in the undertaking extend far beyond my power to cite. They include what I owe to colleagues, students, interns and friends I have talked with about arts districts for the past thirty years and to every institution that has honoured me with an invitation to visit and advise it. I can only give my thanks collectively for their minute knowledge and experienced judgement at my disposal.


*   Since 1979, the 7 Arts Foundation has studied all varieties of arts, design and cultural districts as part of its technical, consulatative and information training service. Dr. Thomas is the Executive Director Emeritus of the Membership Association.


In the nature of things, greatness and unity go together; excellence implies a center.

--- John Henry Newman



The North American arts district is unlike any other. Its structure and management, sources of support and relation to governments, and responsibility to the public are unique and set it apart from all other types -- English, Continental or Australian. As for one element that arts districts share all over the Occident -- artists and participants -- it is, despite appearances, less homogeneous in interest and purpose than it used to be; hence, it cannot be relied upon to give a uniform character and density to culturally diverse institutions and allied retail and public partners.

In North America that character and density are now a subject of public and private discussion as they never were before. During the past twenty years the leading arts districts have changed markedly in form and function, carrying with them -- sometimes part way, sometimes alltogether -- the hundreds of other establishments called arts, design and cultural districts. All tend to suffer from similar and unexampled difficulties. They spend sums on many programs that often cannot be sustained acclaimably and are poor; their academic colleagues attack them; their neighbors ignore them; their artists are restless and ambivalent; and the public, critical of their rising costs and restricted designs, keeps making pre-emptory demands upon them. The arts districts are expected, among other things, to turn out and showcase artists and designers, educators and writers, artisans and craftspersons, photographers and videographers, producers and directors -- to name a few -- to foster social understanding and provide a home for working artists, satisfy divergent tastes in architecture and public codes, cure tourism's pleonexia, and train equally for the collectors of arts and crafts and for a life of 'cultured' cultivation in this Era of Competing Cities.

One may be tempted to shrug off these claims as part of twenty-first century madness. They are pressed just the same, and the large arts districts must somehow meet them, on pain of being reminded they live largely on charity. There they sit, gateways open, used and abused in city or town, and bound to perform from week to week the minor miracle of juggling deficits and coaxing donors, of soothing artists and keeping their chroniclers and historians faithful, while trying also to out-live the political roller coaster and the hot and cold articles in the local press.

Not all of these miseries, it is true, beset all arts districts* all the time. The fact remains the arts district as an institution has become the object of an endless domestic battle, part organized, part fortuitous, part because turf wars hate a vacuum. It is perhaps time this institution, which is largely liked and respected, even by its impatient clients, should be well understood. The subject is complex and variable, although not beyond comprehension. Why, then, is it so poorly known?

To begin with there are in the continent many overlapping kinds of arts districts, not equally besought or beset. There are public-private arts districts (and many private-nonprofit hybrids); there are new and old, municipal and neighborhood, urban and sub-urban arts districts; there are small arts districts that content themselves with Main Street**-style retail corridor objectives and others that venture to give high purposes in acclaimable settings; and, all these exist side by side with the many arts, design and cultural districts in name only -- hollowed out institutions of lesser scope re-labeled in the general excitement with a lofty title. This is what we can expect as a result of arts-government-retail-co-ventures, expansion and limitless answerability, coupled with some widespread confusion as to what an arts district is and can do.

The things that interest newspaper readers about arts districts besides festivals, gallery walks and sidewalk sales -- the art discoveries, exhibits, 'studies' on arts and social woes, the new buildings or Superblocks, open spaces, reconfigured clusters , fund-raising campaigns, and the occasional high-cost admissions -  are but external management products or artistic expressions made plain. The public knows little, and perhaps cares not at all, about the apparatus of people, machines, rules of law, custom and thumb, the duties and ambitions that lie below the externals and that are, like our continental culture, in a perpetual state of flux. Yet, without an informed view of this growing and contracting organism, much that affects the continental character no less than the arts district must remain a mystery.

Some of the new functions it has taken on and the methods it has often improvised in over three decades have torn apart the fabric of the former single-minded, easily defined North American arts district. An often unfit entrepreneurial modality has replaced the once self-centered assembly of artists and institutions, public spaces and private retail-office zones and public-private anchor destinations and over-arching gateways. The ever more self-conscious model has thereby put itself at the mercy of many publics, nearly unknown to one another and often contradictory in their demands. It is understandable that the newspaper writer, like many a reporter who supplies fragmentary facts, is bewildered and under-whelmed.

Indeed, the place is not often clearly seen by those within, so diverse are its activities and changeable its conditions of life. The internal stresses and strains can be matters of gossip on the district site, but their cause is sometimes a puzzle: why do we do 'this'? -- is it the trustees? Why can't we do 'that'? -- doesn't the management understand? Why weren't we told the administration knows? -- after all, 'we' are the arts district. Artists and managers, inhabitants and participants, shopkeepers and guests, backers and cultural tourists -- many suffer collectively from a lack of mutual comprehension.

The point is not that idle curiosity remains unsatisfied but that the missing information is essential to right action, individual, community and corporate. Both the need and the lack are comparatively new, as a simple contrast makes clear. Barely twenty-five years ago the workings of large arts districts could each be sketched in broad strokes.*** Though these arts districts already comprised over a dozen buildings and open spaces each, and their bodies of artists and participants matched in size their largest counterparts, their administration and management presented a picture of simplicity. The officers, the core of volunteers and a tiny management team, together with understaffed city offices and agencies and many unconditioned corporate leaders kept the show going. The innocence of those days appears when we recount that everyone reported to a president or managing director -- whenever they felt it warranted. Under a set of statutes properly general, each program and project unit worked by precedent. Lacking more than a few common procedures in written form or any detailed table of organization at any level, a wide diversity reigned, which often furnished coffee-klatsch conversation of high interest. Each group knew it was impossible to carry on programs and projects in any other way than its own, and often marveled at the other group's ability to present and manage the impossible.

Each operating area was led by a senior member who did his or her best for the little fiefdom under the unpredictable but rare and usually benevolent directions of the arts district president or managing director. Privileges and their absence rested upon some arrangement made or not finished in the dim past of the founding nonprofit, development business or city office. Such discrepencies were accounted for by the different needs of different mission or problem treatments -- vastly different for example, like arts programming and site clustering, or like gateway functions and retail space leasing -- differences deemed sufficient to explain why, in one or the other operating area, telephones were more numerous or more breakfast meetings were needed.****

These 'mission-on-the-side' conditions appear in retrospect more alarming than they were, and this is one measure of the distance we have travelled in less than thirty years. Today no major arts district could last a month under such a regime. And the reason why the old order spelled tolerable diversity rather than mad anarchy is that the demands upon the arts district were fewer, gentler. There was more time; the interests of the individual, the community and the corporation were less momentous; errors and ommissions were more easily repaired; the regularity that was absent from the organization was present in the mores, in the outlook in its members and in their circumstances. In short, large arts districts, despite their relative massiveness and reported riches, were still mission ideas capable of being grasped and run by one person. This leader could deal offhand with seven or seventy people and take care of their infrequent wants, easily knowing that the trail blazing efforts or decisions not to act meant setting a precedent -- a precedent to use or not the next time.

Today, the terms 'Superblock', 'overlay district' and 'MxD' have gained common currency, part of a description of a changed reality, and they hint that no group of leaders can do all that is attempted at our arts districts and still maintain the cohesion, the center, that makes an institution. That point is still to be proved in the chapters that follow.

Meanwhile, the situation is rich in paradoxes. The North American arts district has upheaved itself to 'catch up' and 'accomodate', words that often mean the following: has ceased to be a destination spot for art and architecture; has come into the mainstream marketplace and answered the cries for help uttered by government, the arts community, real estate developers and the general public; has busily pursued the enthusiasms of our many utopian leaders in thought, both patrons and foundations; has served the new economy by carrying on research and study for regional and national goals; has, finally, recognized social-political needs by undertaking to teach the young, the middle aged, the challenged, the dis-enfranchised, the deprived, the mis-directed and the mal-adjusted.

In this sometimes sublime, sometimes feeble effort, the arts district has been encouraged with many and fair words. Despite this eagerness to help and this adaptation to new duties, it is on the brink of receiving the harshest criticisms it has ever had to endure. Never so trusted, never so challenged. Governments are benignly suspicious of its management and its study outcomes. Foundations have quietly begun to accuse arts districts of conservatism and inability to change. Artists, who attend to it regard it as another establishment to be marginalized, revolutionized -- in the proper sense of those words. Benefactors and paying customers shake their heads over rising costs and uncertain productivity. And inside the halls of urban planners, developers and critics, who often repeat that 'they' are the genuine partners in the arts district, complain behind closed doors of the work and the returns, while declaring their allegiance is not solely to their clients but to their interpretation of urban and neighborhood needs, part of their 'discipline.' It may be that these remonstrances are signs of a deep attachment, that the emerging chorus of critics are only dessembling their love, which will work its miracle if only we give it time. Whatever the future may hold, it is clear both the near-anxious state of the North American arts district and its ever-altering call for immediate attention. The dangers are clear, present -- futility, bankruptcy, paralysis, abandonment

The causes of this Huxleyan dilemna have developed with a fatal logic since the inception of the first formal urban gardens in England and on the European continent. The new arts district emerged then as the by-product of its own development effort.

PAGES 8 & 9 of the INTRODUCTORY are not part of this Review. Thank you for reading this excerpt.

7AF:  Downtown District Solutions Arts Marketplace Solutions Antiques Design Downtown Entertainment District Historical Open Studios Sciences Art Deco Education Recreation Technology Theatre Warehouse Arts Gateway Arts Overlay Arts Superblock Cultural Historic Arts Museum Giftbox Design Performing Arts Photo Theater Arts District Downtown Solutions


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THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, a portrait of its destination districts

Dr. Marshall A. Thomas | This project is sponsored by the 7 Arts Foundation in cooperation with The Arts & Design Corridor Partnership, Inc. | Publisher: ARTS ANSWERS, Chicago, with a release date of 16 October, 2008 for workshop editions, 30 November, 2008 for Member e-release | ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Economist Bethany Vitteto; Developers, James Kothe & William Harrell; Urban Markets Strategist, Marilyn Gibson | THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, a portrait of its destination districts is the result of a research project initiated and funded by the 7 Arts Foundation Membership | To include bibliogrpahical references and index.

New arts, design and culture-based destination districts have appeared on the American landscape in every year since the 1970s. The future promises increased activity; irregardless of economic conditions, destination district developments will proceed at at a quickening pace. With this in mind, the & Arts Foundation initiated in 1979 a research project that will result in the 10th tri-annual edition of a portrait of America's destination districts. The workshop and e-release editions are both designed to inform members of the foundation and the destination district community---trustees, staff, patrons, civic leaders, architects, consultants, and others---about the work involved in envisioning, planning, designing, building, managing, maintaining and auditing destination districts, as well as inhabiting them. The 7 Arts Foundation asked The Arts & Design Corridor Partnernership to administer the project under Dr. Marshall Thomas's direction. Principal funding comes from the member program of the 7 Arts Foundation. Dr. Thomas was the original project director and has provided the vision and stewardship that sees this work to its completion.

A talented and skilled advisory board whose collective wisdom, knowledge and experience in district affairs provided revelations and uncanny understanding: Joep and Julie Huijbregts, iMAGICworks; James Kothe and William Harrell, Rivergate Properties, L.L.C.; Marilyn Gibson, GMSolutions; Bethany Vitteto, Knox College... We are greatly indebted to them for their special contributions.


Attracting the persons who can best succeed your current generation of staff, board and volunteer leaders

Were nonprofit lifespans dictated by the longevity of their founders, leaders would focus on a furious cult of personality and a series of single-dimensional programs and projects run by people as nearly identical to the founders as possible. Fortunately, many mission-bound nonprofits can serve their constituents, priorities and ideals through many generations of leaders and along a succession of programs and projects by training up their diverse boards and staffs through leadership succession programs.

In the midst of meeting deadlines and achieving objectives and their goals, both leaders and participants owe an obligation to the next generation to enable them to assume total authority and full responsibility for guiding and operating the nonprofit when the time is right. Leadership succession must become a part of every action plan, each strategic plan and all mission planning for any nonprofit to achieve success for more than seven years.

How the current leaders and participants attract the next generation of mission partners often determines the longevity of effective, sustainable nonprofit service. Assuming the nonprofit has been organized around the principle of achieving lasting change in a meaningful long-term context [often, a mission plan] and that its organizational and managerial structure revolves around serving an authentic action plan [often, a visioning arc], the current generation of mission partners owes its constituency a way for the organization to continue its work. The current and future leaders owe it to their community to validate the mission, share a vision that captures imaginations, minds and hearts, and make it possible for the strategic plan to work across generations so long as one or more needs can be acclaimably, sufficiently met.

Those nonprofits working with other mission priority models and structures often suffer from structural weaknesses that can shorten the life of the nonprofit. These static or moribund nonprofits often force the organization participants to seek to ally themselves and their work with other institutions or NGOs that can offer healthy doses of leadership succession training. After all, leadership succession training is no longer a choice; it is part and parcel of the operating plan for those groups that want to serve more than one generation of constitutents.

How the current operating partners express their intellectual and heartfelt concern for the well-being of their community or region is always reflected in the path both leaders and followers have intentionally taken to prepare the way for the next generation of workers to serve. The clear pathway is to provide key indicators as to how the nonprofit will help their community prosper over the next twenty years of operation. Indicators, such as an authentic long-term plan and a leadership training program go a long way toward making leadership succession part of every week's routine. Not a fortnight can go by without training, nurturing, edifying, testing and otherwise cultivating and preparing future leaders. A month is too long between sessions with volunteers, supporters and future colleagues. A quarter without reinforcing the values, beliefs, understandings and stories of the group with the next generation of leaders is a quarter entirely lost - a theft from the future grasp of tomorrow's mission partners.


The role leaders play

Just as a Board of Directors or Trustees properly chooses its members to fulfill various functions and to perform institutional roles, all to match up with donor bases, volunteer circles and power brokers, the board nominates, cultivates and trains up participants to play important connecting parts in the day-to-day oversight and leadership. Unlike many political, association and business leaders, nonprofit leaders more often offer their work as genuinely teachable servants and stewards of a public trust that tacitly insists upon looking past immediate needs and desires, no matter how redeeming or invigorating they may be.

The notion that 'chair warmers' can fulfill the responsibilites of a deliberative body or that 'busy-bees' can effictively serve a nonprofit's action-oriented body in addition to overseeing the management of a burgeoning or a declining budget, a protected and advancing body of work as part of the public trust in an ever-changing, complex political-media-financial climate - is unsustainable folly. The idea that sincere people of good cheer and goodwill can serve together without leadership succession training is akin to expecting an organization to succeed over many years without matching individual abilities with appropriate tasks and timelines, without resolving to help members to play their respective roles with respect for offices, lines of authority and lines of communication for the good of the group, or to ignore that proceedings are being controlled by manipulative power-hungry or power-wielding chiefs.

The nonprofits which do the work to train leaders for tomorrow serve three generations with every step in their leadership succession programs. They also communicate, in terms clearly to be weighted in public relations 'gold' the unmistakable identity their nonprofit enjoys and the balanced, healthful and pro-active approach to service that is the hallmark of  many great institutions.

-from the 2005 edition. The publisher.


The City, the Townscape and the Arts

It would be difficult to find a place or a time in which we are more surrounded and informed by the arts than in our cities and town squares. We enter a building - a structure of architecture - whose form is designed to either invite us to a temple of worship or work or to an envelope of comfort or utility. We can move into each structure where we prepare for the drama to ensue - sometimes an epic theatrical unfolding a magnifient resolution to a story and other times a place of passage celebrating the passionate practical.

We stand, sit, give movement and gesture to our inspiration, thoughts and words: we sometimes participate in the choreographed movement of the body in corporate actions. For some urban places give ear, eye, voice and tactile command to the seven lively art forms. And, where two or more important structures are linked, a dialogue ensues, a training area for those who care about how a downtown can shape us is born.

We can always choose these linked spaces to help us to listen to poetry, stories, the narratives of prophets and preachers, professors and workshop leaders. These dynamicly linked training areas often surround us with the work of glass makers, fabric artists, woodcarvers and the occasional metalsmith and potter.  We respond to paintings and murals, the craft of graphic artists and designers. We witness to the power of sculptors and landscape architects.

In effect, we are surrounded by the arts, even in downtowns with only an island of artwork and fine craftsmanship, and we finally come to depend upon these destinations to help communicate each important moment, to point to the holy, the patriotic, the ethic, the truth, or to the power in the moment. However, in the midst of our unconditioned dependence on the arts, we citizens are often resistent to seeing how deeply interwoven the seven arts are in our lives, how essential they are to helping fulfill our missions, our aspirations, our goals.

For the arts are often, at best, taken for granted. We have a need, therefore, to realize and recognize the part the arts play and to claim their power and importance. To do so is to come to understand and appreciate a major source of our enrichment and a felt, even discerned depth of our dependence upon its ineffable qualities for our inspired, civilized lives.

Training Areas and the Arts

Training areas, I believe, have a significant relationship to the arts. Every school, workshop centre, studio and claimed venue is an important gathering place dependent upon the arts; the seven arts are woven tightly into many  curricula. But, our trainers often find it difficult to recognize or claim their power and presence in the centres of learning. As a consequence, we citizens can fail to recognize the arts significance for the life of training, for the dependence we inculcate into the psyches of students and teachers. We can, perhaps, see where the arts are present, but we often fail to see the entirety of students' interactions and feelingful responses to a complete cultural education.

These intellectual and emotional responses are crucial to humanities courses, as they are to leadership and to spiritual formation and renewal programs. The arts help mold students, for they can provide symbolic representations of truths, values and ways of observing. The arts can help train our individual and collective intuitive capacity for apprehending wisdom, knowledge, understanding, discernment - everything but revelation.

The arts have long been a part of the task of defining much of the human condition for many artists - poems, novels, paintings, films, plays and compositions are often thoght of as evocative works used by some important artists to help explore the meaning of our human nature or the instances of unconditional and uncompromised giving. The ethicist who is at all conversant with the arts knows something of the power of the arts and draws upon them to help raise important questions, to help shape our sensibilities, to speak with a prophetic voice, to hold out a vision of the good, the bad, or simply the great forms that transcend their tired reflective voices. The historian, more now than ever before, can stand witness to the importance of art works - performances, exhibitions, presentations of all the best sort - as document and source for understanding the beliefs, the vacuum of beliefs, the thoughts, the unconditioned ramblings --- all a community pours out in a given moment of its history. Many observers of the human condition begin and end their literal or figurative accounts in the public square.

The communication field has no less a richness of sources in the arts, for these ineffable forms can be readily identified as parts of crucial media presentations in education, in nurturing or cultivating social, business, political, religious and other audiences. Perhaps, most importantly, the arts and creative imagination most identified with the aesthetic dimension of our lives play important roles in the construction of genuine notions and authentic ideas, albeit a role given less attention than they often deserve. Clearly, the arts are reduced to that which serves rather than that which is invented; and, for some there is no 'Arts' - only music, dance, theatre, literature, the fine arts, the applied arts and the illuminated arts. And, their place in the public square is illuminated or dimmed according to various fashions or a real estate based misnomer prescribing 'highest-and-best-use' criteria.

Narrowly or broadly conceived, making works of art and constructing ideas share important parallels. The arts provide a model for building ideas insofar as their structural aspects of form, subject context, and meaning (for some) are also the structural elements often found in invented thoughts, constructed shapes of images influenced by arts imagery --- the icon, the narrative, the metaphor, the gesture, the dramatic moment, the symbol, the mythic language --- to name a few... many are central to the thinker's effort to appropriate the experience of the true and give it powerful expression. To confirm the point, for some thinking about ideas when compared with imagining whims and unconditioned notions is artful, that is it relies upon acts of interlocking imaginative thoughts, creative impetus, modes of knowing and skills for interpreting realities that are often similar, at points, to the same charged impulses given shape in arts renderings. Clustered, acclaimable images can build ideas that often contribute to our sense of awe, wonder, excitement.

The arts contribute to specialized training in markedly important ways. However, as in other training and learning settings, they often suffer from our individual and collective failure to recognize their importance. Furthermore, our failure to appreciate the significance of the arts for many avenues of study stands in the way of our realizing how they could contribute more to our common views of civilization. We effectively fail to witness to all we could accomplish to make the world a livlier place if given the opportunity.

Perhaps this problem should be a vital concern for those who profess to teach and all who work to learn. Many an educationist and learner need help in order to engage in 'consiousness raising' in terms such that they can draw upon the power of the arts to transfigure, transform and transport (with apologies to Sister Wendy). They can include course work that draws upon works of art as documentary sources, helping both parties explore the relationship between the artistic and the thoughtful, the aesthetic and the spiritual. One gaze-filled walk around many a destination town square, urban corridor or arts, design or cultural district could fill semesters of inspired ruminations, pages of perambulations reduced to verse and prose, music and dance.

I think we ache in our need to understand the commonality and sublime unity the arts and many learning arcs share. There are ways to help focus our concerns with integrating the arts within curricula in ways such that the arts will be seen as a necessary part of thinking about the means for constructing, shaping, driving and realizing ideas.  One walk around the urban landscape, and we can inform the ways we interpret beliefs and grasp cultures, the ways we prepare ourselves for public and commercial service, the ways we stroke curricula in necessarily inclusive ways so we can take part in civilization's great conversation.

Therefore, as difficult as it would be to find a place or a time in which we are more surrounded and informed by the arts than in our cities and town squares, when we enter our downtown buildings we can confidently move into each structure expecting a drama to ensue - anticipating a theatrical unfolding, a magnifient resolution to a story and a place of passage celebrating the passionate practical. Why? Because the arts are not only a specialty field requiring patient learning and training. The arts are a strangely comfortable, known universe of nearly recognizable commonalities which make our approaches useful, sometimes delightful, always thoughtful and, when we allow, an obvious conveyance of what many consider the only important statements of who we are, what we were, and where we are headed.

Adapted from the original lecture presented at the Arts Discovery Centre, 1991. Appears in the Introduction to The Arts District Building Manual by Dr. Marshall Thomas, drthomas@7artsfoundation.org .


To Develop or Not...

Nearly every article in your ADJ points our members to the myriad ways to plan, develop and manage a variety of arts, design and cultural districts. This issue is devoted to "When not to build an arts district." I hope your readers find it instructive and illuminating.

The first article focuses on thoughts inspired by a checklist that has long-served our Members as a harbinger guide, a bell-weather clangon that helps even the most irrepressible planner stop before an ill-fated project gets off the drawing board and onto the financiers' desks.

The second article, with its Faulkner-esque title, WISER THAN DESPAIR, hones in on some alternative arts-inclusive MxD developments that can serve areas well when an arts district is not the answer to a greying town or city corridor's problems.


It is not simply the few failed arts districts which give us pause here, it is often the projects undertaken without much, if any, input from artists, or as often the projects conceived as a politically driven panacea - perhaps a town clean-up and beautification concept absent arts or design criteria or standards, or a hybrid Arts & Entertainment District notion which collides arts ideas with otherwise legitimate entertainment values - forgetting one is active and one is passive in nature... or a 'tourism-driven hook 'em to keep business' re-development scheme which puts arts in a flavor-of-the-season position as easily usurped by weekend drag racing along Main Street as by any other means of public stimulation. Intentionality and great care, thoughtfully cultivated, helps build sensational, sustainable, useful and acclaimable arts districts.

from "An Executive Checklist - When Not to Build..." Page 1


Wisdom, knowledge, understanding, discernment, revelation -  a nexus of mindful actions informed by the heart... We should be so lucky to always be wise enough to know when to walk away.. to understand that timing and a great team often mean having the forces to pick the right course to fulfill a vision, that discerning where to plant arts districts is as much an intuitive gift as it is a test of the 'highest and best use', and remaining open to what is revealed is oftimes as valuable as listening to many a highly paid consultant or advisor with cookie-cutter notions of how to brighten things up downtown.

Op. ed. piece...ARTS DISTRICT JOURNAL Vol 25, Vol. 1 Bi-Annual


WHO WE SERVE: A Select list of governments, corporations, foundations, institutions, universities, studios... more.

Image, below: Repairs to the Atrium, 7 Arts Foundation