Emphasizing the arts during a neighborhood revitalization

In July, the National Endowment for the Arts announced that the City of Spartanburg would receive a $25,000 Our Town grant. The NEA recently spoke with Cate Ryba, executive director of Hub Bub, about how the grant will incorporate the arts into revitalization efforts of the low-income Northside neighborhood, and how the grant will work in tandem with a Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

(Related: Can your community benefit from a design arts grant or program?)

NEA: How does this project capitalize on Spartanburg’s unique identity?

CATE RYBA: Spartanburg has a long history of supporting the arts. We have a $40 million cultural center that has several art museums and a large performance space. We have several colleges that have art departments that are very active in the community. We have lots of public art around town.

But the area where this arts district plan will focus historically hasn’t had a lot of public art or artist housing. It’s a mile away from our cultural center; it’s a mile away from downtown. I think that this project will help bring some of the support and focus and interest in the arts that Spartanburg has in other places to the Northside of our city.

Northside neighborhood, Spartanburg

An aerial view of the Northside neighborhood. Photo by Carroll Foster, Hot Eye Photography

NEA: Why do you think art is important to include in revitalization efforts for low-income communities?

RYBA: Art is something for everyone. It’s a great equalizer. It’s really important to include in community redevelopment because it gives people opportunities to see themselves as creative people and their community as a creative place. I think a lot of times art is seen as [something] that’s only for a particular socio-economic set of people. But what HUB-BUB tries to do is bring art to everyone; we try to make everyone feel like they can be an artist.

It’s also a big part of education too, which is a huge focus in the Northside community right now. The elementary school in the Northside has the longest school year of any elementary school in the state. They’re almost year-round. I’m hoping that part of this plan will include bringing different art-related activities to Cleveland Elementary School.

NEA: How will the Our Town grant complement your recent Choice Neighborhood Planning grant?

RYBA: This [Our Town] grant is part of much, much larger planning process for the entire Northside community, which is about 400 acres. The Choice Community Planning Process is looking at where can we put housing, where can we put commercial space, where can we put community parks. [It’s] looking at what assets we have and what’s missing. The city owns about 200 parcels of land in this area and most of it is vacant. So there’s going to be a lot coming out of the ground from a building standpoint over the next ten years.

A part of what they’re going to be looking at is what kind of creative assets are in the community. But [initially] this wasn’t really a huge part of it at all. There wasn’t an arts organization like ours working with the city to say, “How can cultural revitalization play a part in this process and also help with economic redevelopment?” [With the Our Town grant] we’re able to bring in someone from the consulting firm that has been hired for the Choice Neighborhood Planning grant who specifically has a background in arts district planning and cultural district planning whereas before, we weren’t going to be able to have that person.

NEA: How do you hope the Our Town grant will change the Northside community?

RYBA: This grant will help emphasize how the arts can be a part of making the Northside a more successful place to live. I’m hoping it will visibly change the community by [including] public art as part of the plan. I want the residents help us shape the place to include art and to include creativity in that planning process.

NEA: How do you view the intersection between art and civic life?

RYBA: I think a big part the intersection of art and civic life is about surprise and wonder and making people feel like where they live has a unique identity and a sense of place. And also just entertaining people, and making people think differently about the place where they live and about themselves. [It’s about] making your community feel like a creative, interesting place to live.

NEA: Anything else you’d like to add?

RYBA: One thing I’d love to see explored with this grant is how can the Northside grow their residents artists. There is a bunch of old mill houses in that area that haven’t been torn down and that the city owns. So could those be repurposed for inexpensive artist housing? I’m interested to see how we can grow our residential community for artists in that area, including for people that [already] live there. It’s always a challenge with redeveloping areas that have a lot of low-income, financial challenges to make sure that people who live there and have lived there their whole lives stay there and feel a part of process. That’s something that’s really important, and I think is a big piece of this grant as well.

Via: National Endowment for the Arts