Welcome to the Cultural Plan Blog Series!
The series seeks to raise awareness around the Create Charlottesville/Albemarle cultural plan, a comprehensive study of the local arts and culture sector that affirmed community value for the arts, took stock of local arts and culture assets, and identified need areas to focus attention and resources.
Through this series, we will highlight community initiatives that respond to and build off of cultural plan goals. For this month’s post, we spoke to Maureen Brondyke, Executive Director of New City Arts. The New City Arts Initiative is a collaborative non-profit fostering engagement with the arts in the greater Charlottesville area, and exemplifies Goal 4 of the Cultural Plan: Artists & Creative Workers.
How and when did New City Arts get started? How has it evolved since then?
New City Arts Initiative began as a cooperative of artists and ecumenical leadership whose hope was to meet needs in the Charlottesville arts community through their unique resources, connections, and vocations. The spirit of this group was strong, but without staff or funding, the means for accomplishing this original vision relied exclusively on board members.
Today, our vision and mission hasn’t changed, but our presence in the community has grown. We are a charitable organization with staff, interns, studio space, resident artists, and a gallery, but we maintain a “collective” feel, allowing community members to initiate grassroots programs that they perceive as important for Charlottesville artists. Our growth is primarily a result of community support, since the opportunities we provide are in conjunction with institutional partners. Why work alone, when you can share resources that allow for new opportunities for artists within our already-vibrant, local community?
What unique assets does NCA provide that other local arts organizations do not?
Unique to our organizational model is an ecumenical board, consisting of representatives from the local church. However, our programs are inclusive – not limited to those who identify with the Christian faith. New City Arts is ecumenically-led, community-oriented, city-centered and artist-focused.
A former New City resident artist, Patrick Costello, put it best: “New City Arts comes out of a specific faith community, but it supports creative production on a broader scale. It is a rare thing, to see a group like this; people who are utilizing the resources, values, and community support of their church, while also meeting people (members of their church and otherwise) where they are at. It allows the organization to occupy a unique space where faith, creativity, and community engagement can be explored thoughtfully.”
At our core is a commitment to a surprising hospitality – intentional and thoughtful programming that values depth, quality, and artistic rigor, with the hope that we overcome barriers any newcomer may experience to arts participation. We take a very conversational tone to our communication (i.e., offering “what to wear” guides to some of our programs), provide delicious food at events (because who doesn’t love cheese), and work with many different partners to form strong community relationships.
What have been some of the advantages and challenges of NCA’s work in the local creative community?
Our greatest challenge is also our greatest advantage: resources. We have a small budget, and when we do receive funding, we like to get as much of it as we can into the hands of artists, if possible. Limited resources mean that we can’t currently provide a single dedicated space for artists, scholars, and curators to work. Essentially, you can’t “go to New City Arts.”
This lack of physical identity presents some challenges to institutional growth but simultaneously makes it easier for us to sustain our partnership programs. The in-kind support our organization receives is more than double our financial income. Since we share our resources with other organizations, an advantage is that our programs “cost less,” allowing artists to receive more of what we want to give them: room to exhibit, places to work, and funding to create.
What other organizations and community groups does the NCA partner with? What further collaborations would you like to see happen?
Consistently, we partner with The Haven and WVTF to organize monthly arts offerings.
With The Haven, we facilitate a 10-month residency program that provides affordable working space for artists and integrates creative programming into the resources available to Haven guests during the day. We’ve had five resident artists, and in our upcoming fourth year of this residency, we will welcome four new resident artists (two musicians and two visual artists).
Since May 2010, we’ve partnered with WVTF and Radio IQ to run a downtown gallery, exhibiting work from Charlottesville artists. Feast! has catered every one of these openings, and we often have a local vineyard sponsor. We’ve exhibited over 100 artists and are looking forward to an exciting 2014 – 2015 season.
Through The Maker’s Series, Round Table, a Scholar in Residence program, Artist Talks, the New City Arts Forum, The Collectors Series, Readers Guild, Charlottesville SOUP, fundraising events, and more, the list of community organizations, churches, local businesses, and individuals we’ve partnered with since 2009 is a bit overwhelming to list here, but our website hosts an archive of events we encourage browsing.
We’re always interested in new collaborations. Specifically, in addition to our Haven residency, we would like to provide more studio space for artists to work.
What inspires you personally about NCA?
Personally, I am inspired when New City Arts helps members of our community (artists, patrons, etc.) thrive. A few examples come to mind.
A SOUP attendee met her now-best-friend at the first SOUP dinner when they sat next to each other as strangers. Two artists who attended our New City Arts Forum decided to live in Charlottesville because they experienced the kind of community necessary to support their vocation. Our resident artist at The Haven was able to visit a member of his portrait drawing workshop when the guest was hospitalized. A SOUP grant recipient burst into tears when she told the story of how the micro-grant she had received was like a grand “welcome to Charlottesville” gesture, since she had moved here as a photographer about a year prior. We’ve even had at least one marriage result from event participation. Whenever artists sell work at WVTF; are able to work in the studio at The Haven; or can pursue a new risk, relationship, curiosity, or creative challenge because of a resource we offer, I’m inspired by our vision.
In addition, I’m inspired by the generosity that people, local businesses, and community organizations have poured into artists through New City Arts. When you experience that kind of selfless giving, it makes you want to give even more in return.
What would you ideally like to see happen to further strengthen opportunities for artists and creative workers in the area? What have you seen elsewhere that you would like to bring to Charlottesville?
Artists and creative workers need affordable places to live and work, professional space to exhibit or perform, funding to support their vocation, and community to flourish. With the recent closing of Random Row Books, Vinegar Hill Theater, Chroma, Bozart, and Firefish, there seems to be an urgent need for more small-scale, community arts locations downtown in order to foster a thriving, creative community.
For example, I recently spent a work day carrying 40 chairs, ice, a computer, food, beverages, flowers, and coolers back and forth across the downtown mall to set-up for a packed artist talk with standing room only (…with much gratitude to all of the community partners who allowed us to refrigerate cheese, borrow chairs, and use their space). We hosted the artist talk at a graphic design office. This event was very successful, but I mention these circumstances to say that we seem to have the social capital (artists involved and an audience that will attend) to populate an arts space, but we lack the physical capital to pursue it currently. My ideal type of physical location would be similar to The Luminary in St. Louis, MO.
Another program that we’ve admired from a distance that we are bringing to Charlottesville this fall is an Artist Exchange. In partnership with Paul Handler and Mara Sprafkin, New City Arts is organizing a 23-print exchange between 18 Charlottesville artists. Each artist will collate and receive a complete set of 18 works at Champion Brewing Company, our community partner for this Exchange. Five sets will be for sale through various events, including an exhibit at The WVTF and Radio IQ Gallery this winter and a December art auction to benefit The Haven. This pilot program hopes to foster a community of local artists simply by getting new art into other artists’ hands.
For more information on New City Arts, visit the website. And be sure to attend one of their events, as well!
Stay tuned for the next post in the Cultural Plan Blog Series, which will focus on Goal 5: Creative Placemaking.
If you are involved in a community project that responds to cultural plan goals, we want to hear about it! You can visit the cultural plan Tumblr to submit your project or send images and a description to email@example.com.
If you are not involved but would like to be, we encourage you to read over the plan and think about what particular goal areas you or your organization can respond to. The cultural plan is a community vision and needs your support in order to be successful!