Monday, May 30, 2011

A Teensy-Weensy Suggestion for the City Art Plan

Susan Jennings and grandson, Blake.
Representatives of one of the trendiest cities on the East Coast, Savannah, Ga., were in Roanoke recently to study our greenway system. They could have looked at the city's tree planting program, its Old Southwest revitalization, the Grandin Village neighborhood with its art-house movie theater anchor, the city's new medical school or its public art program.

All of those came about through thoughtful and even visionary programming and planning, the expenditure of city funds and backing from the community.

The city's art program, which has had dramatic success since Susan Jennings took it over and made it real only a couple of years ago, will hold its final planning session in the formation of a plan Tuesday at 5:30 at the Roanoke Civic Center and there are a number of ways this plan can go--almost all of them good--but there is one item that is a must. The job Susan has should be made full-time and permanent and art should have a full-blown city department. There should be no quibbling about it.

Art and culture are a fundamental part of not only how a community feels about itself, but also about how it is viewed from outside. Don't care how others see us? You might want to reconsider because that has to do with jobs, lifestyle, economic security and livability.

The investment for art is tiny compared to something like a greenway system, which has been an enormous success. Gov. Doug Wilder once called public support of the arts a "niceity," whatever the hell that is. Art is about education, community involvement and cohesiveness and it is about the level of intelligence of the community. Susan has simply been a magnificent ambassador for the program and has built it--as she built the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge, with which the City should become a partner--to a public profile that not many imagined it could have.

Among the items that will be considered for the final plan will be the structure of grant proposals, helping arts organizations learn to pull in funding (and find funding), the inclusion of art components in planning neighborhoods and putting artworks into those neighborhoods.

I would also suggest that Roanoke artists be given any preference that is legal in buying art for the city. I know that is a touchy proposition and has caused Susan to put me on her enemies list, but I am not an enemy of hers (I have great respect and regard for her) or of art for the city. I simply believe that preference should go to those who live here, understand Roanoke and love it. Pretty simple stuff.


  1. Grandin has the movie theater but not the medical school and I guess the sidewalk chalk counts as public art!

    Just a wee bit of pronoun troubles.

  2. Mel: Good catch on the pronoun and, of course, you are exactly right. I have corrected the problem. Thank you for letting me know. I write these damn things so fast time that my brain doesn't have time to catch up with my fingers.