Today, a group of representatives from the region's arts, cultural, government and business communities gathered to learn more about another plan -- the Richmond Region Cultural Action Plan. If there's something this town knows how to do well, it is plan.
It took Thomas Jefferson 17 days to write the Declaration of Independence, and two days of debate for the Second Continental Congress to ratify the document. Richmond's proposed Downtown Plan has been in the works for a bit less than a year -- and goes to the city's planning commission for a vote in July.
But there's a sense of urgency around the Cultural Action Plan, which optimistically hopes to deliver a final report to the arts and cultural community in about nine months.
Bill Martin with the Richmond History Center (or the Valentine Museum to you old-timers) kicked the Cultural Action Plan discussion off this afternoon at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond (that's the Hand Workshop to anyone who's been asleep for five years).
"My first reaction six months ago when there was an informal conversation with some people in this room ... was we need a plan," Martin said. "My second thought was, 'Oh my God! Not another plan! Haven't we planned enough?'"
But because there is so much going on in the realm of arts and culture across the region, Martin said, it is important to spend some focused energy to "build on what is happening."
What is happening, he said, is impressive when you look back a decade. There have been significant expansions on the museum front at Maymont, the Virginia Historical Society, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the Visual Arts Center and the Children's Museum. The performing arts community has new significant spaces in play -- including the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen and downtown's under construction Performing Arts Center. The visual arts have reclaimed neighborhoods like Manchester, Broad Street and Main Street. And Henrico and Chesterfield counties have established cultural hubs emerging.
"We're approaching a half billion dollars in investments in our cultural community," Martin told the crowd. "Now is a good moment to take a deep breath and ask how we can do this better ... how we can create a model that is sustainable and can support what we've built."
The Cultural Action Plan, Martin suggested, is a step in that direction.
According to a FAQ distributed at the meeting, the Cultural Action Plan "will create a collective vision for the area's cultural sector and will identify strategies to increase participation and financial support for arts and culture. It will focus initially on the City of Richmond, and the counties of Chesterfield and Henrico.
Marc Goldring from the consulting firm of WolfBrown -- who will facilitate the planning process for the arts and culture community -- explained the ways a cultural plan can be a catalyst for the region.
"One way is by highlighting facilities and cultural districts," Goldring said. "For example, Dallas has made a huge investment in an arts district, and Mesa, Arizona, had no downtown so they created a center of interest around the arts."
A cultural plan can also focus energy around education -- "preparing youth for a future in the 21st century economy," he said -- or use cultural assets to build the region as a tourist destination, al la Charleston and its Spoleto Festival.
"Another way the arts are used is to assist communities in branding or rebranding themselves," Goldring noted, citing Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis as examples. Another avenue -- creating synergies between the cultural and academic communities as has been done between Yale and the New Haven community, or Duke University and Durham, North Carolina.
"Other communities have focused on their individual artists by creating welcoming spaces," he added, pointing at the privately led retrofitting of old Boston warehouses as live/work/create spaces for individual artists.
"Clearly, part of this is about building the resource base and communities have done this in a variety of ways," he said. Some build private entities to focus the arts community, while others create special tax districts.
Goldring pointed to Cleveland -- "after 10 years and two failed attempts it has passed a levy on cigarettes" to fund the arts. Now there's an idea to float in Richmond.
More interestingly is the example of Denver, which not only has a large private fund supporting the cultural community but "has a microloan program funded by the city ... to fund small, entreprenurial businesses."
"This is Richmond's opportunity to look at what exists already, and to think about what should exist in 10 or 15 years," Goldring concluded.
The process behind the Cultural Arts Plan starts in earnest this summer and continues through the end of 2008. Goldring said the goal is to deliver a final plan during the first quarter of 2009. The process will include:
- Research and data collection, including inventories of existing programs and organization, will happen this summer.
- Focus groups with cultural organizations, individual artists and members of the broader community are slated to take place in August.
- A cultural census will be conducted regionally in September.
- A draft report will be distributed in the November/December timeframe.
To get engaged -- or stay up-to-date -- with the Richmond Region Cultural Action Plan, go to Connect Richmond and click on the "Cultural Plan" group. (Which is apparently not yet active.)
[Update, 1 July: To join the Cultural Action Plan listserv and receive regular email updates on the process, here's the link to the Cultural Action Plan listserv sign-up at Connect Richmond.]