Small Town Renaissance
Coming from a small town with a population of 7,000, my perspective and experience is quite different from others. The actual county population is 30,000, so the city number is a bit misleading, but still, Princeton, West Virginia is most definitely a small town. Our cultural district is developing in a once abandoned downtown around The RiffRaff Arts Collective, a cooperative group of visual, performing, literary, and healing artists. The concentration of creative activity pouring from our space spilled out and painted the block, and then connected with all the positive pockets of energy and possibility in the downtown. Now, the neighborhood is experiencing a major turnaround complete with government buy-in and major private investment, sparked by something as organic as a few colorful, visionary artists inhabiting a building.
It's no ordinary building, mind you; this reborn turn of the century structure includes an old ballroom turned living room theatre and recording studio, an art gallery, and artists studios. Across the street is Stages Music School, where music is taught to induce joy and change the world. The heavy dose of positive energy is working its way up and down the street, which has been stigmatized for decades.
The folks in the neighborhood that have generally been looked down upon are inspired and engaged. They love the new art in the windows, and are happy with all the positive change, from murals to the old movie theatre restoration to simple improvements like cleaning years-old dust off of windows. Now, they are contributing ideas from painted trash cans to block parties. They have major endorphin lifts the days when they see a giant paper mache elephant walking down the street, and get a kick out of seeing us in fairy wings coloring the sidewalk with chalk. Sometimes they sit on the sidewalk outside of our studio and listen to our music as it spills out the window into the night air. They say hello to us and ask us when the next event is happening. I think their lives are more exciting now, and definitely more interesting.
Some people in the community view these people as disposable, and would just as soon see them gone; they seem to not care at all about their well-being as long as they disappear. We see things differently; we are looking to improve their quality of life. If their experience is more joyful, their behavior and health will improve, and that is what we are going for here: enhancing the quality of human experience through the arts.
To find out more about Lori's work, visit www.theriffraff.net.