Creative Partnerships Make Miracles Happen (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by Mr. Robb Hankins, Feb 09, 2012 0 comments

Robb Hankins

In downtown Canton, OH, through an ongoing partnership with the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce (and its Special Improvement District), we’ve spent the last five years creating the Canton Arts District.

The results have been totally amazing and changed everyone’s thinking about this downtown coming back.

In 2005, we started with three strategies: live music, galleries/artist studios, and public art. We had only one art gallery----and not a single artist studio.

Today, the Canton Arts District has 26 galleries and studios.

The first art studios opened when local developer Mike King bought an old building down on 4th Street NW, deciding to convert it into Studio 5. It would have five artist studios downstairs and five independent artist apartments upstairs. ArtsinStark partnered with King on spreading the word and providing a small rent subsidy for the first year.

By the time Studio 5 opened every unit was rented out and there were eight artists on the list hoping for another building. Here’s a video of how Studio 5 looked when it was just opening

As the Canton Arts District began to take shape we needed a way to let people know, so we decided to host a monthly party----First Friday.

We made it a celebration of street performers, gallery openings, public art unveilings, and children’s parades. It immediately took off.

In warm weather months 4,000 people showed up for First Friday; in cold weather months 1,000 people still came out to party. We do them every month, rain, shine, or snow. To date we’ve hosted almost 60 monthly celebrations and more than 100,000 people have attended.

After the third monthly First Friday, landlords started getting excited. We were able to move the only gallery we had when we started, 2nd April, into a 10,000 square foot building that no one wanted. That not only gave us an improved gallery, it has 18 more artist studios and a 100-seat black box theater:

By now, the chamber was getting more and more excited. It had started purchasing old buildings in downtown in hopes of assembling commercial parcels. Now it began opening those buildings up to artists. One of the first was an old bar that had been vacant for a decade. Today it is Anderson Creative Gallery:

Meanwhile a very creative artist named Lynda Tuttle had taken over the building that 2nd April Gallery had been in. She turned it into the Tuttle Gallery, and filled it with every kind of art and craft imaginable made by artists from across the region.

When we started the Canton Arts District idea, there was just one full block left for sale in downtown. It had nine buildings on it and an asking price of $1.2 million----which is a lot for our market.

Three years after the chamber and ArtsinStark began our partnership on creating an arts district, a gentleman named Tim Belden got so excited that he bought the entire block of buildings and turned the largest into the Saxton Gallery of Photography:

Today we’ve got five galleries and 21 artist studios. We also have 43 new pieces of public art and a new live music club. You can see them all in this video of a summertime First Friday.

In total, more than 100,000 square feet of vacant space has or is being transformed to new uses in downtown Canton because of the partnership that was created between the chamber, the arts council----and, yes, 40-50 pretty incredible local visual artists.

In fact, last year the chamber opened up yet another building so the Arts District could get its first glass blower.

In short, creative partnerships make miracles happen!

This post is one in a series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts' campaign to to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!

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