MICD 25 Spotlight on Easton, Pennsylvania
Proposed site of the Silk Creative Community at the Historic Simon Silk Mill and North 13th Street Bridge over the Bushkill River. Photo courtesy of Lafayette College
Incorporated in 1826, Easton, Pennsylvania's Lafayette College is a private coeducational college with more than 2,300 students from the U.S. and abroad. The college has partnered with the City of Easton on a number of long-term redevelopment projects, many with an arts and community revitalization focus, including resident-driven revitalization of West Ward, Easton's largest, most diverse, and most challenged low- and moderate-income neighborhood. We spoke with Ellis Finger, director of Lafayette College's Williams Center for the Arts, to learn more about the college's MICD 25 project.
NEA: Please describe your project and what you hope it will bring to the residents of Easton.
ELLIS FINGER: Our project will be a six-month visual arts festival---the Art of Urban Environments Festival---spread over some 16 designated sites in the downtown areas of Easton, Pennsylvania, contiguous to Lafayette College?s newly dedicated Third Street Arts Campus and the historic Simon Silk Mill on Thirteenth Street, a site now targeted by the City of Easton for major economic development, themed around the arts and urban revitalization. The festival launches May 7, 2011 and continues through October 15.
NEA: Why is it important to have arts and culture at the table when planning community revitalization efforts?
FINGER: Easton-area artists and Lafayette College educators and curators have been working side-by-side to ensure full artistic integrity to the selection of festival installations, and the integration of these festival sites into the cultural and residential communities of various Easton neighborhoods.
NEA: How do you think arts festivals benefit the civic life of a community?
FINGER: In the many town meetings and forums we have already conducted (many more are to follow) a powerful and rigorous civic dialogue has evolved that will ensure greater exchanges between Lafayette College and the City of Easton. A burgeoning partnership, spread widely in authentic and empowering ways, is extending across many boundaries of various downtown associations, economic development efforts, and arts and cultural initiatives.
NEA: Given the nature of your project, how would you define public art?
FINGER: Public art provokes dialogue, brings artistic beauty to urban spaces, and enables a community and its many neighborhoods to take pride in the presence of artist process and outcomes within the worlds they call home.
NEA: How important is MICD 25 funding for the success of your project?
FINGER: We would not have conceived this project and found momentum to move toward its implementation without this NEA Initiative.
NEA: Any last words?
FINGER: I hope people will visit the Art of Urban Environments Festival website, which is filled with exciting details about the endeavor, including the identities and professional homes of the some 50 individuals now involved in our work, in one way or another.