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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

The arts are moving in

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Lynette Sowell

My front porch

I only lived in the city of my birth for the first six months of my life. There are only one or two pitures taken inside the walk-up, brick apartment building where my parents and I lived until we moved to Puerto Rico. One night, my father and I were chatting online about a picture I shared of him holding me when we lived in that little apartment.

After that conversation, I opened Google Earth and found the address. To my shock, the satellite image showed nothing but green grass and the faintest footprint of an old building.

Holyoke, Mass. was one of America’s first planned industrial mill cities. When the paper and textile industries crashed, so did the city’s neighborhoods in the 70s and 80s.

Some stats on Holyoke: 31% of its residents live in poverty and it has one of the highest school dropout rates in New England. Its median income is $33,915, half the state of Massachusetts’ average.

Doesn’t sound like Holyoke is a destination, even though it does have the Volleyball Hall of Fame and Museum. With the downturn of Holyoke, somewhere along the lines the city lost its heart and soul and vibrancy.

But the other night, my father’s words gave me some hope when he said: “Holyoke is slowly coming back. The Arts are moving in.”

Something happens when art moves into a community. Art is more than slapping a fresh coat of paint on a building. When creativity happens, there’s an energy that comes out, too. That energy says someone cared enough to add something of beauty and contribute to the heart and soul of a community.

Tom Borrup was the executive director of intermedia arts in Minneapolis for over 20 years, and he promoted the idea that the arts are vital part of planning and building a community. He wrote “The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook” and he named five things which build up a community, things that the arts in a community can promote.

n Promote interaction in public space. We need space that encourages social interaction. We have our parks, but we already know their sad condition—which will soon be remedied. Borrup says 80% of the success of a public space is in its management and maintenance.

n Increase civic participation through celebrations. (Hello, Five Hills Art Festival!)

n Engage youth in the community. (Hello, Five Hills Art Festival!)

n Promote the power and preservation of space. Get people involved in designing and the upkeep of a space, they will be more connected to it. (KCCB downtown planters painted—now to get people to clean up the trash constantly thrown in those containers!)

n Broaden participation in the civic agenda. My guess is we have about 300 of the same individuals who rub elbows at the same clubs and volunteer groups in Copperas Cove. That’s less than 1% of our population. I can’t help but believe there’s hundreds more who’d like to join in but don’t fit the regular “mold” of a civic club.

We should let art move in, and let it breathe some life into our Main Street. We desperately need it. Adding art to a community is more than just a pretty face. We might not be a “destination” in the way other Texas cities are, but we can do something to where people coming through just might say, “This is a nice place. I think I’ll stay a little while.”

See you at the Five Hills Art Festival on Saturday at City Park. The arts are moving in!

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