A recent conference focused on how planners use the transformative effect that artists bring to a community to help jump start urban revitalization.
"Artists see themselves as devoted to creativity. City planners now look at artists and see something else: a highly valuable form of urban fertilizer.
Sprinkle some galleries on a dying main street. Change the zoning to allow live-work loft space. Throw in some government money for facade renovation or mortgage assistance.
Voila: Property values will jump, and you'll soon worry about how to avoid gentrification, which is what happens when people with money move into a former zone of blight.
This scenario, more or less, was the leitmotif of an all-day conference held at Cleveland State University on Wednesday, titled "From Rust Belt to Artist Belt."
Organized by the nonprofit Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, the event was intended to raise awareness about one of the latest trends in urban development - the rise of cultural districts in struggling city neighborhoods.
Nineteen speakers described how cities from Pittsburgh to Paducah, Ky., have lured artists, galleries and cultural organizations to areas formerly written off by developers and city governments.
Keynote speaker Jeremy Nowak, president of the Philadelphia-based Reinvestment Fund, a nonprofit organization devoted to community revitalization, said artists are naturally gifted at what he called "place-making."
"Artists and creative people are adept at uncovering and expressing and repurposing the assets of place," he said. "In the great halls of philanthropy, we try to force these things." "