Friday, December 08, 2006

Williams College lands $300K grant to study "creative economies"

PUBLISHED: Dec. 7, 2006 01:06:51 PM EST

'Creative economy' research gets boost

By Bonnie Obremski, North Adams Transcript
North Adams Transcript

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- A museum, such as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, has an effect on its community and, in turn, the community influences the institution. But how does one quantify the give and take? The Institute of Museum and Library Services has given Williams College $334,384 in grant funds this fall to find out.

"People want to know what impact museums have on communities because there is a lot of interest in developing small communities by building an art museum . or a history museum, or a corn-cob museum or whatever," Stephen Sheppard, Williams College economic professor, said Wednesday.

Incoming Massachusetts Gov.-elect Deval Patrick also is interested in the so-called "cultural economy" . one of his 15 working groups discussing policy focuses on creative economy and includes Mass MoCA Director Joseph C. Thompson among its members.

Much of Sheppard's research was funded through its first years by a $350,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. The new grant allows Williams College to reduce Sheppard's teaching schedule so he has time to focus on collecting data. The college will also hire three to five summer research assistants for the project. Sheppard said the positions will be open to any applicants but are usually filled by Williams students. He said new data might also help organizations such as the Berkshire Creative Economy Steering Committee.

Sheppard obtained the grant, which will be spent over a three-year period, on behalf of his organization, the Williams College Center for Creative Community Development (C3D), based at Mass MoCA. His project will perform in-depth analysis of 16 museums and communities, as yet unnamed, around the United States. According to Sheppard, who spoke during an interview at Tunnel City Coffee on Spring Street Tuesday, knowing the relationship between a community and its museums can show leaders of both how to serve one another better.

He's been deciphering the relationship since 2004, but the new funds will take his research to a national level. Once he collects data from museums across the country, he said, those in Berkshire County might use it to set an example on how to foster positive community relations while also learning how to further improve. "This is a wonderful chance to study a backyard attraction in a way that will gain national attention," Sheppard said.

C3D has compiled several reports analyzing the relationship between Mass MoCA and North Adams. In the organization's first report, completed in 2004, data indicated real-estate values had increased 10 percent for property near the museum, and occupancy turnover rate in surrounding neighborhoods saw a significant decrease in the five years the museum had been open. More than 800 new jobs in the city were created by the museum and by businesses serving it, such as the Holiday Inn on Main Street and a number of restaurants, making a dent into the more than a thousand lost when the Sprague Electric Co. closed some 20 years ago in the same factory space.

The museum also has lured established and up-and-coming artists to the area and sparked the opening of galleries and studios, which in turn has led to greater demand for appropriate housing . in long-empty mills and Victorian dwellings. While the anecdotal evidence seems to prove that a cultural destination can be an economic engine, Sheppard's research aims to provide hard facts for other communities seeking renewal through art.

In evaluating The Colonial theater in Pittsfield, one of its first projects, C3D predicted that project would bring in nearly $2 million per year in direct economic developments to the city. A New York Times article about the theater quoted Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto as saying the study "quantified what we felt instinctively, that the theater would indeed make economic sense."

Sheppard's past research also contributed to the "counting on culture" search engine tool on, which displays statistics demonstrating the economic impact of arts organizations in several communities in the state. "We want to inform discussions on development and improve the quality of the decisions that are made," Sheppard said. He said his interests lie beyond Mass MoCA and even beyond art museums, but he does classify Mass MoCA as "special" and as a place that inspires an interesting debate:

"Is it successful because it's in Berkshire County, which has a longtime history as a cultural resort?" he asked. "Or would it be even more successful if it was in a different location, where it did not have to compete for attention with other institutions?"

Northern Berkshire is also the home of the Williams College Museum of Art and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Countywide, there's the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, the historic Hancock Shaker Village, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield and a range of other cultural and historic sites, such as Edith Wharton's The Mount in Lenox. Some of the reasons Mass MoCA is special, Sheppard said, is because it transformed an industrial space into an art space and often combines its visual art with performance art. "It's not a traditional art gallery . it's out there," he said. "It doesn't have a permanent collection, and they'll have reggae dance parties."

(Mass MoCA will soon have a somewhat permanent collection, however, as it expands into another 27,000 square feet of gallery space in $6 million project over the next year. The space will host 50 pieces of work by Sol LeWitt for 25 years.)


This article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have
specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made
available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic,
democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice
issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by
Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit
to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included
information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use
copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must
obtain permission from the copyright owner.


Post a Comment

<< Home