The creative energy of Charlottesville’s Strategic Investment Area is set to receive a boost through the National Endowment for the Arts.

Charlottesville is one of 66 cities to receive an Our Town grant from the endowment. The Our Town grant program, according to its website, is designed to help localities use art and design to make “communities more livable with enhanced quality of life, increased creative activity, a distinct sense of place, and vibrant local economies.”

The $50,000 Charlottesville received will help finance an initiative called Play the City, a round of arts programming designed to engage residents who live in a 330-acre area around the Ix warehouse complex and Friendship Court that is slated for redevelopment.

“Play the City demonstrates the best in creative community development and whose work will have a valuable impact on its community,” endowment Chairwoman Jane Chu said in a news release.

Over the next two years, city officials plan to collaborate with the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, which will direct the project, and the Piedmont Council for the Arts to bring Play the City to fruition. Matthew Slaats, director of the Bridge PAI, views the partnership as an essential element to success.

“We were excited and hopeful when we submitted the grant in January,” Slaats said. “Relationships are key. You can’t get a grant like this without relationships.”

One goal of the project is to amplify the voices and perspectives of investment-area residents through interactive arts programming, Slaats said.

“Our idea is that the first year is about the community engagement process,” he said. “We can use art as a process to get to know our neighbors better. It’s not about a mural that an artist created, but one that the community created together.”

A map in the form of an oversized quilt is one proposed project, Slaats said. The design would reflect input from artists, cultural geographers, planners, historians and investment-area residents. Once the design has been finalized, a local quilting group from a public housing site in the investment area would create the finished product, which would be used during subsequent workshops.

Other programming could include community workshops on planning and design, community surveys, arts installations, performances and a series of festivals. A portion of the grant is planned to go toward bringing in four artists in residence who will be chosen by community members, Slaats said.

“Working with the city and [Piedmont Council for the Arts], we want to pair artists with residents to deeply explore the city and create works of art that express those unique experiences,” he said.

Similar initiatives have revitalized and stimulated dialogue in cities around the nation, Slaats said.

“The ones I think about immediately are Detroit and Flint, Michigan,” Slaats said. “It’s that creativity to see what resources we have around us and create something using those resources.”

Ultimately, Slaats said he hopes Play the City will serve as a catalyst for communication.

“The real power of art is a medium through which you engage and see the world,” he said. “We want to understand what people see and give them a voice.”

This story by Charlottesville Tomorrow references nonprofit The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative. If you like what you have learned about their work, you can support them via Bubuti. You can also support Charlottesville Tomorrow the same way!