Members of the Charlottesville City Council want the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative to provide more details before they appropriate $30,000 to a project designed to educate residents of the city’s Strategic Investment Area on planned redevelopment efforts.
“This is laudatory and a great purpose,” said Mayor Mike Signer. “But it’s a little loosey-goosey in terms of the budget for me.”
The Bridge PAI is administering a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for its Play the City project. The NEA selected Charlottesville as one of 66 communities to receive a 2014 “Our Town” grant.
“The NEA ‘Our Town’ grant supports creative placemaking projects that contribute to the livability of communities and place the arts at their core,” said Tierra Howard, grants coordinator for the city’s neighborhood development services department.
The Piedmont Council for the Arts is another partner in the two-year project.
When council agreed to receive the money last January, it also agreed in principle to spend $30,000 to match the federal grant.
“It’s a community-building effort,” said Matthew Slaats, the Bridge’s executive director. “The SIA area is a multitude of different communities and over the last year we’ve been working hard to listen and learn from those communities.”
Another project called “Seeking the City” was a photography camp that explored homelessness and playgrounds.
Slaats said Play the City will continue throughout the end of 2016.
“For year two, our primary focus is to take all of the things that we learned in year one and to focus and strengthen them,” Slaats said.
Jennifer Tidwell has been commissioned as the artist-in-residency at the Bridge, and Slaats said she will be working with children to create a monthlong performance piece at the IX Art Park.
There also will be an experiment in “participatory budgeting.”
“How do we find better ways for artists to respond to what residents need and want?” Slaats asked. “We’re putting in place a process that’s going to ask residents for their ideas and their needs in their neighborhoods. Then we’ll ask for artists to respond to those needs.”
Then residents will vote on which art projects move forward.
However, some councilors want more information on whether the projects have been successful.
When Slaats briefed the council on Play the City in November, City Councilor Kathy Galvin asked for metrics on whether residents have actually been engaged.
“One of [the projects] was Push Play,” said Galvin, referring to a series of performances by and for people who live in the SIA area. “A total of 450 people were served from that. Thirty local artists were involved. But what we don’t have from that is any understanding of whether participants were satisfied.”
Slaats prepared a document in response to Galvin’s question and admitted that no surveys were taken to determine the outcome of Push Play. However, he said many artists expressed a desire to continue the performances at more venues.
Signer said he wants to see a full budget for the program before the next meeting.
“I think we are owed that,” Signer said. “We need to know what we’re paying for.”
Slaats said the Bridge still is actively fundraising to meet the rest of the project’s $200,000 overall budget. Other sources of funding include the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation and the Bama Works Fund.
“A lot of this is based on our ability to raise the proper funds to do the project successfully,” Slaats said.
The item will come back before City Council on Jan. 19.