When a city is plagued by urban blight after a long spell of economic downturn, few measures to inject new life into a neighborhood are more effective than creating incentives for artists to move in. Attracted by low rents for large industrial spaces, creative types invest plenty of sweat equity into gutting rundown lofts and transforming them into pleasing spaces to live, work and display their art. Soon thereafter come the ancillary arts businesses, galleries, restaurants, boutiques and tourists with money to spend.
Sometimes this redevelopment process happens organically, as it did in Manhattan’s SoHo and TriBeCa in the 1980s. In other cases, municipalities sweeten the pot with tax deductions, low-interest construction loans or by making certain neighborhoods eligible for grant funding. In Midtown Kingston, the way was paved by a handful of adventurous arts-manufacturing firms who moved onto Ten Broeck Avenue some years back; they now employ more than 60 people. Now, under the leadership of new mayor Steve Noble, the city government is taking the next step of making the Midtown Arts District (MAD) a real Thing – and an economic engine that should serve to lift all boats in a neighborhood long troubled by unemployment, crime, drugs and deteriorating infrastructure.
MAD will have its official launch this Thursday, October 27, as Broadway Commons, a new public square at 615 Broadway, is opened to the public with an evening of free music and dance for all ages, the second annual Celebration of the Arts. The Flying Kingstonians Brass Band will give the fanfare as Mayor Noble cuts the ribbon at 5 p.m. From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Pauline Oliveros & Ione, Jay Ungar & Molly Mason, Peter Wetzler & Elena Reyes, the Gold Hope Duo, David Temple, the Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (POOK) and a Center for Creative Education (CCE) dance team will perform.
At the MAD event, the Red Goat Award, a recently established Kingston tradition recognizing outstanding service to the arts, will be given to Ward 4 Alderwoman Nina Dawson and CCE founder Ev Mann. “We’re committed to working toward equity and inclusion for those who live in Midtown neighborhoods surrounding the Arts District,” says MAD co-founder Anne Bailey. “Both Nina and Ev have demonstrated a commitment to serving Midtown youth and families. Their work inspires and guides MAD’s efforts.”
The MAD event will also launch the Collective, a temporary events and performance venue being constructed at Broadway Commons so that public use of the square can begin immediately. “Communities typically create appealing public spaces to anchor placemaking,” says MAD chair Ray Curran, who calls the Collective “a heart for the Arts District, and for the Midtown community.”
The area envisioned as an Arts District is centered around Broadway, Cornell Street and Greenkill Avenue. Already nearly 40 buildings are devoted to arts enterprises, housing nearly 200 arts and crafts workrooms, manufacturing sites, showrooms, studios, live/work lofts, galleries, video and recording facilities, performance spaces and nonprofit arts programs, providing more than 300 jobs and arts livelihoods in Midtown.