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Resource: Webinar

CMSC Webinar: Building Your Volunteer Program

CMSC Webinar

Building Your Volunteer Program:
Feeding the HUMAN Machine & Building the HUMAN Capacity

Webinar Summary

In order to drive a community forward, each organization must foster, maintain, and perfect the available human capacity within each community. In this webinar, we dive into strategies for creating a comprehensive volunteer matrix, how to maximize efforts for volunteers, and how appropriate positive (or sometimes negative) feedback should be delivered. Topics include how to create a comprehensive volunteer list, how to partner volunteers together, and where and how to utilize critical volunteers. This webinar is also applicable to those who have volunteer boards and commissions.

Presentation Highlights

  • The Human Machine

    • A community functions like a watch – all the cogs need to work together in the right sequence. The downtown is run by people.
    • People need the ability to help, as well as the drive and desire to do it. This human capacity is the driving force behind any volunteer organization, whether it’s a Masonic Lodge, city council or downtown organization.
    • It also helps set the expectations for volunteers, what they can give, and what they can expect to get back from their service. Everyone needs to know their role, which will also help you leverage their talents and skills and avoid burnout.
  • 6 Types of Human Capacity

    • As a Main Street manager, it’s not your job to do every project. It’s your job to empower people to help you implement the projects. You’re here to guide and provide resources, not do every job that comes up. The process isn’t linear, its cyclical and ongoing and has 6 components:
      1. Community Assessment
      2. Identifying Abilities
      3. Planning Roles
      4. Building a strong “house”
      5. Empowerment through partnership
      6. Implementing projects
  • Working with your Community as a Machine

    • Outlining a 2-way relationship is critical. What is the volunteer getting out of it?
    • When you do the Community Assessment, it’s like an audit where you can identify skills gaps. This is a great task for someone joining your Organization board or committee. It helps them understand how you work, while offering a fresh pair of eyes on the data.
    • When identifying abilities, you may need to have tough discussions with people because you may not need the skills they’re offering. Also look at when your volunteers are available. Do they have kids in school and so are not available at night? Do they work during the day and are only available on the weekend?
    • Many people want to do something different than their day job. You need to help them figure out their role, as well as who to hand off things to. You’re aiming to have seamless transitions between them.
    • Build a matrix of skills, availability, etc. Then you can pair people up, creating little “families” of volunteers.

    Working With Your Community As A Machine

    • Main Street needs to empower through leadership, not by doing everything on their own. Build capacity through responsibility and let people know where they fit into the overall process.
    • When you implement the project, this is the time to give positive and constructive criticism. It’s also a time to re-evaluate your volunteer to see if anything’s changed.
  • Strategies for Improving the Machine

    • Create a social network map – Take your 20 core volunteers and map all the different groups in your community – everything from the PTA to the local bank.
    • What demographics are represented? Which are missing? What do they love to do and what are they good at? What’s motivating them to volunteer and to be part of the community? Remember, sometimes what people are good at is not what they’re looking to do when they’re volunteering.
    • Do an assessment to determine your volunteers’ strengths and weaknesses. Are they introverts or extroverts?
      • Can categorize people by Seer, Feeler, Thinker & Doers
        • Seer – learn or share by showing
        • Feelers – Likes to do something over and over
        • Thinkers – Likes data and putting things on paper
        • Doers – Do whatever needs to be done
      • Create a comprehensive volunteer list. Can be as short as 10 questions asking:
        • What they prefer
        • When they’re available (day, evening)
        • How they would like to volunteer
        • Where they’re comfortable
        • Can then sort the list and use it to ask for targeted help.
      • 2 Way benefit – to the volunteer and to the Main Street organization
        • Benefits to the Volunteer
          • Personal connections
          • Strengthened and vibrant downtown
          • Sense of accomplishment and belonging
          • Vested in the overall community’s health
        • Benefits to the Main Street program
          • Improved amounts of volunteers and participants
          • Vested residents or business owners
          • Increased networking and economic draw
        • These relationships don’t just start on day 1, they need to be cultivated. The Main Street director or manager usually needs to be the first to take the initial step.
        • You need to give continuous and personalized feedback and praise.
        • Conduct anonymous assessments to get feedback from the public.

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About Ben Levenger, AICP

Ben Levenger is an AICP planner, registered landscape architect, and Certified Economic Developer. He is the president of Downtown Redevelopment Services, LLC, a planning firm specializing in assisting communities through comprehensive downtown planning. He has worked in over 30 states and consults for federal agencies on economic development best practices.


Ben Levenger, AICP


Cell: 330-212-2260 

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CMSC Webinar: How to Start a Cultural District in Your Town

CMSC Webinar

How to Start a Cultural District in Your Town

Webinar Summary

Join Connecticut Main Street Center, in partnership with the Connecticut Office of the Arts, the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut, the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition, and the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council, as we discuss how to start a cultural district with people who’ve already done it!

In this virtual roundtable, we discuss the value of establishing a cultural district, the basics of the program, as well as common challenges and how to overcome them.

Presentation Highlights

  • What’s a Cultural District?

    A Cultural District is a specific area of a city or town identified by the municipality that has a number of cultural facilities, activities and/or assets–both for profit and nonprofit. It is a walkable, compact area that is easy for visitors to recognize. It is a center of cultural activities –artistic and economic. It is a place in your city/town where community members congregate, and visitors may enjoy those places that make a community special. 

  • Discussion Overview

    • In this webinar, we interview three communities – Ridgefield, New London and Torrington – that started a Cultural District.
    • The discussion is led by the leaders of three of Connecticut’s Designated Regional Service Organizations (DRSO’s), who are available to help communities learn how to form their own cultural districts. 
    • Joined by Liz Shapiro, Director of the Office of the Arts, this discussion highlights the lived experience of these communities in going through the process, the things they’d do differently, and the ways the Cultural District has energized community collaboration.

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CMSC Webinar: Reimagining Communal Spaces to be More Community-Friendly

CMSC Webinar

Reimagining Communal Spaces to be More Community Friendly

Webinar Summary

Communal spaces play a vital role in every municipality. They bring residents together, provide recreation, boost the economy and even fuel healthier lifestyles. 

In this webinar, Celeste Frye, co-founder & CEO of Public Works Partners, LLC, shares strategies for designing communal spaces that proactively and thoughtfully meet the needs of the entire community. 

Presentation Highlights

  • What is a Communal Space?

    The question of where people congregate in your town should be approached sensitively and take into consideration all the different people who live in your community. This is important because it has repercussions regarding class, race, ethnic backgrounds and ability to access spaces (ability, age, etc.) When we’re designing communal places, they need to be truly welcoming inclusiveness of all community members.

    What is a Communal Space?

    • The purpose of a communal space is to be activated and invite people in to gather and connect. From an urban planning perspective, activating a place means the use of a public space to advance community building and social interaction, using strategies to proactively bring people into a space. This can be a simple as free wi-fi or tables and chairs.
    • It’s important to acknowledge that you may have different spaces for different groups within your town and that some spaces may feel hostile to different groups, for instance to those that are unhoused (homeless) or disabled.
  • Benefits of Communal Spaces

    There are 3 main benefits of communal spaces:

    • Build social networks by encouraging people to grow their personal networks
      • Communal spaces provide infrastructure and a setting for people to gather and share experiences, and to safely interact with others who they may not see or interact with otherwise – for instance, those of differing gender identities or religious affiliation.
    • Spur economic growth both in the space and in nearby neighborhoods
      • Attracting people to a space can encourage patronage of local businesses through design and use improvements.
      • Brick and mortar stores, façade improvements, and venues for food trucks can all help small businesses thrive.
      • Communal spaces can also draw people to different neighborhoods
      • Adaptive reuse of historic buildings can give them uses that match the current residents and their needs, for instance converting old schools into community or recreational centers.
    • Improve health and wellbeing through facilitating physical and social activity
      • Can include things like parks with walking trails or game spaces, but also downtowns with walkable streets.
      • Can use design elements that encourage people to move from space to space which can improve health and wellbeing, especially in places that have historically lacked them. Examples include wide sidewalks, protected bike lanes, public transit access
      • Examples of Communal Spaces
        • Parks – Green spaces that are visually attractive and allow for physical and social interactions
        • Markets – Vacant lots can be used for pop up markets or food trucks
        • Downtowns – in addition to commercial areas, they also house government buildings, libraries and social events like parades
  • How to Be Truly Community-Friendly

    To create places that are welcoming to the entire community, it’s imperative to incorporate key elements:

    • Accessibility – go above and beyond ADA requirements
      • The community’s ADA needs should be discussed at the beginning stages of planning, not at the end
      • ADA mostly focuses on physical accessibility but we should broaden our understanding of ADA or “universal” design to include mental cognitive ability and life cycle (i.e. kids, pregnant women or older people). For example, signage should be clear and easy to understand. Use multi-sensory signals, such as auditory signals at crosswalks. Haptic, or touch-based signals, (such as braille), help as well.
      • It’s also important to make sure access is continuous. Common obstacles are curb cuts that don’t connect to cross walks or protected bike lanes that end suddenly.
      • Incorporating accessibility elements creates an equitable opportunity for people to participate in these spaces.
    • Transportation
      • Active transportation gives people more ways to traverse a space. Think of protected bike lanes (and bike parking), protected bike lanes and wide sidewalks in addition to lanes for cars. Bollards and islands can be used to help separate lanes.
    • Green space
      • A community friendly space incorporates the natural environment for recreation, play and learning. Thoughtfully plan for and maximize green space – think about things like where you’ll you put it. What will it be like in real life? For instance, will trees work in the space or are planters better?
    • Safety & Comfort
      • This makes the place approachable and can include things like awnings over shops to provide shelter from the rain, trees for shade, human-scaled lighting, slower speed limits, and permanent and movable street seating.
  • Making It Happen

    • Begin by doing robust research
      • How do people use the space? How do they want to access it? What’s the history of the neighborhood? Is it changing? What are the community demographics? Why is the project happening here, now?
      • Talk to the community and observe how the space is currently used.
    • Make Your Plan
      • Once you have the research you can create your plan, laying out your goals and strategies. Include key milestones and successes, timeline, communication protocols, incorporate the community into the implementation, etc.
    • Implement Your Plan
      • Utilize connections made with businesses and community members to create some shared decision-making frameworks.
      • Bring the larger community in and get them excited about the project. While you’ll likely engage contractors for big changes, you might be able incorporate the community by doing site tours or things like group planting projects, ribbon cuttings, etc.
      • Clear communication will also help mitigate issues like construction noise or access. It’ll let you get feedback so you can respond to issues in a timely manner. Downtown managers are often key liaisons between the different stakeholders.
    • Manage Your Space
      • Discuss funding for maintenance and who will manage the space, have strategies to evaluate the space such as who’s using it at what time of day, then you can make changes as necessary.
    • Maintain Your Space
      • Weather and use can impact your space. What’s needed for maintenance on a seasonal basis? After a year or five years?
      • Report out to the community on your successes and efforts.
  • Real Life Examples

    • Syracuse Downtown Revitalization Initiative – Public Works was engaged to support the creation of a final strategic investment plan that’s directing $10m worth of state funding to select real estate and public infrastructure investments.
      • In this project they were reconnecting two different parts of the downtown to work against the affects of population decline and the legacy of urban renewal.
      • They facilitated a series of in person and virtual charrettes focused on things the community already said was important to them – pedestrian friendly streets, trees and green infrastructure, making streetscape and building improvements and preserving the cultural heritage of this neighborhood.
        • Their recommendations included improving sidewalks and streetscapes, adding lighting and wayfinding to encourage people to traverse the area, redeveloping certain properties to create commercial and pedestrian activity, and supporting outdoor vendor spaces.
      • Lessons learned
        • Important to reach out to people in a variety of way to meet people where they are.
        • Build on what’s already working and let community members easily identify what they already like, in this case a popular community center
        • Choose and incorporate elements that fit with the community.
    • NYC Streets Plan – Public Works led the NYC Streets Plan (NSP) Public Engagement Process (PEP) to support a NSP that would include the safety of all street users, the use of multi-modal mass transit, the reduction of vehicle emissions, and access for individuals with disabilities.
      • In many communities the most publicly owned land is actually the streets, so it’s beneficial to think how they can be utilized by all users, not just cars.
      • This purpose of this program was primarily to improve the safety of non-car users.
        • Had a online engagement platform, did phone surveys targeted to non-English speakers and people who traditionally didn’t participate, which allowed for a deeper reach into the community.
      • Lessons Learned
        • Defined the accessibility need for the engagement process and the plan up front
        • Provided flexibility around the times people could engage
        • Did a mix of small group engagement so everyone felt comfortable participating

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About Celeste Frye

Co-Founder and CEO, Public Works Partners

An AICP-certified planner, Celeste Frye co-founded Public Works Partners more than a decade ago out of a passion to help mission-driven organizations increase their positive impact on local communities. She is a known expert in designing and implementing multi-stakeholder initiatives, building strong connections across the nonprofit, government and private sectors. Celeste is a member of the Regional Plan Association’s Connecticut Committee and the Coro New York Leadership Center’s Alumni Advisory Board. She was recognized with City & State’s 2021 Community Engagement Power 50 and Crain’s New York’s 2021 Notable Women Business Owners. Celeste received a M.S. in Regional Planning from Cornell University and a B.A. in International Studies & French from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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CSMC Webinar: Secrets to Success – CT Small Business Boost Fund

CMSC Webinar

Secrets to Success: CT Small Business Boost Program

Webinar Summary

In this webinar presenter Marlon Samuels gives us a a behind-the-scenes look at the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund, a new resource for Connecticut’s small businesses supported by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

This webinar builds on our prior webinar, Funding Your Main Street which offered an overview of the program. 

With loans ranging from $5,000 – $500,000, no origination fees, a low interest rate, and a focus on underserved business owners, the CT Small Business Boost Fund is a flexible program with quick turnaround that can help many Main Street businesses get the capital they need.

Presentation Highlights

  • Program details

    Marlon Samuels from Pursuit Lending provided the following information which is based on how Pursuit underwrites their CT Small Business Boost Loans. The program’s other participating lenders may have different underwriting criteria. 

    • The amount ultimately loaned to a business is based on several factors such as the business’s revenue, years in business, and size.
      • Businesses under 1 year old have loans  capped at $100,000
      • Businesses over 1 year old can have loans as high as $500,000
      • Loans over $100,000 have a 6 year-repayment term, while loans under $100,000 have a 5-year repayment term
    • With regard to underwriting the loans, the program is more focused on cash flow analysis
      • Debt service coverage ratio is 1.15%
      • Usually based off previous tax year
      • For businesses that hadn’t recovered yet in 2021 (perhaps due to a shut down), they will also look at 2022 interim financials. 
    • A minimum credit score of 640 is required, however, the program allows some flexibility to the lender to make decisions about waiving this requirement. For Pursuit, it’s less about the score itself than what’s driving it.
      • For example, one loan applicant had a score in the 500s, but it was great (in the high 700s) until Covid. That’s because she was late on her bills rather than layoff any of her employees. Because of her prior good credit and actions during Covid, Pursuit was able to still provide her with a loan.
      • Pursuit also allows borrowers to have an guarantor to offset their credit score. They’ll average the applicant’s credit score with the guarantor’s. The guarantor doesn’t have to be a person with ownership interest in the business or someone in your household. But they do have to have income, good credit score and be willing to take on the risk.
    • Who is the loan fund good for?

      • This program is great for small businesses that don’t fit traditional financing, especially since this is a much better rate than they’d get elsewhere, or even at prime rate. A lot of underserved businesses get stuck in a cycle of borrowing to cover debt but this program can help small businesses take on debt that’ll help them grow.
      • CT Small Business Boost Fund loans are ideal for businesses seeking financing for:
        • Working capital & inventory
        • Equipment purchases
        • Leasehold improvements
        • Debt refinance
        • Payroll
        • Utilities
        • Rent
    • Streamlining the Process & Common Obstacles

      How to Streamline the Application Process

      Marlon Samuels recommends small business applicants take the following steps to streamline the application process.

      • Pre-Application
        • Gather the needed documents before applying. You can work with a technical assistance provider like the CT Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for free. 
      • Post-Approval Most of the obstacles Pursuit is seeing are happening in this phase.
        • After you’re approved, you’ll receive a commitment letter from the lender, telling you the amount you’ve been approved for, along with a DOL release forms. It’s important to sign and return the documents as this starts the closing process.
          • Your commitment letter may be less than you requested, or it may be more than you want. For instance, you may have asked for $200,000 but only been approved for a $100,000 loan. Or you may have been approved for a $100,000 loan, but you only need $50,000 right now. You can accept up to the approved $100,000 loan amount. 
        • The small business owner needs to get a tax status letter. This has been a challenge for a lot of people, because some are getting letters saying they owe taxes. It’s important to note that at the beginning of the program, it was required the applicant completely pay off the taxes. Now it may be that they just need to show proof of a payment plan or have made 3 consecutive payments.
        • There will be a site visit conducted by a third party to verify the business operations.
        • A Confirmation of Good Standing Letter is needed from the Department of Labor
        • Business owners will have to present a Valid Operating License, depending on the type of business (i.e. a restaurant or daycare).
        • A Certificate of Legal Existence is also required. Business owners can request this from the CT Secretary of State as soon as they begin the application process. It’s good for 90 days.

      Approval to Funding Timeline

      The time is takes from approval to funding depends on each case, and usually depends on 2 factors:

      • Responsiveness of the applicant
      • Whether there any challenges getting the documents needed.

      From the lender’s perspective, it takes about 1 week to make a decision on an application.

      • Within the first 24 hours they do a quality check – are all the needed documents there?
      • Then it’s another 9-10 days to close, however it can take weeks, usually due to the same 2 factors: how quickly applicants respond and getting the necessary documents.
      • Some common barriers to closing include:
        • Businesses owing taxes 
        • The Department of Labor not providing verification. This could be because a business isn’t registered with DOL, or because the business owes employment-related taxes. 
        • Language and/or technical barriers, for instance, having trouble with the all-electronic application process.
        • Delay in identifying and submitting currenting licenses or tax status letters
        • Delay in signing documents

      A closing representative can help with these issues and answer questions the applicant may have.

    • A Main Street Perspective

      Carl Rosa, Connecticut Main Street Center Field Services Director describes how downtown businesses can use program funds.

      • Common uses for the CT Small Business Boost funds for businesses on Main Street:
        • Façade improvement – if your program requires a match, this program could provide the match for things such as lighting, window displays, etc.
        • Signage
        • Awning installation
        • Exterior lighting
      • Restaurant uses for the funds can include:
        • New kitchen or equipment/upgrades. 
          • During the pandemic, restaurants that could offered outside eating. These funds could help maintain and expand these outside eating features, for instance modular outdoor dining set ups.
        • Payroll support through slow seasons
      • Retail examples include:
        • Acquiring seasonal inventory or new products/services
        • Marketing and advertising, including a new website
        • Window displays – funds can be used to hire a professional to design a window display or improve lighting
        • Upgrade security equipment
      • Services-Based or Non-profits uses include:
        • Leasehold renovation and office set up
        • Onboarding a new software system
        • New website
      • It’s best to talk with your Main Street businesses to see what they need, suggest possible uses and discuss whether the Small Business Boost Fund is a good fit for them.
    • Additional Questions

      • What does the portal matching process look like?
        • Each lender can have their own underwriting criteria, for instance different credit scores. There’s a series of questions when you go in the portal, and depending on how you answer, you’ll be matched with one or more lender.
        • If you’re matched with more than one you can choose who you want to work with. There’ll be a write up and timeframe to closing provided for each lender.
        • If you don’t match any lenders, you’ll only see technical assistance providers listed. It’s their job to help the business owner understand why they weren’t matched, as it could be as simple as not filling out the form properly.
      • The CT Small Business Boost Fund is not like the PPP fund – the Boost funds are not running out, so businesses can and should take the time to connect with the technical assistance professional to make sure your paperwork is complete.

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    CSMC Webinar: Funding Your Main Street – CT Small Business Boost Fund

    CMSC Webinar

    Funding Your Main Street: CT Small Business Boost Program

    Webinar Summary

    The Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund is a new resource for Connecticut’s small businesses supported by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

    With loans ranging from $5,000 – $500,000, no origination fees, a low interest rate, and a focus on underserved business owners, the CT Small Business Boost Fund is a flexible program with quick turnaround that can help many Main Street businesses get the capital they need.

    It is funded through a public-private partnership, with funds provided by the Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) and six private banks.

    Presentation Highlights

    • How the loans work

      Kevin Gremse, NDC

      • NDC is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that provides lending for the CT Small Business Boost Program. The program is public/private partnership, meaning it is capitalized by a combination of state and private bank funds. This type of loan model is active in 18 states throughout the country.
        • There are currently six CT banks funding the program: M&T Bank, Key Bank, First Republic Bank, Webster Bank, and Citizens Bank.
        • The loan program is expected to be active for the next 3-5 years. The state’s investment is $75 million, the banks are providing at least $75 million.
      • The loans are aimed at helping small businesses and non-profits in distressed areas, and those owned by women and minorities (MWBE). It’s also targeted to businesses that need smaller loans between $5,000-$150,000. Larger loans of $150,000-500,000 are limited to 10% of the loan portfolio.
        • There are 25 distressed communities in CT, as designated by DECD. The aim is to have at least half of the loans go to businesses in these areas.
      • To date, the CDFI’s have provided about 110 loans totaling $16 million. The average loan over the last 3 months was approximately $150,000 but will likely go down over the coming months as the volume of loans increases.
        • Of the 7 CDFI lenders, 4 are CT-based; 3 are based in other state but have experience in this type of lending and so were brought in as lenders.
        • Businesses can choose which CDFI they want to work with. The application is centralized through one platform no matter which lender the business works with.
      • A key part of the program is aligning technical assistance with capital assistance. In CT, the main technical assistance provider is the Small Business Development Center.
    • Technical assistance for businesses

      Scott Arnold, SBDC

      • This loan is designed to reach businesses in areas that weren’t reached through DECD’s prior Business Express lending program.
      • The technical assistance offered through the Small Business Boost Fund is free, confidential and professional.
      • There are 3 types of assistance offered: pre-loan, packaging (during) the loan, and post-loan assistance.
        • SBDC will help applicants determine their eligibility, understand the program details and conditions, provide business templates, understand required documentation, review their loan package, and more.
        • They’ll also help businesses consider whether they can repay the loan, even if they’re eligible for the funds.
    • A Main Street Perspective

      Carl Rosa, Connecticut Main Street Center

      • Small Main Street businesses can use the loan funds for a variety of purposes including creating a marketing plan that addresses social media, websites or setting up online sales.
      • Restaurants can use the funds to update their décor, kitchen equipment or outdoor seating.
      • Retail businesses can use the funds for expanding inventory, new equipment, enhancing displays, updating point of sale technology, business security systems, or expanding product lines, etc.
      • Service-based or non-profit businesses can use the funds for leasehold renovations, new software systems, or new websites.
      • It’s best to talk with your Main Street businesses to see what they need, suggest possible uses and discuss whether the Small Business Boost Fund is a good fit for them.
    • Additional Questions

      • Can businesses not in distressed areas utilize the funds?
        • Yes, up to half of the loans will be available to businesses in non-distressed areas.
      • Is the funding only available to brick-and-mortar businesses?
        • No, small online businesses (non brick-and-mortar) are also eligible for the funds.
      • Can SBDC help small businesses obtain Minority or Women Business Owned certification?
        • Yes, they can help them achieve WMBE certification.

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    About the Presenters

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    CMSC Webinar Recap: Using Public Art for a More Vibrant & Welcoming Community

    CMSC Webinar

    Using Public Art for a More Vibrant & Welcoming Community

    Webinar Summary

    When public art is supported and implemented thoughtfully and strategically, it adds tremendous cultural, aesthetic, and economic value to a community by facilitating a sense of place and community pride. It encourages civic engagement and builds social capital through raising public awareness of important local issues and connecting residents to their neighbors and their shared history.

    In this webinar, our panel from around the country and Connecticut speaks to innovative public art programs that provide economic impact and create more inclusive communities.

    Presentation Highlights

    • The Importance of Public Art & Support – Connecticut Office of the Arts

      The arts provide meaning to our lives:

      • 69% of the population believe the arts “lift me up beyond everyday experiences”
      • 73% feel the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in”
      • 81% say the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world”

      Source Americans for the Arts

      Top 5 types of arts projects people favor for government funding:

      1. To provide art in parks, downtown areas, and other public places (72%)
      2. For returning military personnel, to aid in their transition to civilian life (70%)
      3. To provide arts and culture programs for the elderly (70%)
      4. To beautify blighted or abandoned areas (69%)
      5. To promote pro-social behavior with at-risk youth (69%)

      Source Americans for the Arts

      Quality of life matters:

      • 99% of the CEOs who were questioned stated that the availability of cultural activities in an area is an important consideration in choosing a new location Source Project for Public Spaces

      CT Office of the Arts provides programming to help communities implement meaningful art projects:

      • AIR Collaborative “is a field-tested and iterative, three-step pathway designed to build innovation and economic sustainability” through facilitated community meetings.

      For more information contact: Tamara Dimitri – or visit

    • Murals: Examples of Public Art – The Rise Up Group, Inc

      RiseUP is a Connecticut-based non-profit that provides localized, end-to-end placemaking and public art management. Services include:

      • Project management
      • Fundraising strategy (can serve as a fiscal sponsor)
      • Government relations
      • Community engagement
      • Execution strategy and advising
      • Connector/facilitator
      • Artistic management
      • Artist database

      The organization focuses on exclusively using local artists for community projects; 60% of their artists are people of color.

      Learn more and get in touch at

    • Light Art – Portland Winter Light Festival

      Portland Winter Light Festival is a family-friendly, city-wide temporary light art placemaking event that takes place in February based in Portland, Oregon.

      The festival started in 2016 with no city funding and had 30,000 visitors to its latest event in 2022 bringing in 189,000 attendees and generated $3.7m in estimated economic impact. The city now provides some funding, but the majority of funders are from private donors and sponsors.

      Of note:

      • Anchor sites – The festival has multiple dynamic anchor sites and has smaller installations throughout the city in smaller installations. The anchor sites have the power to bring people to areas that have gained a negative perception and reset their understanding of a place. For example, downtown Portland’s reputation was tarnished during COVID and protests, but the festival brought people back downtown to reestablish the narrative.
      • Involving businesses – The festival attracts small businesses, parking lots, and hotels to be a host site for pop-up installations. There is an application process, but the festival also reaches out to business. “We try to tailor participation to the interest of the industry. For example, architecture firms participate by having their staff create art installations that highlight the creativity of their firm. Hotel Partners offer lobby spaces and a small sponsorship in exchange for recognition on a list of participating hotels in the hopes that will lead to room rentals. We have a call for venue participants (businesses of any kind) who want to host artwork in their windows, and that is really tied to revenue generation and community engagement. Over time, our hope is to help build a network of creatives and businesses that can work together to place artwork in various venues so that they are pulling creatives from their own neighborhoods to show art in their spaces and creating clusters of activation. I do think private businesses have an important role to play in building the artistic landscape of our cities, and it seems that more businesses are seeing the intrinsic value of participating.” – Alisha Sullivan, Executive Director in follow-up email exchange
      • Survey teams – The festival deploys survey teams throughout the event to get feedback and to count attendees. This data is critical to demonstrate value to stakeholders and calculate economic impact.

      For more information, visit or reach out to Alisha Sullivan at

    • Music & Night-Time Economy – Sound Diplomacy

      Big Ideas:

      • “A chamber of culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce and cultural infrastructure plans are key.” For further explanation from a follow-up email with Kate Durio, “Chambers of Culture look at culture as more than just art for art’s sake and recognize the economic and tourism value and quality of life afforded by culture. Seeing artists and cultural businesses as entrepreneurs and businesses instead of ‘starving artists’ requires a culture shift backed by policy makers, tourism offices, business developers and even city planners. This is how it goes beyond just an art’s council, for instance. Sometimes starting small is enough to get going, by establishing regular meetings of tourism, economic development, local government, arts agencies, etc. With a focused agenda, shared objectives and clear roles for all involved, a community can accomplish a lot if participants all commit.”
      • Invest in people already present” – Exemplified in Tulsa, Oklahoma they focused on supported their local artists in small, impactful ways instead of investing in large public projects like an amphitheater.
      • Create policy that supports musicians – Sound Diplomacy provides a Top 10 list of key policies that can support musicians, night-time economy, and other creatives. Some policies are a large undertaking and others are smaller, incremental steps with a powerful impact. For example, creating busking policies that encourage street performers, loading zones for musicians so they can easily set up at their night venue, and having more than one person in charge of special permitting.

      Free Resources:

      Other Reading:

      For more information, visit or reach out to Kate Durio at

    View the Recording

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    View additional Placemaking resources from CMSC, our members and the many organizations we partner with.

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    CSMC Webinar: Supporting Small Businesses on Main Street

    CMSC Webinar

    Supporting Small Businesses on Main Street

    Webinar Summary

    The findings in Main Street America’s 2022 Small Business Survey give great insight into the concerns, needs, and wants from Main Street businesses. This survey (and asking your business community directly) gives excellent guidance to Main Streets on what types of programs that should be focused on implementing. In fact, according to Main Street America 26% of survey respondents say that they are receiving assistance from Main Street programs, which has increased 4% prior to COVID indicating Main Street programs are becoming more important in supporting their small businesses.

    Presentation Highlights

    • Desired Support #1: Incentives & Financial support

      Example Hart Lift Program

      The Hart Life Program is in partnership with the Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the City of Hartford to help property owners secure tenants in their vacant storefronts with up to a $150,000 grant.

      There have been 46 approved applicants since the launch of the program and 6 businesses have opened to date. The businesses supported through this program are diverse in terms of types of businesses and 72% are MWBE-owned businesses.

      The program is open to property owners that are in good standing with the City of Hartford with vacant ground floor retail space and who are actively working with a prospective tenant. The matching grants can be used only for buildout and furniture, fixture, and equipment costs, and the new business must conform with POCD and all planning and zoning requirements and guidelines.

      The second phase of the program will include more targeted neighborhood outreach and networking events and workshops to support the business owners.

      Learn more at

    • Desired Support #2: Increased district-wide marketing & promotion

      Example Colorful Bridgeport

      Colorful Bridgeport is Bridgeport Downtown Special Services District’s branding and marketing campaign launched in 2019. It “spreads color and joy through business features, public art, activations, and events with the goals of economic development, distinct identity, positive perception, and an in improved quality of life for all.”

      Critical to any downtown branding is highlighting the assets of the district. Colorful Bridgeport focuses on highlighting its people – not buildings or other geographic markers. The whole branding scheme “personalizes and humanizes” its district by using images of real people you will find downtown. This approach is an excellent example of creating a sense of pride in place, but it also is a strategic way to overcome negative perceptions.

      Consistency and the use of partnerships are critical to the success of the branding campaign. All district events and activations align with the Colorful Bridgeport brand, small business owners who have not been engaged previously have a renewed sense of getting involved, and partners are equipped with marketing and branding tools to align with Colorful Bridgeport. 

      Visit Downtown Bridgeport’s website to see Colorful Bridgeport in action.

    • Desired Support #3: Stronger organization of businesses in the area

      Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs is an alternative to a traditional merchant meetup. Focused on storytelling in an informal setting, this event highlights a small business owner’s story and brings together the business community, entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the general community.

      There are no sales pitches and no PowerPoints – just stories. Speakers are coached on how to tell great stories pulling on lessons from “The Storyteller’s Secret” by Carmine Gallo and “Start with Story” by Lyn Graft.

      Read the story of how Silver City Main Street in Silver City, New Mexico used this storytelling format to engage the business community and greater community in their small town of under 10,000.

      Connect with Melanie Lenci, founder of Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs, and learn more about Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs program:

    View the Recording

    Key findings from the 2022 Small Business Survey:

    • Top 5 Biggest Concerns of Small Business

        1. Shrinking margins
        2. Challenges with inflation
        3. Challenges hiring and filling positions with qualified applicants
        4. Cost of rent
        5. Supply chain issues
    • Top 5 Desired Types of Support

        1. Incentives and financial support for small business
        2. Increased district-wide marketing and promotion
        3. Stronger organization of businesses in the area
        4. Improvements to the physical design of the area (e.g. accessibility, lighting, wayfinding, streetscape)
        5. Incentives, support, or technical assistance for storefront/façade renovations or energy efficiency
    • Top 5 Topics Small Businesses are Interested in Developing

        1. Online marketing
        2. Partnerships with other local businesses and business groups
        3. Leveraging data to improve marketing and inventory
        4. Strengthening relationships with local and state government
        5. Ecommerce

      Learn more at Main Street America.

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    CSMC Webinar: How to Fill Vacant Storefronts

    CMSC Webinar

    How to Fill Vacant Storefronts

    Webinar Summary

    Every Main Street will face vacancies from time to time, and COVID only exacerbated this challenge across Connecticut and the country. Not only are persistent vacancies detrimental to creating and sustaining a vibrant downtown, but they also have a negative economic impact on the community. In this webinar, our presenter Ilana Preuss – international speaker, and fierce advocate for creating great places and small-scale manufacturing – shares:

    • Innovative approaches to filling vacant storefronts from around the country
    • Programmatic ideas to collaborate with property owners
    • Long-term solutions to keep storefronts full by supporting local small business ecosystems

    Presentation Highlights

    • 5 Reasons why vacant storefronts exist

      1. Cost of renovation: The cost to renovate a vacant space is too high and the market does not support a lease rate that supports the cost of renovation.
      2. Tax benefits: Property owners gain a tax benefit on the loss of not leasing space.
      3. Devalue underwriting: For new, big development projects, the owner doesn’t want to lower the price of the storefronts to not devalue the whole project if they are looking to sell or refinance at some point.
      4. Guaranteed lease: This is common to see in malls or big box strip centers, where a major anchor tenant has a guaranteed lease for an extended period of time so no one else can come into the space.
      5. Mismatch of real estate sizes and small business needs: A lot of communities have a lot of storefronts that are 2,000-10,000 square feet when a lot of small businesses need 500-1,000 square feet.
    • Context & national trends that are influencing our downtowns:

      • Vacant storefronts reduce the value of nearby property by 20% or more. They reduce traffic to these areas and leads to a feeling of isolation in the community. The impact of vacancies are multi-fold and in many cases create a downward spiral in communities.
      • During COVID, a lot of businesses pivoted, some survived, and many did not.
      • Over 1 million COVID deaths impacted our householders, economy, and individuals. The psychological impact of the pandemic cannot be ignored.
      • A lot of people started businesses in recent years without a lot of business experience. They started small business because they lost their jobs or decided to pursue their passion or a different quality of life.
      • People are demanding higher wages and pay.
      • Before the pandemic we saw demographic shifts such as decline in working age population and growing income and wealth inequality – which have only been exacerbated during COVID.
      • A lot of major chains shrunk their footprint and are focusing on prime locations.
    • Strategies to fill vacant storefronts

      1. Support small business

      Specifically focus on small-scale manufacturing (businesses that make consumer products). These businesses have opportunities for different sources of revenue making them more resilient – retail, wholesale, online, pop-ups, etc. They are a draw for foot traffic in your downtown and bring people together.

      • Provide financing to support these businesses
        • Provide incubators, accelerators, or other support programs to help them gain business skills and/or how they can move into storefronts particularly when paired with market opportunities and financing
        • Examples of training programs for getting home-based businesses into storefronts: Baltimore Home Run Accelerator, 37 Oaks

      2. Commercial Vacancy Tax Ordinance

      3. Tax Increment Finance (TIF) or other funding vehicle with matching grants

      4. Financing for local business to buy real estate

      • Keep real estate ownership local by providing support and financing options for local small business owners who have the interest and capacity to purchase property.
      • Examples: Pittsburgh

      5.Commercial Land Trust

    View the Recording

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    About Ilana Preuss

    Ilana Preuss is the Founder and CEO of Recast City and the author of the new book “Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing.”

    Preuss’ passion for great places grew out of her experience working with small and large cities all over the country when she led the technical assistance program at the U.S. EPA Smart Growth Program, and as the Vice President & Chief of Staff at Smart Growth America. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University and a Masters of City Planning from the University of Maryland.

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