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Tag: Public Art

CMSC Webinar: CT Humanities Grant Funding for Main Street Projects

CMSC Webinar

CT Humanities Grant Funding for Main Street Projects

Webinar Summary

Are you looking for support for your public humanities projects on Main Street? Has your community started thinking how it will participate in the commemorations, celebrations, and reflections of the United States’ 250th anniversary? 

In this webinar, the CT Humanities Grant Team provides an overview of the grants they offer, what types of projects are eligible, the application process, as well as other resources available for our nation’s 250th anniversary.

What are the humanities?

“The humanities are fields of learning that help us understand and appreciate human history, culture, values, and beliefs.”

Initiatives that CT Humanities fund must fit into the definition of humanities. A initiative that is just focused on art without an opportunity for reflection, dialogue, or some sort of engagement would not qualify. A good example of a Main Street project that CT Humanities has funded is the Wethersfield Heritage Walk Expansion.


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About CT Humanities

Founded in 1974, Connecticut Humanities (CTH) is an independent, non-profit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. CTH connects people to the humanities through grants, partnerships, and collaborative programs. CTH projects, administration, and program development are supported by state and federal matching funds, community foundations, and gifts from private sources.

Contact Info

The first step to applying to CT Humanities for the first time is to email the grants team at grants@cthumanities.org to discuss your project. This is a required step.

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CMSC Case Study: The Beatrice, NE, Approach to Defeating Negativity

CMSC Case Study

The Beatrice, NE Approach to Defeating Negativity

Webinar Summary

The community of Beatrice, Nebraska was struggling with negative perceptions and apathy after years of economic setbacks. Community leaders needed to take action to push back against the perception of negativity and defeatism.

In 2015, they came together and developed a plan to help facilitate change. By 2018, Beatrice was named the #1 micropolitan community in Nebraska—#14 nationally—for large scale (mostly manufacturing) economic development projects by Site Selection Magazine. Now, post-COVID Beatrice is working to gain back the momentum they had been building.

In this webinar, Michael Sothan, the Executive Director of Main Street Beatrice, shares the journey of changing the perception of Beatrice and six lessons learned along the way.

Presentation Highlights


  • The Problem

    Beatrice struggled for decades with the loss of jobs and businesses, a stagnating population, and a dilapidated downtown.

    Around 2013, an opinion piece in the local newspaper called out the town’s apathy as the root of the town’s decline around the same time a building downtown collapsed in on itself. The coincidence of these events became a defining moment for leaders of Beatrice to come together and actively fight against negativity and apathy.

  • The Solution

    Main Street, City government, the Chamber of Commerce, economic development, and public schools came together to create a plan to aggressively take on the negativity.

    The plan included a rebranding, façade improvement, and other projects. As a result:

    • Downtown Beatrice is home to over 180 businesses, a net gain of 31 shops since 2016. 
    • In the last 5 years, they have had more than 100 improvement projects totaling $12.5 million in investments.
  • Lessons Learned

    The first six lessons were included in the original case study article posted on Main Street America, lessons 7-10 CMSC added from observation. 

    1. Find the Forest through the Trees – Don’t get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of your work but keep focused on the big picture.
    2. Work Together (and think holistically) – The Public Schools were engaged to join the traditional economic development stakeholders. They had the deepest connections to Beatrice’s youth and the school system is a leading factor when people are considering making Beatrice their permanent home. The schools were experiencing the apathy firsthand, among students, staff, and in the community; they had also had a series of failed bond issues for a new elementary facility. They got involved to help role out the brand imagery, they incorporated it into their own uses school system-wide and helped Beatrice disseminate the message to and through the kids so it could get back home.
    3. Make a Plan
    4. Start Taking Action – No matter how small, action builds momentum. Something as simple as paint can make a big difference.
    5. Know that Set-Backs & Burnout Will Happen
    6. Be Honest & Positive – As economic development professionals, it’s easier to see potential and positivity because it is your job. However, most people do not see that. Being overtly positive and not recognizing the negativity will not be accepted by the community as authentic or trustworthy. Remember, perception is reality.
    7. Be Aggressive – Michael Sothan in his webinar presentation used words like “fight” and “go to war” to describe the level of commitment and effort to turn Beatrice around. It’s not a passive undertaking to tackle a declining town.
    8. Focus on People – Beatrice took the approach that only we can save our town. They knew they couldn’t wait for some investment, some grant, some outsider to save their city. Beatrice leaders realized it’s the people who own the businesses and buildings that will change the city.
    9. Always Tell Your Story – You can never get tired of telling your story because there is always someone who hasn’t caught the vision or seen the progress. Michael tells the story of speaking to a group of retired teachers who were so fixated on what used to be downtown that they didn’t even notice the new businesses and progress that had been made.
    10. Leverage Your Assets – For Beatrice’s rebranding effort, they chose a brand around “Stake Your Claim” which pays homage for being nationally recognized as the first homestead. Beatrice is currently rebranding after 10 years and pulling on the pronunciation of their town (Bee-at-trice) with a “Be @…” campaign.

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About Michael Sothan

Michael Sothan is the Executive Director of Main Street Beatrice in Beatrice Nebraska (pop 12,300).  He has been with Main Street Beatrice since 2013 and has been a part of Downtown Beatrice’s efforts to become listed on the National Register of Historic Places, undertake façade improvement programs, and regularly guides downtown improvements, events, and economic development efforts.

Michael is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He resides in Steele City, NE (population 60) where he and his wife Megan have purchased an 1890’s grocery store with plans for its rehabilitation.  Michael enjoys living history interpretation and the outdoors when not working on community development efforts.

Contact Info

Main Street Beatrice

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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 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 – tamara.dimitri@ct.gov or visit ct.gov/arts

  • 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 theriseupgroup.org.

  • 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 www.pdxwlf.com or reach out to Alisha Sullivan at director@pdxwlf.com

  • 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 www.sounddiplomacy.com or reach out to Kate Durio at Kate@SoundDiplomacy.com.


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

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CMSC Webinar – Using Public Art for a More Vibrant and Welcoming Community

When public art is supported and implemented thoughtfully and strategically, it adds tremendous cultural, aesthetic, and economic value to a community.

It facilitates a sense of place and community pride. It can encourage civic engagement and build social capital through raising public awareness of important local issues and connecting residents to their neighbors and their shared history.

In this webinar, you’ll be inspired to think differently about and incorporate public art in your communities. Our panel from around the country and Connecticut will speak to innovative public art programs that provide economic impact and create more inclusive communities.

  • Learn about Connecticut’s Office of the Arts new public art programs and how to take advantage
  • Hear how a Connecticut placemaking organization employs diverse artists to beautify, bring positivity, and spark economic vitality in neighborhoods through public art
  • Learn how a winter light festival brings in 189,000 visitors in the dead of winter and contributes $3.7m in economic impact while activating typically overlooked neighborhoods
  • Hear how communities are using music to drive economic development and ordinances you can implement to support a music economy

Meet the Panelists

 This event is free, but registration is required

This event is approved for 1 credit for certified planners
With thanks to our AICP Certification Maintenance Provider FHI Studio.


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