January 31, 2019
Many of the plans to reshape the Erie region focus on the physical landscape: blighted housing; the need for improved transit; market-rate housing options downtown; and place-making details that give each district identity and allure.
The recommendations, found in documents like Erie Refocused, Emerge 2040 and granular neighborhood plans, aim to make Erie a community of choice, not a place to flee.
Erie Arts & Culture is joining that campaign, but deploying its assets to heal Erie’s interior blight. That is, its legacy of segregation, racial disparity, food inequity and more, challenges that require both material and spiritual transformation, including new inclusive and tolerant relationships that art has the power to provoke and inspire.
Patrick Fisher, the executive director, talked about his vision for the agency in general and specifically its role in the renewal taking place in Erie in an interview with Lisa Thompson published on Jan. 20 in the Erie Times-News.
Erie Arts & Culture has a demanding mandate. It acts as a development director helping to fund its lead partners, stalwart cultural treasures like the Erie Philharmonic and the Erie Art Museum. It also is meant to ensure that access to arts and culture in northwestern Pennsylvania is equitable.
The agency, like others nationwide, has moved away from treating the arts as a commodity for elites to asking how art and culture change lives and communities, Fisher said.
The Erie Community Foundation has awarded Erie Arts & Culture a $250,000 Shaping Tomorrow grant to help fuel this effort called New Horizons. Erie Refocused calls for strengthening the city’s core. Fisher said Erie Arts & Culture can strengthen Erie’s core by addressing head-on some of its deepest problems.
“If all of this momentum doesn’t actually equate to change for everybody, to get folks to buy in and believe in Erie on the next round is going to be impossible. ... It’s really important that we make sure that this change is equitable and doesn’t leave anybody behind,” he said.
The community will help plan what projects are executed to ensure they represent the place and experience of the people who live there, he said. In Jacksonville, Florida, for example, murals were painted to reflect African-American history in a city that was littered with Confederate monuments. The projects themselves — exhibits, productions or events — will not only help people broaden their horizons and become invested in their neighborhoods, but might also serve as gathering places where information can be disseminated on topics like business development or nutrition, Fisher said.
This initiative opens a bold, exciting and necessary new dimension in Erie’s work to realize its best self. It bears both watching and support.