The vision is grand and ambitious, both in the big picture and in the details.
Providence becomes "a dynamic, regional arts market and center for creativity." Arts and crafts are woven into the fabric of the city, showcased in public spaces, in a public gallery and in private buildings. New galleries and performance venues thrive. Grants and business opportunities abound. Artists serve on city boards and have power and real influence.
In the future imagined by Creative Providence, the new blueprint for "arts, culture and creativity" unveiled last week, the marketing campaign with the trademark "P," the one that calls this the Creative Capital, is both perfectly appropriate and completely unnecessary.
But can it really happen? Will it?
Robert Leaver, of think tank New Commons, a key player in the plan's development, said at the unveiling, at the Hotel Providence, that some in the arts community were complaining the plan wasn't far-reaching enough, even though it's "a huge shift from where the city was."
Yet with a bullet point for just about everyone in the 42-page document, it may be overwhelming. And with Mayor David N. Cicilline admitting that in these "very difficult economic times," some goals may take up to five years to realize, perhaps it's a bit abstract.
So what is clear? One element that stands out — and for which the city is garnering praise – is that the Department of Art, Culture + Tourism, already unusual for its clout at City Hall, is being repositioned as a key player in economic policy-making and planning, as well as the leader in implementing the Creative Providence vision.
That change is one of 10 the mayor says can be made right away, or within the next 18 months (the remainder of his current term), even if funds are scarce. Cicilline also envisions immediate action to keep branding the city as a creative hub, strengthen arts education and the ties between schools and arts groups, expand arts-related job opportunities for youth, and continue to bring together artists and businesses, among other things.
Other goals, Leaver said, may be more elusive, and will be prioritized based on how long they might take to implement; the policy changes needed; the money, know-how, and logistics required.
The bottom line, however, is "if you're waiting for things to happen, you're going to have to make them happen," Leaver told the audience of artists, activists, and business leaders.
There are some optimists in the arts community.
Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, said the plan fits well with his organization's own recently completed strategy and is very practical in its focus on how the city can support and strengthen the creative sector.
The plan is also very inclusive, Rosenbaum noted, seeing nonprofit and for-profit entities, artists, and other creative professionals as interconnected. "I think it broadens the constituency, which is both politically and practically a good thing," he said.
Yet how broad that constituency really is remains to be seen. The plan makes a point of saying that the term "artist" is "inclusive of visual and performing artists, craftspeople, writers and editors, designers, entertainers, and more."