Hands across New England

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  March 3, 2010

Mayor David N. Cicilline and Thom Deller, Director of Planning and Development, during last year's Bike to Work event. Photo by Eliza Domingo.

Providence may be the Creative Capital. But it is hardly the only community that has attempted to build a new economy on a foundation of laptops, paint brushes, and guitars.

Just down the road, Pawtucket is trying the same trick. And across the border, Lowell, Massachusetts and the Berkshires are on board, too.

Trouble is, says Lynne McCormack, director of Providence's department of art, culture, and tourism, the players in all these communities have not done much talking to each other.

Connecting Creative Communities, a conference convened by the city and the New England Foundation for the Arts that is set to convene the night of March 9, run all day March 10, and wrap up mid-day March 11 at the Providence Biltmore Hotel aims to start the conversation.

What will come of it? Well, that's not clear — which is OK by McCormack.

"We don't have any preconceived notions that we're going to go into the two-day conference and come out with an agenda," she says. "We just want to check in and see if it's a possibility."

There are, of course, plenty of obstacles to a regional approach. The folks who will convene at the conference — sponsored by the Phoenix, among other entities — are, on some level, in competition with one another. And it is a bit difficult to conceive of how New England's creative communities could market themselves as a collective.

Each area has its own brand. And New England, writ large, conjures images of "autumn leaves and lighthouses," McCormack notes, rather than gigabytes and graphic design. Indeed, Providence's own brand — the Creative Capital — is, in part, an attempt to push back at that generic New England image.

But McCormack says she hopes the conference will, at a minimum, allow for a better exchange of ideas — for a more networked region. And she has seen some intriguing models along these lines.

Massachusetts, she says, has done a particularly good job of connecting the dots — in part through a state office dedicated to growing the creative economy. Rhode Island's size, she says, has allowed for some real connectivity here, too.

Improving links region-wide would mirror what conference organizers are calling the "borderless" quality of the creative sector itself; the local tech company, in search of engineering help, is hardly restricted to its own backyard.

But can a regional approach work? It'll be interesting to find out.

Related: Sound Session lives on, A Providence non-profit loans out the future, Classic Italian, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Tourism, Biltmore Hotel, Biltmore Hotel,  More more >
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