Newburgh, New York has launched its first arts and cultural study. The idea is to use the study to better understand the city’s arts and cultural assets, and to understand the role they play in Newburgh.
The Newburgh Arts and Cultural Commission and the City of Newburgh are undertaking Newburgh’s first comprehensive inventory and assessment of the arts and culture ecology in the city — the Newburgh Arts + Cultural Study (NACS). Artist Naomi Miller is one of the Newburgh Arts and Cultural Commission project managers and calls the study a city-wide conversation.
“It’s not even a cultural plan. It’s really just getting the conversation and collecting data that is then shared with anyone who needs it, which is, it could be the city; it could be philanthropic organizations; it could be foundations or nonprofit organizations,” Miller says. “Anyone will have access to not only the data that’s collected and analyzed, but also the recommendations that would, that are being offered by the consulting firm that we hired.”
The consulting firm is Lord Cultural Resources, which is also working with City of Kingston on its arts and culture master plan. In Newburgh, there is the survey, community workshops and stakeholder interviews, which Lord Cultural Resources is conducting with local and regional sector leaders, gathering their thoughts on how their sectors intersect with arts and culture. Miller, who has a background in arts administration, hopes to cast as wide a net as possible for input.
“And so we’re trying to reach out to as many different kinds of communities and people and neighborhoods and residents as possible because we feel like anyone can participate in this and then also make sure that people who’ve already identified themselves as artistic and creative and culture producers also have a voice in this,” Miller says.
The study will offer a baseline of data to guide programming, funding and policy decisions. Miller says COVID has relegated responses to online only but recognizes the digital divide in the city, so is providing access via other events, like at the library. She says at this moment in time — collectively contending with historical systemic racism and the ongoing worldwide health and economic crises — creativity is needed for healing, growth, community building, civic engagement and ongoing collaboration.
“Newburgh is a place for arts and culture. I think we all know that and that’s part of the reason we’re so excited to have the study to actually kind of show how diverse and broad and deep arts and culture goes in Newburgh, and how it’s been here for years and years,” Church says. “It’s not just a new thing that sprung up recently with new immigrants, for example.”
That’s City of Newburgh Director of Planning and Development Alexandra Church.
“Small communities, small businesses are really struggling with COVID, with the larger economic development pieces that are, just unsure of where things are going to land. And then coupled with that, I think, is this important look at how communities of color, minority communities are integral to the greater kind of regional culture and regional economies as well. And I think that all is coming together in this study,” Church says. “So by figuring out who is here, who are the makers, who are the industrialists, the small-scale industrialists, who are the artists, what are they producing, what does that look like on an economy, I think we can really prove that a place like Newburgh is critical to a regional economy.”
Miller says the central focus of the survey is figuring out Newburgh’s identity.
“How does Newburgh know itself by looking at its art and culture because it’s a really good reflection, and we can claim who we are through this survey,” says Miller.
Church sees a way to expand the arts, via two major events.
“So the two big events are Newburgh Open Studios, which is a relatively, I mean we have hundreds of open studios where people come up, and it’s all programming around arts and public art and, again, going into these studios, and, at some level, because it’s Newburgh and we love our beautiful Victorian homes, it’s going into their homes as well, right?” says Church. “And then the other being Newburgh Illuminated, sadly cancelled this year because of COVID, but that’s an incredible, huge diverse street festival based on arts and culture. It’s all around kind of performing arts and visual arts and, so how do we harness those two huge, labor intensive but fantastic events and have it be something that happens, again, much more regular, whether it’s monthly or even kind of weekly or kind of day-to-day; you can walk down a street, you can walk down a main street that somehow is expressing through galleries through open studios or whatever it is, that energy that we have on those event days.”
Miller expects to collect survey responses through October, with a report out around the beginning of 2021.