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State funds to support creation of Auburn arts district — but what shape should it take?

State funds to support creation of Auburn arts district — but what shape should it take?


An arts and entertainment district may soon be established in Auburn. But what should it do? How should it look? And whom should it include?

Auburn is one of five central New York municipalities slated for the districts; the others are Cortland, Oneida, Oswego and Syracuse. A $49,500 award from the Regional Economic Development Council, announced in December, will support the districts' blueprinting by CNY Arts. The blueprint will then be presented to the state for consideration of further funding for the districts.

At this early stage in the districts' creation, The Citizen spoke to two key figures in Auburn's arts and entertainment scene about the concept and how they'd like to see it executed: Auburn Public Theater Artistic Director Angela Daddabbo and Schweinfurth Art Center Executive Director Donna Lamb.

Here's what they said:

Q. Do you think Auburn needs an arts district?

Daddabbo: Yes, I believe a designated arts district would be extremely helpful to Auburn for many reasons. Auburn is rich — rich! — in cultural and historic sites. Rich, not middle-class, not lower-class, not poverty-stricken, but rich. Gratefully, we have this incredible resource, so let's utilize it. And if we're going to utilize it, let's make the connections between all of the amazing things that are going on in Auburn crystal clear. If someone comes to town (or comes from town) to visit the Seward House, for example, a designated arts district could help make the connection between them visiting the SHM and visiting the Willard Memorial Chapel or the Schweinfurth Art Center or the Cayuga Museum or the Harriet Tubman Home, etc. The longer people stay and visit and have lunch and shop and spend the night in a hotel, etc., the more the local economy benefits. Similarly, if someone comes to town (or from town) to eat in one of our many (many!) great restaurants, with the help of a designated arts district, they could be pointed in the direction of visiting one of our sites. Finally, if a young professional is thinking about staying in the area or even moving back to the area or moving to the area for the first time, I believe a designated arts district could help influence that decision in a positive way.

Lamb: I think Auburn can benefit from an arts district. With Auburn’s great historic and cultural attractions, and recent downtown development, an arts district would be a natural and desirable development. Arts districts have been used in many other communities, such as Paducah, Kentucky, as a framework for revitalization and economic development.

Q. What could an Auburn arts district do that would make it most effective for the area's arts organizations?

Daddabbo: An arts district will help unify all the area arts and historic organizations in a way that they are not yet unified. Each one exists, but to some extent on its own steam. We would be stronger together. Two cities that inspire me are Paducah, Kentucky, which I have visited, and Moose Jaw, Canada, which I have only read about.

Lamb: An arts district would provide greater visibility to our arts organizations and increase cultural tourism in the city. It would be used to help brand Auburn as a cultural destination. Collaborative marketing and programming, signage and a website would all help to increase cultural tourism and expand our audiences. This would also have a positive economic impact on local businesses and potentially attract more arts-related businesses.

Q. What form do you think an Auburn arts district should take, be it physical or online?

Daddabbo: I think the arts district needs to be both physical and online. Definitely both.

Lamb: A physically defined district with recognizable signage would have the most impact, but you would also need an online presence and even a map. You really need to cover all the bases to reach as many people as possible. The signage raises awareness of our cultural attractions within our own community and for people travelling through the city. A map and an online presence would be useful in attracting out-of-town visitors and helping them plan a visit. A website also offers the opportunity to provide more information on the sites, related businesses and the community as a whole.

Q. What, locally, do you see being a part of an Auburn arts district?

Daddabbo: I think the answer to this question is best determined by committee. (Did I really just say that?!) Seriously, this is a project that has the potential to affect a lot of people, so I think all interested parties should have a seat at the table.

Lamb: I envision a main arts district that is primarily based on the downtown Auburn business district, but with outposts to include parks, public art installations or cultural sites that are outside of downtown. I see the main district and the outlying attractions being identified with arts district signage or banners, and on the map and website.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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