PROVIDENCE – A plan to expand the Pawtucket Arts District throughout Central Falls and into much of the southern part of Cumberland was laid out for the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.
The legislation, which would exempt artistic works – books, paintings, songs, sculpture, dance and other creations – was touted by its sponsor, Central Falls Sen. Elizabeth Crowley, as another tool to allow cities and towns to bring business and culture to their communities. A duplicate bill was introduced in the House by Central Falls Rep. Agostinho Silva but has not been scheduled for a hearing.
Crowley pointed out that the legislature is encouraging communities to regionalize services and programs and this is one of the things the three-community arts district is intended to do.
Robert Billington, director of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, said the idea is part of the five-year-old Broad Street Regeneration Plan, a combined effort of the cities of Pawtucket and Central Falls and the town of Cumberland to use the thoroughfare that links those municipalities “to make it more robust, more vital, to support the community more and encourage the community to support it more.”
John Aubin, director of Cumberland’s Office of Planning and Community Development, said, “this is an effort to put more tools in the communities’ toolboxes to foster economic development and, by having an attractive place for the arts to grow, to bring additional people into the district.
Aubin pointed out that the arts district plan “goes hand-in-hand” with the effort to establish a national park along the Blackstone River Heritage Corridor.
Asked by Sen. Louis DiPalma if the town is considering a property tax exemption to go along with the sales tax exemption it wants from the state, Aubin said, “that is the next step in our process were the General Assembly to approve the bills.”
Rep. James McLaughlin, who represents parts of Central Falls and Cumberland, told the panel, “the arts district in itself is going to be beneficial, it is going to have a economic boost like Pawtucket all the way along the corridor, not only in Central Falls, but Cumberland, too.” He added half-jokingly: “if you had a little seed money you could throw in, we’d appreciate it.”
Pamela Monahagan, speaking for the Broad Street Regeneration Initiative, testified to the efficacy of arts districts.
“It’s about the business, it’s about the artist, it’s about making that partnership and it’s about the neighborhood and community,” Monahagan said. “Arts districts are a reall great way for communities struggling as much as Central Falls, Pawtucket, Cumberland and that corridor are to really get a jump start. There are so many people willing and eager to jump in and take advantage of that raw potential and make something happen.
Gayle Corrigan, chief of staff to Central Falls Receiver Robert Flanders said having the entire city be designated as an arts district would be “a cap on our economic development program.
“With economic development, we do have an image problem,” Corrigan conceded.
Steve Larrick, planning and development coordinator in Central Falls, read the committee a letter from Pawtucket Foundation Executive Director Thomas Mann that said in part, “we have discovered that the state’s investment in waiving sales tax on the sale of art has leveraged an exponential increase in value to the local community by encouraging mill redevelopment and better utilization of historic buildings and spaces.”
In Pawtucket, Mann said, “the arts movement fueled an influx of artists and arts-related businesses. At four key mill buildings, rehabilitation into arts studios and lofts resulted in an average increase in property tax revenue of 1,000 percent that accounted for more than $500,000 in new property tax revenue…”
Tina Melo, an artist and designer born in Pawtucket who worked in New York and Europe and who recently returned to live in Cumberland, presented an idea for a “gallery-boutique/studio” that she said would support all artists.
The committee took no vote on the bill Thursday.