Arts likely to play bigger role in Mt. Airy USA’s economic development strategy

It was the success of last summer’s Movie Nights at the Lovett Library Park that sparked Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA)’s interest in the neighborhood’s arts and culture scene. “We really realized the impact the arts can have,” stated MAUSA’s Executive Director, Anuj Gupta.

Gupta explained that MAUSA considers marketing and promotion through its Business Association of Mt. Airy (BAM) initiative to be the “next stage” in commercial corridor improvement. The past 10 years MAUSA focused on investments in streetscape and facade improvements. Now the organization is looking to special events. “We think the arts can play a big role in that,” he said.

Lovett Library’s park will be a key part of this new direction. “It’s a great space for events!” Gupta exclaimed. Together with the Community Design Collaborative, MAUSA has been working on plans to transform the open grounds into a better functioning public park. Gupta disclosed that MAUSA has approached arts organizations to bring performances to the site. He stated that MAUSA is talking with the Curtis Institute of Music in hopes of having its students give classical music concerts sometime in the autumn. MAUSA is also working to bring the movie series back to the library grounds.

Even MAUSA’s new Metropolitan Minds speaker series is highlighting the arts. At the most recent event, held Wednesday evening at the Geechee Girl Rice Cafe, the city of Philadelphia’s Chief Cultural Officer, Gary Steuer spoke about the Mayor’s strategic vision plan for arts and culture. He presented the “bright spots” and challenges his cabinet level office has faced in a brutal economic climate. Among the most significant achievements is that in 2011 Philadelphia was rated the top city in the U.S. for culture by Travel + Leisure Magazine, a jump from the number 10 spot held the previous year.

Steuer noted that creative economy was added to the charge of his office, a department reinstated by Mayor Nutter in 2008.

Gupta acknowledges that Mt. Airy has a number of its own arts organizations to boost the business success of the neighborhood. “I don’t think to date Mt. Airy USA has partnered with them sufficiently to leverage everything they bring towards economic development.”

Linda Slodki, co-founder of the Mt. Airy Arts Garage (MAAG) stated that northwest Philadelphia communities as a whole support the arts, but feels “the people who come out the most are from Mt. Airy.” MAAG’s other co-founder, Arlene Olshan believes there are thousands of creative people to partner with in the northwest neighborhoods. “There’s quite an enclave,” Olshan enthused.

Gupta advised attendees at the Steuer lecture that announcements may be coming by early summer regarding creative programming partnerships with “Philadanco, Philly Fringe Festival and other folks we’re trying to bring out to perform for our community.”

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