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Old Town leads by example as it tests new waters

Posted: April 16, 2014 - 4:58pm

We are growing and circulating creative currency through Old Town, and it is spreading throughout Homer.  Our recent Old Town Artist in Residence Jarod Charzewski and our Homer community worked nimbly to complete an attention-grabbing installation that reaches from the inside of the Arts Center and spills out to the street of West Bunnell.  Jarod’s installation symbolizes just what successful creative placemaking should do: expand to spill beyond the borders ... and spread.
Homer is no longer just known for it’s halibut. It is also known for its vibrant year-round arts scene.
 Alaska has been built by some of the most creative and capable pioneers in our nation. We are innovators, collaborators and we especially take pride in being a neighbor. The strength Homer has demonstrated in grass-roots organization and collaborative civic engagement is gaining momentum. The Old Town Initiative should be a model for civic relationships, economic development ideas and good community engagement for all of Homer. The sustainability of this project lies in our outside collaborators.
One year ago Bunnell Street Arts Center was awarded a $150,000 grant from ArtPlace America in Creative Placemaking. ArtPlace America is a collaboration of 13 leading national and regional foundations and six of the nation’s largest banks. ArtPlace America is investing in art and culture. ArtPlace America is fueling integrated strategies that can drive vibrancy and diversity so powerfully that it transforms communities.
 Old Town was selected as a prime site to show a transformation in how we activate our public spaces as a community. But long after our funding has ended, the successes of this project will ripple beyond our neighborhood lines, spreading into the rest of Homer, and to the rest of our great state. Old Town is Homer’s testing ground; a leader by example — a peek into hows and what-ifs. And we are thrilled at the placemaking that has splashed up towards the mainland.
Two Old Town bike racks change to 11 for Homer.  In an effort to support a biking culture here in Old Town, Homer’s Cyclling Club donated two bike racks to Old Town. We were even more enthusiastic about these donations when we learned that the City of Homer purchased nine more bike racks from the Cycling Club to accompany the new bathrooms and trail works we see in town and along the Spit Trail.  
One Old Town park sign changes to four for Homer. Another great example of our placemaking efforts escaping Old Town is Homer’s Public Art Committee and Parks & Recreation Committee’s public park signage project. Old Town approached the joint committee during their project planning and proposed to install a local, hand painted park sign for Bishop’s Beach Park submitted by Lost Things Designs. After getting approval for Old Town’s beautiful public park sign, the joint committee was inspired to consider more just like ours. They opened proposals to the public and have since commissioned two local artists, Lost Things Designs and Dan Coe, to hand paint the signs for four other Homer parks. We are excited to see these new signs revealed this summer.
One walkability anthem develops another. Old Town neighborhood partners developed a community-backed proposal to increase bike and pedestrian accessibility, slow traffic and improve neighborhood safety in Old Town. Old Town was thrilled when the City of Homer enthusiastically adopted neighborhood recommendations. Inspired by the success of neighborhood-led traffic calming and pedestrian safety efforts, Bunnell’s Assistant Director and safe-walking advocate, Adele Person, organized her own residential neighborhood to address the dangerous pedestrian conditions occurring in the Mountainview/Bayview avenues during Halloween trick-or-treating.  The neighborhood created a “Halloween One-Way” with support from the City of Homer and the Homer Police Department. Volunteers closed one lane of traffic to create a temporary one-way street and thus opened a pedestrian lane for trick-or-treaters and their families. In addition to encouraging walking and radically improving pedestrian safety of young children, the Halloween One-Way solved horrible traffic conditions and set the stage for further neighborhood involvement and collaboration.
We have some important dates that offer you the opportunity in growing Homer’s creative economy by supporting in attendance, participation or donation.  
Last summer, local poet Wendy Erd created poems along the trail, conveying the natural habitat, human history and the unique value of the Beluga wetlands that enrich the walking experience of the newly renovated Beluga Slough Trail. The poetic, interpretive trail signage with Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitors Center, opens April 26.  
Also, we will be working with the Public Works department in installing two bike racks in Old Town —  one behind Bunnell and one at Bishop’s Beach Park. We also will be installing our handpainted Welcome to Bishop’s Beach Sign in the park, painted by Lost Things Design. Also, we will be installing our very first “Welcome to Old Town” sign on Ohlson Lane, hand painted by artist Mike Houston, which is currently on view in the Bunnell Gallery.
We also will have Rochelle Dowdy here in Homer for the month of June to sculpt and install a 12-foot tall bird in Bishop’s Beach Park. We also have two more Old Town Artist Residencies, in which all have an important community element.
We thrive on broad-based community support and collaboration as Bunnell strives to sustain our creative placemaking momentum, and serve as a working example of how Homer can choose to develop around community and place.  On June 1, you are invited to show your appreciation. Old Town is hosting the first of its kind, “Dinner in the Street” and hosting a silent auction (opening on May 19-closing on June 1).  All Old Town restaurants are joining forces to provide a dinner experience to remember. Help us sustain our exciting new programs by considering donating to the auction and/or joining us for “Dinner in the Street” on June 1 (pending permit approval).  
 We’d love to hear from artists or businesses that would like to become part of our creative placemaking efforts. Homer’s placemaking successes should inspire the entire state. We can only do it successfully if everyone champions the same cause: to live in a happy and healthy community that engages often with one another around arts and culture in shared public places. The beauty in our placemaking, so far, has been in the varied levels of collaboration. So we ask you to come and collaborate with us. What’s good for Old Town is good for Homer.
Asia Freeman is the executive and artistic director of Bunnell Street Arts Center. Brianna Allen is the Old Town Development Coordinator for Bunnell.

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