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NY Mills named 'Our Town' model by national agency

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The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has chosen New York Mills as a model for its new national arts initiative, "Our Town."

The NEA introduced "Our Town" in its 2011 budget proposal as an initiative which aims to strengthen communities through the arts. New York Mills was cited as an example of a place where "the engagement of the arts has been transformational to the vitality of a community."

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New York Mills is featured in the overview to "Our Town," which names several model arts communities across the country including North Adams, Massachusetts, Paducah, Kentucky; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Chicago, Illinois; and others.

The NEA points to New York Mills and its arts center, the New York Mills Arts Retreat and Regional Cultural Center, as inspiration for how a community's focus on the arts can improve its economy.

"In 1991, the City of New York Mills invested $35,000 to renovate a downtown building into an arts and cultural center in order to reverse a trend of economic decline. Within five years after this investment, 17 new businesses opened in town creating 210 new jobs - representing a 40 percent increase in the number of jobs in this community."

The NEA learned about the impact of the arts in New York Mills from John Davis, the founder of the New York Mills Arts Retreat and Regional Cultural Center.

When approached by an NEA representative doing preparatory research for this year's budget, Davis directed the NEA to the success the arts has had in stimulating the economy in New York Mills.

"It was both an honor and very rewarding to be able to talk directly with the National Endowment for the Arts about the national model for rural arts development in New York Mills, and to provide input into the process that has lead to the creation of the "Our Town" national grant initiative," says Davis. "The community of New York Mills should be proud of their work and support of the arts."

Inspired by the success of New York Mills and places like it, the "Our Town" initiative will support activities that integrate the arts into the fabric of communities. Programs eligible for grants will include art district development, promotion of the arts as components of community life, and public art.

The New York Mills Arts Retreat and Regional Cultural Center has been demonstrating the effectiveness of community arts programs since its founding in 1990. Davis established the Cultural Center with the idea that arts have value, a value which can be documented in a community's quality of life and economic indicators.

The Cultural Center's approach was first recognized as a national model in 1993 by the Northwest Area Foundation, and its impact continues. The Cultural Center's Executive Director, Jamie Robertson, explains, "For many years we have looked at ways to make public art a part of everybody's lives. We promote the arts in the community in a variety of ways. We have a sculpture park, artist residencies, an annual kite festival and puppet pageant, as well as regular performances and arts education opportunities."

Since the founding of the Cultural Center, New York Mills has been a model for how the arts can improve rural communities. Thanks to the NEA, this fact is now being brought to the nation's attention. By highlighting New York Mills in the "Our Town" initiative, the NEA is telling the nation that the New York Mills Arts Retreat and Regional Cultural Center is an example that the rest of the nation would do well to emulate.

"If you can integrate the arts into everyday life," says Davis, "then it can enrich the lives of everyone."

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