Monday, June 3, 2013

Finding a Purpose: How Vacant Buildings Can Support Neighborhood Marketing

Reposted from the Stable Communities blog

Finding new uses for vacant buildings is something many nonprofit housing organizations are getting good at, but some properties — like an abandoned movie theater — are harder to rework. With creative thinking, however, empty buildings can be used to spark new interest in old neighborhoods.

Last year, after looking closely at the prominent features of an old, vacant movie theater, NeighborWorks Waco (TX) decided that its brick interior and artistic vibe made the perfect setting for a “pop up” art exhibit. Now in its second year, Art on Elm Avenue puts this otherwise empty space to good use, and is helping the neighborhood to rebrand itself as an arts district.

Performance artistArt on Elm Avenue is a one-day event featuring 14 local artists and more than 10 local student artists. In addition to the exhibit, local bands provide live music, food and craft vendors sell food and handmade goods, and a local performance artist creates paintings with his bare hands and a spinning canvas (think Jimi Hendrix and Elvis). Kids’ activities include a bounce house, crafts, snowcones and popcorn, plus an 18-foot canvas mural project where kids develop the plan and create the mural with a touch of advice from volunteer art supervisors.

Each artist featured in the exhibit is allowed to bring up to three approved artworks, which may be two-dimensional pieces such as paintings, drawings, prints or photography, or three-dimensional works such as sculpture and ceramics. Artists are provided with a name plate next to their pieces and can list items for sale.

Art on Elm Avenue is free for both artists and guests. It’s a celebration of art and community that fits nicely into NeighborWorks Waco’s neighborhood marketing strategy. The event draws businesses, entrepreneurs and residents who may not otherwise visit this area, and also celebrates local culture and supports the neighborhood’s plan to become an arts district. It builds community relationships and puts vacant space to positive use. “This event brings everyone together from all parts of Waco,” says Honey Jenkins, NW Waco’s director of marketing. “It draws people of all ages and from all walks of life to Elm Avenue, and helps them to see what it used to be and what it can become.”

Art on Elm participantsThis year, Art on Elm Avenue took place on the same weekend as one of the city’s monthly musical events — an Eddie Money concert — so the two groups decided to co-market their events as part of a larger celebration called "Weekend in Waco.” Linking the two events in marketing helped boost attendance; more than 2,500 people attended this year as compared to about 500 last year.

To learn more, visit the Art on Elm Avenue Facebook page or follow events on its Twitter feed.