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August 11, 2014

Gladstone is crafting a blueprint for expanding arts and entertainment

“The arts are a tool. They are not an end in itself,” says consultant Duncan Webb. He’s found that Gladstone is more involved than many other cities in providing arts programming.

The City of Gladstone knows it wants more art and entertainment opportunities in the city, but what those opportunities will look like is still unclear.

That’s why the city turned to the community for help Thursday to discuss the future of arts and entertainment and what could be next for Gladstone.

About 20 residents weighed in on what they’d like to see — suggesting indoor performing arts space, more community partnerships or multigenerational programming — during an open meeting at City Hall.

The meeting was led by Duncan Webb of Webb Management Services, a consulting firm hired by the city to do a strategic plan for arts and entertainment in Gladstone.

Webb and his team are in the midst of a robust strategic planning process that will help them understand what’s now going on, articulate a vision for the future and develop a plan to implement that vision.

In addition to the open meeting, the company has interviewed 72 local business leaders, political leaders and leaders in arts and education about what they envision for the future of Gladstone.

“It’s people who care not just about the arts, but it’s people who care about Gladstone and the community here,” Webb said during a presentation at the meeting.

As it stands now, much of the cultural programming in Gladstone is provided by the city itself.

Webb said that while other area communities may offer funding or sponsorship to established community organizations that promote the arts, Gladstone has taken a more “hands-on” approach. It’s more directly involved in arts and entertainment opportunities whether it’s Theatre in the Park, hosting public art exhibits in the community center or hosting musical acts in Linden Square.

“A lot of it happens outdoors in spring and summer,” Webb said.

After evaluating the current cultural climate, studying area demographics and assessing current facilities, Webb said he believes the city has some possible opportunities to expand arts and entertainment in the community.

Some of the ways this could be done could include an indoor performance space, a facility and programming for the visual arts, year-round programming, more science, technology and media opportunities, and additional gathering spaces.

He said some of the primary cultural needs are more art in public places, hands-on programming for all ages and art education for all ages.

Webb said his desire in the strategic planning process is to create cultural opportunities that respond to community issues and challenges.

“Our job is to think of the arts as a tool to get you where you want to go as a community,” he said.

After talking with the community and business leaders, Webb said some of the key challenges facing the city include establishing an identity, being able to position itself as a leader regionally, attracting more young families to the area, and revitalizing North Oak Trafficway.

While the strategic planning process has created some emerging themes, Webb said his team has yet to reach any conclusions about what will be included in the final strategic plan.

After hearing the presentation, residents were given the opportunity to offer their opinions.

Many suggested exploring partnership opportunities with other organizations, such as area school districts or businesses, to help expand the arts without placing all the burden on the city.

“It’s everybody’s job,” said Gladstone resident Linda Banes. “It’s not just the city. The city can’t do it all.”

Residents also voiced support for Webb’s suggestion of combining activities for two of Gladstone’s more prevalent age groups: senior citizens and children.

“The multigenerational thing is a great idea,” said Holly Ann Schenk, a local artist and teacher living in Gladstone.

City Councilman R.D. Mallams said he wondered whether there would be any way to incorporate cultural opportunities within the new innovation center the city is planning for downtown Gladstone.

“It could be designed to have performance space within that area,” he said.

Webb said the next step for his team will be to complete its analysis and then begin developing a vision.

“The arts are a tool,” he said. “They are not an end in itself.”

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