Thursday, June 29, 2006

Arts Champ Joann Wheeler Interview

Blogger was being odd yesterday, so I didn't get to post which means there is so much to talk about today!

First and most importantly, I'll admit that I was skeptical when I heard that Oil City was hiring an "Arts Champion". Actually, I'll be honest, I considered applying for the position, until I saw that it was a full time job with a part time catagorization. It seemed like a typical half-assed Venango County attempt to talk a lot about the arts without really doing anything -- I felt like it who ever was being hired would be set up for failure.

Then, I talked to Joann Wheeler, the woman who was eventually hired to be the Arts Champion for Oil City. To recap. according to The Derrick, Joann "formerly served as executive director of the Clarion/Venango Educational Alliance, and will be responsible for recruiting artists and promoting the city's downtown as a live-and-work environment for artists.
The position is part time. Wheeler will work 15 hours each week - from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, plus five hours of "flex time." Her office will be located on the first floor of Oil City's National Transit Building.

A total of $19,000 in city funds has been set aside for the newly created position with $15,000 being paid to Wheeler and $4,000 allotted for supplies, travel and other needs.

Wheeler will also be responsible for securing funding for the program through grants and other sources and will work with city government, Take Pride in Oil City, banks, realtors, service clubs and civic groups. She will also be responsible for implementing a marketing plan and creating the theme of a "one-stop" contact for development of the program.

Wheeler is scheduled to begin her new job July 5. "

As I said before, piece of cake right? I still think Joann has a rough row to hoe ahead of her, but she does seem raring for the challange. She was kind enough to talk to me several weeks ago:

"I'm actually originally from Pittsburgh. I lived in Europe for eight years after college, then settled in Boston when I returned to this country. I worked in Chinatown and Central Square in Cambridge. I came here in 1996. I had been doing art seriously since 1990 and I was starting to show and sell my work, and my goal was to get my overhead down. I could buy a house here for less than a year's rent on an attic apartment in MA, so I did . . .Of course I am intimidated by [the new job] . . . I feel as if the city and the arts council are leaning heavily on me -- and you're right, with limited resources, I could fall right on my face and take everybody down with me. But I also sense a lot of support from Oil City Council, the Arts Revitalization volunteers, the Arts Council, and a current of enthusiasm that I think might carry us somewhere. Very different from the community-wide dysphoria I saw ten years ago. You have to catch the wave as it's building, and that is now.

I didn't initially plan to apply [for the position] . . .I'd been tracking the revitalization plans as they developed and had some ideas about what makes a good place for artists and why they might want to move here. And let's face it, there's a selfish reason: the more artists I can induce to move here, the more interesting this community will be!

[T]he City of Oil City . . . is providing the impetus and the funding for this initiative. I'll honor that in my planning and activities. But I don't think this can succeed as an isolationist project. Which communities have what strengths and how can we build on them to create synergy, rather than rivalry -- that's the question. This job requires an out-of-town focus, in that it is an artist relocation program. I hope I'll be working not only regionally, but nationally.

I want to get an e-vehicle (website? blog?) up and running as soon as possible, and get out there on message boards and e-zines. I want to have at my fingertips every amenity we have here, so that at a show of interest, I can send out real estate pages, culture blogs, birds of Venango county, whatever will entice. I want this to be a great place for an artist to live and work. And I want to let as many artists as possible know about it.I also need to put together a beautiful marketing package for the area.

There is a database of artists who originated here. I want to get in touch with all of them, invite them here, tell them to bring their friends -- maybe you go home again! And when any artist comes here, I want to make sure he/she gets a warm welcome, from a greeter at the airport to dinner at one of our best restaurants to guided tours of the area to an informal get-together with local artists after a local show or event.

I want to generate some excitement about arts revitalization in the business community-- if they keep a distance, the kinds of financial incentives I want to see will be more difficult, things like low-interest revolving loan funds, incubator-style studio/work space, advantageous financing packages for live-work space purchase, cooperative purchasing arrangements to keep materials costs down, cooperative marketing. For example, we have a world-class bronze casting facility here -- let's let sculptors know that and sponsor a world-class competition to create a piece of public art -- everybody wins. We have a printing company with cutting edge four-color process technology, foils, holograms, the ability to print on any surface -- artists need to partner with them and vice-versa!

I also want to partner with educational institutions to put on Business of Art and Electronic Arts Marketing courses; ultimately, I'd love to see a degree program here to create an endless supply of young artists and some gainful employment (read day jobs) for established artists. I want to see summer artist retreats marketed nationally to weary urban creative types who will fall in love with this area, just as I did. Open Studio events would be fun. Artist-in-residence arrangements with the schools are already happening.

[As far as favorite local artists] Thomas Shreve showed in the Summerhouse Coffee Shop .

I saw some very interesting sculpture last year at the Oil Heritage festival, including a tall negative space wire figure Lisa Lichtenfels, formerly of Erie, has (had?) a funny and moving life-size installation there of all the denizens of a coffee shop. She has moved on to some incredible and disturbing fabric sculpture:

I never miss Peter Greene. I like his style and what he has to say always gives me hope for Venango humankind! I found your blog through [former Venango County resident] Chris Griswold's Overheard in Pittsburgh, which is a gem! A friend of mine here writes terrific short stories which I prize and hope he'll publish one day. Marc dances with such passion and precision -- I've seen him at the Silver Cornet Band really is a perfect thing of its kind, and evokes bandstand, bunting, and nostalgia. I also have a soft spot for Phoenix -- they make it sound easy and they make it sound good and they add to every event they appear at. The area is lucky to have both.

I need to know from your point of view what makes this area good and what would make it better. This is not an easy community to move to, in my experience. How do we make it as open and welcoming and diverse as possible? How do we establish a community or network of artists? courses? coffee houses? events? competitons? community art projects? you tell me. One of the first things I'd like to do is have an idea exchange with local artists. "

So, let's not leave her hanging. Please chip in with what you see as vital for Joann to excel!


A logo design contest has been announced for the first-ever First Night Clarion celebration to be held on New Year's Eve.

Pymatuning State Park officials announced Thursday that the spillway visitors' area will close July 10 for a $2.7 million renovation project.
It is not expected to reopen to the public until 2007.

Erie area blog The Film Chair reviews the new Superman movie...

Does your Bundt have what it takes? ">Nordic Ware is celebrating its 60th anniversary by holding a "Bundts Across America" contest, asking people in all 50 states and Washington D.C. to enter their most creative regional cake -- could we make one dripping with oil?).

Sienna Miller is in final negotiations and Peter Sarsgaard is in talks to star in Mysteries of Pittsburgh , based on Michael Chabon's 1988 debut novel.

Gimme Your Stuff is a "cultural exchange blog" encouraging people to swap items of significance to your area with others around the world. So far, the site has members from over 15 countries. So, I want to get involved, but I need some help. Which items from our area are "signifigant"?

In Pennsylvania, where general traffic increased by 63 percent and truck traffic by 82 percent between 1984 and 2004, there are plans to make communities across the state more walkable, to build new highways at grade rather than elevate them, to build on Route 202 in the eastern part of the state what looks less like a freeway and more like an old parkway.


Peter A. Greene said...

Cool-- I was thinking of calling her to do an interview, but like you, I didn't know whether this was more Venangoland amateur hor or not.

Chris Griswold said...

Always nice to get a mention.

Dittman said...

Good to hear from you Chris! Everyone I know loves OIP!