YSU Hits ‘Home Run’ with $100,000 NEA Grant

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A $100,000 grant might not sound like much compared to awards of $500,000 for equipment or $1 million for research, Martin Abraham said Thursday. But considering the source of the $100,000 – the National Endowment for the Arts – the provost of Youngstown State University deems it a major achievement.

“It sounds like that’s not as significant, but you have to understand there’s not a lot of money for the arts,” Abraham said during a news conference at McDonough Museum of Art. “So when you get a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, you’ve done just about all you can do. That’s a home run, folks.”

The Our Town grant is among the largest of the 64 NEA awarded last month. “The largest grant you could get was $100,000,” Abraham said.

“It really speaks to the quality of what’s going on in our community and on our campus, and the growing reputation of the university and the things that are happening in this community,” YSU President Jim Tressel said.

The Our Town grants fund engagement, cultural, planning and design projects, said Mike Crist, interim dean of the College of Creative Arts and Communications and one of the writers of the grant application. “They’re programs for creative place-making projects that help to transform communities into vibrant, beautiful and resilient places with the arts at their core,” he said.

The partnership of arts, educational and philanthropic organizations in the region will use the grant to implement Inplace – the acronym for Innovative Plan for Leveraging Arts through Community Engagement. Partners are the YSU creative arts and communication college, the YSU Regional Economic Development Initiative, the McDonough Museum, the city of Youngstown’s “City of You” branding and marketing campaign, the Kent State University College of Architecture and Environmental Design, and Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative.

“We originally decided to throw our hat in the ring on this grant opportunity after the City of You campaign was presented to the public and received City Council support and support from City Hall,” said R.J. Thompson, assistant professor of graphic design at YSU. Thompson wrote the grant application along with Crist; Dominic C. Marchionda, city-university planner with YSU REDI; and Leslie Brothers, professor of art and director of the McDonough Museum.

The project came together over the course of three years, Marchionda said.

“It focuses planning initiatives and resources in targeted locations to draw on and compound the effect of well-coordinated action. It is directed toward community-driven art projects that combine storytelling with place making,” he said.

The City of You campaign “was going to be a great conduit through which our grant goals, which were originally to form an arts district, could really be communicated,” Thompson said. Through data mining and podcasts the project will collect from the community, the planners intend to determine what the community wants to see in the arts “and then we make that a reality,” he said.

People can record short podcasts that focus on the arts at one of a dozen recording stations that will be established or can conduct a longer-form interview on a broader range of topics with Thompson.

Funds from the grant will be distributed evenly to five project teams on one of five themes: way finding, parking, lighting, technology and green infrastructure.

Matching funds came from a variety of partners, such as the Youngstown Foundation, the Mahoning County Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley.

Matching funds weren’t required but community stakeholders always step up when “a quality idea that’s going to benefit the greater community” comes up, Marchionda said. The funds made the YSU application “that much more competitive,” he remarked.

The project seeks to strengthen the connection between YSU and downtown, Mayor John McNally said, “one that we’ve really seen come into play over the last three or four years.”

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