The City of Bethlehem has undergone serious revitalization and economic development over the past several years, and new initiatives are underway that could continue to make the city flourish.
Announced at a press conference at the Banana Factory on Bethlehem's South Side, ArtsQuest president Jeff Parks unveiled plans for a new project for the city's arts programs called "Artists Among Us."
ArtsQuest recently applied for a grant from ArtPlace America, the national organization that supports projects using the arts as a catalyst to enhance life in local communities, to kick-start the new program.
If awarded the grant, ArtsQuest — a nonprofit organization — Bethlehem and its partners would use the funds to establish the "Artists Among Us" program, a year-long, artist-led initiative that will shine the spotlight on the arts district's parks, shops, restaurants, businesses, arts facilities and educational institutions.
It will include workshops, concerts and residencies by local and visiting artists, as well as an Urban Arts Festival that would take place on the city's South Side Greenway and adjoining areas of Third and Fourth streets in spring 2015.
As part of the "Artists Among Us" programs, ArtsQuest has secured several sponsors, including the City of Bethlehem, Bethlehem Area School District, Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley and Northampton Community College, to work together to support artist-led programming throughout the year.
Several disciplines would be represented and include the visual and performing arts, multimedia, literary arts and more.
ArtsQuest would use the funds to highlight local artists performing at events such as Musikfest, Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem and the Sabor Latin Festival.
The South Side of Bethlehem has been growing tremendously over the years, and the arts scene has developed into something most people wouldn't have thought imaginable not very long ago.
"I remember 20 years ago growing up just a few blocks from here [Banana Factory] and never thinking Bethlehem would develop into what it has become," Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez said. "It's a great thing for our city, and we'll continue to work with local organizations to help keep it growing."
With the recent designation of the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone, Bethlehem will be seeing several new projects sprouting in the coming months.
This year's ArtPlace American grants will be announced in June.
More than 1,250 letters of inquiry were submitted to ArtPlace for consideration, and ArtsQuest has been selected as one of the 97 finalists.
"We applied for a $300,000 grant from ArtPlace to help fund our $500,000 budget," Parks said. "There is $20 million total to be distributed, and we're hoping to be selected as a recipient."
To date, ArtPlace has invested $42.1 million in 134 projects in 80 communities of all sizes across the nation.
"We thank ArtPlace America for recognizing the important role art has on our economy and our society, and we're honored they are considering this project as one that would have huge impact on our city and our region," Parks said.
"We're remaining hopeful that we receive the grant. There's a lot of projects we're ready to move forward with and continue the economic development the city has been already undergoing," he added.
For more information, visit www.artplaceamerica.org.