In recent years, it seems to us that much talk in Sag Harbor has centered around preserving the village against the onslaught of development and changing demographics.
And for good reason.
Just a quick glance at neighboring villages will indicate what can go wrong when a municipality loses control of its main street to corporate interests. An influx of high-end seasonal stores may serve a select portion of the summer population extremely well, but it wreaks havoc on its year around residents — the lifeblood of the place.
As a result of what we’ve seen happening just beyond our borders, Sag Harbor residents have actively hunkered down and manned their positions against rumored fears of invasion by the likes of CVS. As a result, groups such as Save Sag Harbor were formed in recent years with a mission to protect the character of the village, promote Main Street while also speaking out against development which they feel is out of scale given the size of this village.
While we’re glad people are tuned in and paying attention to what might be coming down the pike, much of what we’ve been focused on to date has been defensive tactics. A necessary tactic, but one focused more on keeping things out rather than strengthening community from within.
For that reason, this week we were pleased to learn of a new initiative Eric Cohen is expecting to pursue on behalf of the John Jermain Memorial Library and other cultural institutions in the village.
Cohen is the library’s technology and multi-media coordinator and the initiative is a National Endowment for the Arts grant called Creative Placemaking. Communities that apply successfully can expect to receive anywhere from $25,000 to $200,000 to institute programs promoting its cultural, artistic and historical resources.
This is exciting because for the first time in the conversation about change, we’re seeing a positive way forward within the village instead of an effort to stop the external influences. This initiative is about promoting what we already have in Sag Harbor that is special — our historical resources, our artists and our cultural institutions.
To that end, Cohen is looking at the library partnering with four other Main Street cultural institutions — the Sag Harbor Historical Society, the Custom House, the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum and Canio’s Books’ not-for-profit venture Canio’s Cultural Café.
Creative Placemaking calls for public, private, nonprofit and community sectors to work together to shape the character of an area. That means though Cohen is looking to get the ball rolling with those five institutions forming a collective for arts and culture, the idea is to eventually include as many partners as possible to create a vibrant streetscape with public events and spaces inspired by the creative members of the community.
The library is looking to apply for this grant in 2014, the same year it is expected to move back into its newly renovated and expanded Main Street home. As part of the grant application, Cohen will need to partner with a municipality — in this case Sag Harbor Village — in order to make the idea viable. We hope the village will take this opportunity and join in the discussion on how to further promote Sag Harbor’s creative resources.
They are certainly an important economic engine in Sag Harbor.
This is a program about promoting Sag Harbor not for its glitz and glamour, but for what matters — that which comes from within. It’s impossible at this juncture to say exactly how a Creative Placemaking grant might be realized in Sag Harbor Village. Much of that will be up to the residents who get involved in the process.
But what we do know is the stretch of Main Street from the historical society down to Canio’s contains an impressive number of Sag Harbor’s cultural and historical treasures. It’s an area that can be used to support not only those institutions, but others in the village through things like theatrical and musical performances, art exhibits, literary and historic tours, and presentations.
Though there is still a long way to go before this might become reality, we love the constructive nature of this proposal. For once, this initiative is not about defending our borders, but bringing out the best that lies within.
And that’s an idea we can really get behind.