For tough times “Manage cautiously but think ambitiously”

“Manage cautiously but think ambitiously” I scribbled in my notebook.  Those well spoken words were shared by Jeremy Nowak, a nationally recognized leader in urban development and the CEO of The Reinvestment Fund, who was the guest speaker at the first annual Senator Claiborne Pell Lecture on Arts & Humanities hosted by the City of Providence.

Mr. Nowak’s talk focused on the role of arts and culture in redefining and revitalizing cities. As part of its effort to capitalize on this enormous local asset by rebranding as “The Creative Capital”, Providence has recently launched a community planning effort called “Creative Providence: A Cultural Plan for the Creative Sector.

Throughout his talk, Mr. Nowak wove an exciting and hopeful thread for a bold reimagining even as we experience the grim unraveling of an economic tapestry based on debt.

Using Philadelphia as an example (he hadn’t toured Providence yet) Mr. Nowak offered a number of illuminating examples of how artists and creative sector entrepreneurs, using an appreciative approach,  “uncover, express and repurpose assets.” Two examples included resuing heavy industrial mill buildings for creative industrial workspace or reclaiming vacant lots for a sculpture park that helped redefine neighborhood. The question posed to the room was how that ability of artists to see can be harnessed to truly reinvent cities that are searching for new identities and economic models.

In thinking about the many interesting concepts presented last night, I woke up this morning thinking again that this third sector of ours needs to stop apologizing for the way it works and stop idealizing some fictitious “smarter than us” for-profit business and leadership model. Instead, we need to reclaim and boldly proclaim our unique way of seeing based on quality of life, a belief in public service and a philanthropic compass to guide our action. It’s time to take the high ground for the what, the why and the how of the work we do.

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