Transforming Transit: NEA Grant Boosts Arts and Culture in Essex County

Jun 24, 2024Arts & Culture, News & Announcements

We are thrilled to announce that the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded a $125,000 “Our Town” grant to the Essex County Community Foundation‘s Creative County Initiative, Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, and Merrimack Valley Transit. This generous grant will help enhance arts and culture in and around bus stops throughout our community.

Project Goals and Initiatives

This project aims to:

  • Collaborate with artists to improve access to and from arts and cultural hubs through enhanced signage, maps, guides, and cultural tours.
  • Create safe, vibrant, welcoming bus stops, shelters, and transit hubs.
  • Build and support a coalition of creative leaders to advance placemaking, placekeeping, creative space development, and advocacy for the creative sector.
  • Identify new cultural development projects that align with the Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and ECCF’s systems change strategies for the creative sector.

Jerrard Whitten, Executive Director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, shared his excitement: “This regional project will create a lasting legacy of connectivity, cultural enrichment, and community resilience.”

Building on Past Collaborations

Since 2019, the Essex County Community Foundation’s Creative County Initiative and the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission have worked together on cultural planning and asset mapping across the Merrimack Valley. In 2023, they launched MVCulture and welcomed Jenny Arndt as the first Merrimack Valley arts & culture specialist. For the past eight months, Jenny has been instrumental in fostering community engagement around arts and culture planning, essential for downtown vibrancy and sustainable economic development. The new grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will significantly expand the scope of this vital work.

Karen Ristuben, Creative County’s program director, emphasized the importance of this initiative, saying, “The grant presents an opportunity to change the public’s mindset about public transit as a critical element of community culture.”