This is the second installment in our series on creative efforts in smaller towns in the Triangle. Read the previous installment, on Cary, here.
Clayton is a small town with a prosperous history as a mill and agricultural town, that has emerged from some tough times to become a thriving residential, business and industrial community, with strong local industries including Telecris, Novo Nordisk and Caterpillar. The Town has also has long supported its artistic, creative side. One of the first steps was renovation of two downtown schools into the Clayton Center, an auditorium and conference center that serves as a hub for cultural activity downtown, and is attached to the Town Hall. The Clayton Center hosts events and conferences, as well a performance series, bringing a diverse schedule ranging from Jake Shimabukuro to Bill Leslie to Nancy Griffiths, as well as providing space for cultural programs, classes and meetings.
But recently, the Town has begun to make the arts a more essential part of the Town’s fabric. The Clayton Center building is already full of art, both permanent and in temporary shows. The Center’s lobby gallery features a monthly rotating art exhibit, while permanent art, including a mural by local artist Dorothy Demboski, adorns the walls. During recent construction of a new law enforcement center, the Town dedicated 10% of the budget towards creation of a public art memorial that was incorporated into the building. And most recently, the Town hired Jody Servon to serve as an “artist in residence” to help build the Town’s reputation as an arts community.
How does a town get from a decision to renovate an auditorium to launching an intitiative aimed at growing its “reputation as an arts community”?
Heidi Stump, Director of the Clayton Center, says that this process was sparked, in part, by the success of The Clayton Center in bringing vitality and people to the downtown area and a recognized need to develop a common vision and identity for a growing town.
During an annual visioning retreat, Clayton’s Town Council established the goal to become an arts community. Additional arts initiatives followed, including the development of a town appointed Public Art Advisory Board and the establishment of a Cultural Arts Grant to support cultural programs. These developments helped pave the way to an innovative approach to incorporating the arts into the town. In January 2011, Clayton’s Town Council met with the Public Art Advisory Board to discuss furthering the town’s public art program. The joint meeting culminated in a proposal by the Advisory Board and request for funding for an Artist in Residence which the Council approved.
As Heidi explains, ” Clayton is dedicated to providing an environment that is attractive to arts and cultural opportunities for our community. We recognize the arts as important to a town’s economic development and as an important element in the quality of life for our citizens.” She continued, “Through the Artist in Residency program, we want to create more opportunities for art in our town, and more importantly, develop a foundation in our planning process to recognize future opportunities to integrate the arts.”
About her residency in Clayton, Jody Servon commented:
I applied for this position because I was intrigued by how different their approach was to this arts program. Many organizations identify a particular place for a public art work and then look at proposals from artists to create something for that particular space. This residency is different in that my role is to work with people in the community to identify spaces and opportunities that are ripe for public art experiences whether permanent or temporary. The Town has been investing in recreation and cultural spaces for the community, so it is a logical step for them to create deeper art experiences for residents and visitors. With this residency, I plan to develop strategies for the Public Art Advisory Board and Town Council to implement meaningful public art and artful experiences for people of all ages in Clayton.
But why the Arts?
While the success of the Clayton Center may have been a catalyst, there is clearly more at work here. Bringing an artist in to help a Town develop its vision for the future and dedicating Town funds for that effort is a novel approach. This is especially true when you consider the size and history of the Town. So, what else is behind this effort?
Clearly, this movement is being driven in part by the Town Council and management. About the Residency, Mayor Jody McLeod said ”It’s not something that a lot of small towns have, but it expresses our commitment to establishing a reputation for Clayton as an arts community. I’m really excited that we’re going to have someone working with us to provide vision and guidance.” He continued, “The Artist-in-Residence will provide vision for a collaboration of art and space in new town projects, as well as finding ways to bring out more of the beauty that’s already here. But, perhaps the position’s greatest responsibility will center on working with residents, organizations and town officials to promote the arts in step with the community’s unique values and identity.”
Jon Zellweger of Clearscapes, which has been working with the Town on the Clayton Center, the Law Enforcement Center and memorial, and other projects, commented “From where we’re standing, Clayton is simply a unique small town who at present is under exceptional leadership both with staff as well as their elected officials. I’ve not seen anything quite like it. They recruit good people who are equally pragmatic and forward thinking. Very much a North Carolina trait (“Esse quam videri”) from my “emigrant’s” point of view.” Thomas Sayre of Clearscapes, added” ”I believe that in Clayton there is a surprising amount of that rare commodity called leadership found both in the elected officials of the town, but also in the Town Administration, especially the Town Manager and his staff. They have made very forward thinking decisions about their architecture and public art for the town of Clayton.”
Jody Servon feels that another factor that makes Clayton different is the people in the community itself. ”"I am thrilled to be working there and am continually impressed with the community. It is rich with history while being open to new people and new ideas. From my brief experiences to date, I feel that Clayton is a forward thinking community that has created a unique opportunity for me. as their “Conceptual Public Artist in Residence.”
Jody Servon’s work will be completed this Spring, but is only one step on Clayton’s path to build a Town that is not just supportive, but welcoming for the arts and one that understands the importance of the arts not only to the Town’s quality of life, but to its economic future. Heidi Stump believes that good municipal leadership is supportive of the arts. ”Cultural arts provide a benefit that does not necessarily show up in dollars to private interests, but there is a clear societal benefit. So where individuals and private companies do not provide all the support, the government needs to step in with leadership and funding.”
Clayton’s leadership and vision certainly set it apart from other towns in the Triangle. We will be following this process closely and look forward to seeing the results.
Tags: Artist-in-Residence, Clayton, Clearscapes, Heidi Stump, Jody McLeod, Jody Servon, The Clayton Center, Town of Clayton