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Valley arts and culture groups form collaborative Alliance

“In order for us to have that culture for people that want to live here and want to raise their families and grow here, we have to have activity — activity is so crucial," said YSU President Jim Tressel.
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Dr. Chester Amedia Jr., left, is flanked by Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin and Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel during a media conference announcing the formation of The Cultural Alliance on Friday, July 16, 2021, at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown.

YOUNGSTOWN — A newly formed alliance of local arts and culture organizations looks to raise up the region’s cultural profile and competitiveness, and attract new audiences.

That coalition, dubbed The Cultural Alliance, was unveiled Friday during a media conference at the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown.

“The Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania regions boast a proud history of a strong and vibrant arts and culture environment,” Dr. Chester Amedia Jr., Alliance president, is quoted in a news release. “The Alliance seeks to build upon that history, bringing together all parts of the arts and culture community to further amplify the important role that diverse arts and cultural activities play in the continued vibrancy of our region.”

The Alliance intends to act as the face of the Valley arts and culture scene, coordinating events to keep calendars from conflicting — they don’t want people to have to choose between one major event or another — backing competitive grants for Valley arts initiatives or helping smaller venues with administration, Amedia told Mahoning Matters.

Say a local symphony wants to put on an “Evening with Paganini” (the famed Italian violinist). The Alliance could help coordinate special Italian-themed menus at local restaurants, or work with another local stage to produce “Romeo and Juliet,” which is set in Verona, Italy, Amedia said.

The Alliance may also act as a conduit for grant fundraising efforts. Competitive grants are often “not helpful” for smaller arts and culture groups, he said. Acting and speaking through a coalition gives them a bigger profile, he said.

“There are things we wanted to get involved with but we couldn’t apply for it because we weren’t large enough or we didn’t have enough credibility, so this is going to try to muster this size and this strength,” Amedia said.

The Alliance could also centralize administration like offices or ticket booths for smaller venues struggling to do it on their own — “to make it more efficient without taking away their identity. And that’s important,” Amedia said.

Among the Alliance’s goals:

  • Promote awareness, appreciation and engagement in cultural initiatives and the arts;
  • Support local artists, creative small businesses and arts and culture organizations;
  • Amplify and promote the positive cultural brand of the region;
  • Work to increase public and private investments in cultural institutions and artists in the region and support policies that create a steady stream of funding for arts and culture entities;
  • Support policies that strengthen the power of artists, cultural organizations and creative small businesses to drive workforce development and economic resilience.

The Alliance’s founding members include: Ballet Western Reserve, the Butler Institute of American Art, JAC Management Group (including Covelli Centre, WD Packard Music Hall, Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre), Youngstown Playhouse and Youngstown State University (including the Cliffe College of Creative Arts, Dana School of Music, Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts, McDonough Museum of Art and WYSU).

Its other officers include: Vice President Chuck George, chief executive of Hapco and vice chair of the YSU Board of Trustees; Secretary Bonnie Burdman, Ballet Western Reserve board member; and Treasurer Ken Bigley, vice president of JAC Management Group.

“Just given the rich cultural and art history of the Valley, it’s something we knew that needs to be preserved,” said Bigley. “A lot of these organizations have withstood the test of time — population decrease, societal changes and everything else — and they’re still here and still a cornerstone of everything the Valley is.”

Youngstown State President Jim Tressel said though one of the university’s cybersecurity specialists recently accepted another job hours away and for more pay, the work is remote, and the man chose to remain in the Valley because “this is the culture he wanted to be a part of,” he said.

“In order for us to have that culture for people that want to live here and want to raise their families and grow here, we have to have activity — activity is so crucial.”

Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, a high school drama student himself, noted his national mayoral coalition has a council on the arts. He said he wants Youngstown to remain competitive and work together to build.

“We’re going to have one voice, one ask. … We want people to be exposed to who we are,” he said. “Exposure is the No. 1 thing for our children to advance.”

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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