By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND -- Add a dash of public art to tax incentives and community-redevelopment projects and you get a pot of economic development.
At least that's the thinking behind the City Commission's recent decision to join the Museum of Florida Art to request $150,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts' Our Town grant program.
"We made it a priority to increase visual arts and efforts of the museums," Commissioner Vonzelle Johnson said in a phone interview. "We want to be known as an arts community."
The Our Town grant awards will be decided in a few months, NEA spokeswoman Victoria Hutter said.
"It's a program based on the idea of creative place making," Ms. Hutter said. "When you bring art to the center of economic development it enhances the quality of those programs."
She said the NEA is still receiving grant applications from all over the nation. The grant program started in 2011 and was a quick hit. It awarded $11.6 million in its first two years. Last year the NEA received 317 Our Town grant applications, and awarded $5 million to 80 cities and towns. Some as far-flung as northern Alaska.
George Bolge, CEO of the DeLand museum, said art has long been an important marker for thriving communities. The earliest known examples of human artistry dating back to the Aurignacian culture, around 40,000 years ago, demonstrate the connection people gain to places through art.
"You use art in the broadest sense to bring a higher level of culture here," he said. The grant money would be awarded to the city, not the museum. Mr. Bolge said, The museum would work with other organizations, such as the DeLand Area Chamber of Commerce and Mainstreet DeLand, to recommend art projects to the city.