By Steven Froias

Contributing Writer

Gerard Beltrán Salinas worked for more than 30 years as a journalist in Santiago de Chile. Now, he calls New Bedford home.

Beatriz Oliveira accomplished the mission impossible of launching the city-wide festival 20mi2. It managed to co-create, activate and celebrate in every neighborhood of all 20 square miles of the City of New Bedford over three days.

Iva Brito is engaging the community on an elemental level, pursuing a multi-faceted role in the society she is helping to create as a filmmaker, educator, and storyteller.

These are but three Creative Ambassadors brought together by New Bedford Creative, part of a larger Creating Connection project in the city supported by the Barr Foundation and Arts Midwest. And, it is but one of the many initiatives redefining the city’s society, workforce and economy in 2022 and beyond – thanks to New Bedford Creative.

New Bedford Creative is under the auspices of the New Bedford Economic Development Council for a reason.

Its impact certainly enhances arts and culture in the city in a profound way. Yet as the efforts of the Creative Ambassadors reveal, New Bedford Creative is also positioned to allow the city to grasp the opportunities of an economy in transition nationwide. An economy characterized by innovation, knowledge, and personal agency.

That benefits all the residents of New Bedford – whether they are patrons of creativity or practitioners of it. Artists, performers, videographers, musicians, programmers, and designers of all types are reimagining their roles in the economy on an unprecedented scale. In the process, they are remaking traditional concepts of small business, from manufacturing to retail.

Indeed, the period of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic is one marked by fundamental changes in the very structure of the economy as a whole. Some of these effects are large, and won’t be felt for years.

One effect being felt now, though, is the transitioning of our workforce in almost every industry. The best prepared areas of the country are those that have empowered its workers and citizens to best chart their own course – and invest something of themselves in their communities and local economy.

Which is precisely what New Bedford Creative is doing in the City of New Bedford, under the remarkable and dedicated leadership of Margo Saulnier, Creative Strategist.

Fortunately, at this time, there is also some very real financial investment being made into the cultural sector. New Bedford was prescient in 2018 when it published its first-ever arts and culture plan, and established New Bedford Creative at the NBEDC to implement it. From that point on, the city has been in a position to capitalize on the historic creative legacy it enjoyed.

Now, in addition to the Creative Ambassadors/Creating Connection project, New Bedford Creative is poised to deliver even more resources into the creative economy of the city and further strengthen its already strong foundation.

Earlier this year, Mayor Jon A. Mitchell announced that a total of $1.2 million in funding is being made available to support local artists and art-related organizations. The funds are part of New Bedford’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) program.

At the time, he noted that “the artists that comprise New Bedford’s thriving arts community are themselves small businesses. Funding to accelerate their emergence from the pandemic represents a timely investment in our economy and will energize our cultural scene.”

New Bedford Creative will administer the funding through three separate initiatives: Art is Everywhere, Wicked Cool Places and ARTnet.

Art is Everywhere is a grant program that prioritizes creative solutions to expedite the recovery of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Bedford’s neighborhoods.

Wicked Cool Places is the grant program for making or keeping a place where things are happening and people want to be that involve and impact residents, visitors and/or businesses in New Bedford’s neighborhoods.

ARTnet is a new artist recovery and training network to help artists recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic by providing financial support, business planning support, training workshops, and access to a network of creative-entrepreneur peers.

The mission statement of New Bedford Creative reads in part, “In New Bedford, the creative community is an engaged and powerful partner, inspiring social, economic, and cultural growth.”

Published in 2018, that statement of intent took on new meaning during the pandemic, and now represents a commitment to the city which is being fulfilled in unexpected but welcome ways.

In fact, the power of the partnership between this city and its creative residents has never been stronger, never been more meaningful, and never been more necessary to the future of New Bedford than it is in 2022.

New Bedford Creative isn’t just part of the city’s economic development plan. It is a fundamental pathway to growth and prosperity into tomorrow.

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