SPRINGFIELD — To the strains of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" played by Springfield public school students trained at the Community Music School, this city began the process Friday of learning how the arts can drive economic development through the efforts of United Kingdom-based Futurecity.
"The thing about millennials, they seek out places with authenticity," said Mark Davy, founder of Futurecity. "This city has authenticity by the bucket load. The question is what to do with it."
His idea, one he's applied to cities around the world, is to use all art forms as a catalyst to help cities define themselves and create a vibrant sense of place that is attractive to business. He suggested examples such as a residential development built with a theater inside or an energy center built with a kinetic sculpture that illustrates energy and its place in the world.
"The old model of gentrification was that the arts community set up in an area and the business community moved in and kicked them out," he said. "This flips that idea so that the business community brings in the arts."
He was delighted to learn of Springfield's colonial and industrial heritage, things he said Springfield should capitalize on.
"You have 'Monopoly,' how about making an arts walk like a giant 'Monopoly' board?" he said of the board game manufactured at the Cartamundi factory in East Longmeadow. "Who wouldn't want to be part of the Dr. Seuss trail?" he asked, referring to the pen name of children's book author Theodor Geisel, who was born and grew up in Springfield.
Springfield, Boston and Worcester are the first three cities in the U.S. Davy and his team have taken on. The effort, paid for by the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Boston Foundation, won't cost Springfield money.
"We are moving arts and culture into the front seat — into the driver's seat — when it comes to city-making in the United States," said Anita Walker, director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
On Friday, Davy and his team toured the city, visiting landmarks like the Springfield Museums at The Quadrangle and Union Station. He's been doing similar tours in Boston and Worcester.
"I've had a brilliant week," he said.
"People will say, 'The arts, well, that's just la-di-da. What does it do for the community?' What it does is it creates a sense of vibrancy." — Mayor Sarno
By October, Futurecity will come back with detailed plans for Springfield, Boston and Worcester, said Morgan Drewniany, executive director of the Springfield Central Cultural District.
One of Futurecity's ideas is to get the arts involved with projects in their early stages.
"It's not just building a lobby and then hanging up a few pictures. Why not get an artist involved in how the lobby itself is designed?" Drewniany said. "If you are building a bridge, have an artist involved in the bridge from the early stages."
She's especially interested in how Davy and Futurecity can help drive long-awaited rehabs of Pynchon Park and Riverfront Park.
"Those parks have long been under discussion as being entry points to our city," she said.