NEA ‘Our Town’ grant to Uniontown for development, design

UNIONTOWN, Wash. – The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced the award of 80 Our Town grants to communities in 44 states for work on “creative place making.” The Uniontown Community Development Association is one of the grantees and will be working to enhance the identity of Uniontown as a center of creativity.

Through Our Town, the NEA supports creative place-making projects that help transform communities into lively, attractive and sustainable places. NEA funded projects will encourage creative activity, create community identity, enhance the sense of place, and help revitalize local economies. All Our Town grant awards are made to partnerships that consisted of a minimum of a not-for-profit organization and a local government entity.

Multiple entities collaborate

The Uniontown place-making project will be led by the Uniontown Community Development Association with assistance provided by the Washington State University Rural Community Design Initiative, Hutchison and Maul Architects, Artisans at the Dahmen Barn, the Uniontown Planning Commission and residents of the Uniontown and Colton communities. The project will include the development of:
  • A plan for a bike/pedestrian path between Uniontown and the Colton School.
  • Public art to be installed at the entries to the Uniontown community.
  • Site planning and design for the Dahmen Barn site and field
  • A design for the expansion of the Dahmen Barn including an amphitheater stage.

The Artisans at the Dahmen Barn will coordinate the selection and installation of the public at the entries to the Town. Student designers and their faculty mentor, Ole Sleipness, clinical assistant professor of landscape architecture and a Rural Community Design Initiative committee member, will incorporate planning and design of the site and begin the development of the bike and pedestrian path plan in their fall Recreation Design Studio, completing it in their spring semester studio. Hutchison & Maul Architects will provide the design development for additional building and the amphitheater stage.

WSU School of Design and Construction

The Rural Communities Design Initiative (RCDI) is a collaborative effort between WSU design disciplines in the School of Design and Construction, WSU Extension, and rural community partners throughout the Pacific Northwest. The RCDI aims to enhance the social, cultural, economic, and natural capital of unique rural places through design interventions in the physical environment. RCDI is an action-oriented program of research focusing on the revitalization of rural, under-resourced communities. Finding new ways to restore, preserve, and revitalize such communities can entice investors, encourage the young to stay, and provide opportunity for those who have left to return.

The RCDI promotes economic prosperity in small, rural communities through community engagement and participatory design in a Rural Community Studio. The RCS pairs the creative resources of design students and faculty with the goals of rural communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. The design interventions aim to transform the built environment through participatory design in collaboration with the community and capacity building through community build projects.

Real-world problems

“We’ve led successful RCDI projects in Ritzville and other Washington communities struggling with the issues similar to those Uniontown is dealing with,” said Kathleen Ryan, an RCDI committee member and assistant professor of interior design at WSU. “Projects like this help us train students to design solutions for real-world problems while at the same time help rural communities reinvent themselves with innovative economic development strategies.”

Uniontown is located in the rural Palouse, where the community has been economically based primarily in agricultural production and retail services. The need for these services in a small rural town have declined over the past 50 years. Volunteers in the community began working in the mid 1990s to help find a new economic basis for the town. In 2002 the Uniontown Community Development Association was formed and the first project was the restoration of an historic building now used by an old style artisanal bakery. In 2004, UCDA took on the challenge of restoring the Dahmen Barn to provide a community arts space with studios, classrooms, performance space, and a cooperative retail shop.

The NEA received 317 applications for Our Town that were assigned to one of three application review panels based on their project type: arts engagement, cultural planning and design, or non-metro and tribal communities. Competition was strong and only 80 projects were selected, a testament to the excellence and merit of the proposal submitted by the Uniontown Community Development Association. Uniontown’s project is the only proposal that was funded in Washington state.

“Cities and towns are transformed when you bring the arts – both literally and figuratively – into the center of them,” said NEA Chairman Landesman. “From Teller, Alaska to Miami, Florida, communities are pursuing creative place-making, making their neighborhoods more vibrant and robust by investing in the performing, visual, and literary arts. I am proud to be partnering with these 80 communities and their respective arts, civic, and elected leaders.”