Why is Poetry Paths in the City of Lancaster?

Poetry Paths is designed to promote the literary and visual arts as an opportunity for civic engagement. Poetry Paths will amplify a diverse chorus of voices in the city by enticing the citizenry to fully participate in a project designed to broaden the public perception of what constitutes “art.” To establish and produce Poetry Paths, we will welcome as many new local voices to join the conversation as is feasible. We anticipate that, for many, this may be the first opportunity they have had to help select public art, to experience the power and art of poetry, and to impact the vibrant Lancaster arts scene publicly. We also expect the project to create numerous art-making opportunities for Pennsylvania artists and writers.

The arts in Lancaster have also proven to be good business. Some of the country’s most notable smaller cities have gained national reputations—and bolstered their economic coffers—by foregrounding their commitment to public art and promoting themselves as centers for the arts. Lancaster already has realized some positive economic impact of the city’s arts and culture industry: According to Arts and Economic Prosperity III: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences in the City of Lancaster, PA (Americans for the Arts, 2007), “nonprofit arts and culture are a significant industry in the City of Lancaster—one that generates $27.86 million in local economic activity. This spending–$9.82 million by nonprofit arts and culture organizations and an additional $18.04 million in event-related spending by their audiences—supports 796 full-time equivalent jobs, generates $13.61 million in household income to local residents, and delivers $2.47 million in local and state government revenue.” The total economic impact of Lancaster’s nonprofit arts and culture industry (as reflected by total expenditures and related full-time equivalent jobs) is more than three times greater than the median economic impact observed in study regions considered to be similar to Lancaster.

What was the inspiration for this project?

Readers of poetry who love Walt Whitman know the joyfully uncanny sensation one gets reading his words on the page. It is as though Whitman himself is speaking the lines into the reader’s ear; the words and music conjure him. As Whitman says in a well-known passage of “Leaves of Grass:”

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Our project was inspired originally by the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail in Middlebury, Vermont, a woodland trail through the woods that is punctuated by podiums on which are written Frost’s best known poems. In the words of one visitor to the Frost trail, who, standing beside a running stream, had just read Frost’s poem about a brook:

“I imagined the pearls and knives beneath the ice’s surface, then realized that this thought would not have come to me if not for Frost’s words on the marker at my side. I did not mind, though, that these images had been suggested to me. Frost was making for a pleasant walking companion–one whose own views expanded rather than hindered my own.”

Poetry Paths aims to create a similar experience in an urban setting, featuring engaging visual art and a diversity of poems. But we take as our inspiration all of the poetry and art we experience as being “filter and fibre” for our blood—the kind of art that, once we encounter it, changes the way we live in the world.

Are there other projects like this one in other cities?

In addition to the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, models for the project include the Iowa City Iowa Avenue Literary Walk (http://www.icgov.org/default/?id=1585), the New York Public Library’s Library Walk (http://www.lefevrestudios.com/), and the Wellington Writers Walk in New Zealand (http://www.wellingtonnz.com/sights_activities/wellington_writers_walk.)

What will Poetry Paths look like when it’s done? Will all of the art be under our feet?

While the designs for the specific sites on the Paths have not yet been determined, we anticipate that Poetry Paths will include some stonework and pavement inserts. The completed Paths will also include three-dimensional sculpture, murals and other works.

Where will the sites on the paths be located?

The 13 Poetry Paths sites will be located on the following properties:

The City of Lancaster (Penn Square)

Franklin & Marshall College

Opening Day Partners (Owners of the Barnstormers at Clipper Magazine Stadium)

Shreiner-Concord Cemetery

Lancaster Public Library

Spanish American Civic Association

Fulton Theatre

Keystone Arts & Culture Center

Tabor Community Services/Eastern Market

Lancaster County Conservancy (Conestoga Greenway)

Pennsylvania College of Art & Design

Water Street Rescue Mission

Bright Side Opportunities Center

When will the art be installed?

We are in the process of installing our final two pieces of art.

How much will Poetry Paths cost, and who is paying for it?

Thus far we have raised $250,000 from the Lancaster County Community Foundation. Additional funds have come from the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House at Franklin & Marshall College and other sources. Many of the administrative costs of the project will be covered by in-kind support from Franklin & Marshall College. We will seek additional funds in grants and donations between 2010 and 2012.

Who will pick the art and poems?

Following the guidelines recommended by Americans for the Arts in their Issue Paper on Methods of Artist Selection (March 2004), most of the art and all of the poems will be selected on a project-by-project basis by a series of committees comprised of the following: Lancaster community members who are neighbors of the specific site, arts professionals, and site owners and representatives. The Advisory Committee for Poetry Paths will help ensure that both these committees and the art and poems they select represent the diversity and interests of Lancaster’s residents.

How may I submit my piece of visual art or poetry to Poetry Paths for inclusion in the project?

The submission and selection process for Poetry Paths is now closed.

Will all of the poems be in English?

We will solicit and accept poems in English, Spanish and other languages used by residents of the City of Lancaster.

Which schools will Poetry Paths visit? Could my local school participate?

In 2009-2010, our Poet in the Schools visited five schools in a wide range of neighborhoods in the City, including Lincoln Middle School, and Buchanan, Ross Fulton and Washington Elementary Schools. In 2010-2011, we held the similar programming at Reynolds Middle Schools and Burrowes, Lafayette, King and Wharton Elementary Schools. Please contact us if you’d like your school to be considered for future programming.

How can I get involved?

Contact us! We’d love to get your input and talk about how you might participate. poetrypaths@fandm.edu

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