Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ben Stone leaving Station North to bring art and smart growth to all of America

Ben Stone has been Executive Director of the Station North Art and Entertainment District since 2011 and helped moving it to where it is today, a district that developed from being a forlorn place with a few insular pioneers trying to give the area a new identity to a string of continuous action hubs with a full assortment of programs. Or in Ben Stone's own words:
The Station North Arts & Entertainment District, one of the nation’s first state-designated arts districts, encompasses parts of three central Baltimore neighborhoods. Station North’s designation provides some local and state tax incentives for artists, and the Station North nonprofit produces award-winning public art projects and provides thought-provoking programming. This work helps us forge strong supportive relationships with local artists, designers, residents, businesses, and institutions to guide development in a section of Baltimore that had formerly been characterized by vacant buildings, blight, unemployment, and a weak real estate market, in addition to a nascent arts scene. 
Ben, a MIT graduate doesn't match the cliche of the artsy type. Calm, deliberate and methodical are the terms likely coming to mind when one thinks about Ben, a MIT graduate in City Planning who had previously worked with the noted urban design and architecture firm Goody Clancy in Boston and as planner with the Baltimore Development Corporation.

Ben helped found the Baltimore D center while still at BDC and is also on the Board of the Central Baltimore Partnership. Listeners of WYPR know Ben from telling Baltimore about the events in Station North many Friday mornings.

Ben's is leaving for a director position with Smart Growth America (SGA), a national growth management and transportation advocacy group.

In a recent conversation with SGA Ben elaborated on the relationship between smart growth, place-making and the arts this way:
Always energetic: Ben Stone in  Valentine, Texas
I’ve always found that using projects to highlight the distinctiveness of a place makes both local stakeholders and visitors more excited about and connected to the final outcome. I’ve also always been skeptical of codified approaches to planning and transportation projects that tend to homogenize public spaces across the country. The arts are a perfect antidote to this phenomenon. Investing time and money into the arts and culture has an economic payoff, but it also has an important civic function: it builds resilience in communities. Research shows that demographically diverse neighborhoods are more civically healthy than homogenous neighborhoods. The arts and culture help build bridges between diverse neighbors, increasing participation in everything from voting and volunteering to work on community projects. To put it simply, the arts and culture help neighbors get to know and trust one another.
 
Ribbon cutting at the temporary quarters of SNAED at the
"Chicken Box". The office are now in the Motor House
He added:
[...] artists are some of the most (appropriately) skeptical people I know. The skepticism of business leaders, elected officials, and artists might come from different places, but these groups could learn so much from each other about asking difficult questions.
 Ben stated to me that he is "really looking forward to the new position and testing out some ideas outside of Baltimore, while trying to figure out how to stay involved here as well."  Ben knows America well and close up, he has traveled across the country - by bike!
Ben Stone riding off to America at large
(even though this photo is taken in the Canadian Rockies)

As Director of Arts and Culture in SGA's DC office he will  "help incorporate arts and culture into all of SGA's programs, especially Transportation for America, while also working on pilot projects in San Diego, Nashville, and Portland, OR, with other cities added to the list in the future".

Ben will leave his current position on April 9. No interim director has been appointed yet, the board of SNEAD indicated that they will conduct a national search for Ben's successor. It won't be easy to somebody of Ben's caliber and commitment.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

There will be no article tomorrow, Good Friday. Happy Easter!

Sun article about Ben Stone leaving SNAED
BBJ article about Stone leaving