Idea of Indiana cultural district explored
November 07, 2013 10:59 AM

A lively discussion generating a range of ideas was just what organizer Sean Howard wanted to see at a public forum Wednesday focusing on how to promote downtown Indiana’s cultural offerings.

The forum is the first part of what he expects to be an ongoing dialogue designed to foster collaboration of downtown’s artists, musicians and others involved in creative and cultural endeavors.

“This is awesome, exactly what I was hoping for,” he said after the meeting, held at the Indiana Theater, 637 Philadelphia St.

The key to successfully promoting downtown Indiana’s creative endeavors, he told forum attendees, is to work together. Artistic and cultural endeavors, he said, don’t need to operate in the competitive manner seen in the business world.

Howard, 30, of Indiana, manages the theater as part of his company, Bet I Can Productions.

He and a business partner, Brian Hemmick, of Pittsburgh, began leasing the movie theater in January and have hosted a variety of events.

Since that time, Howard, an Indiana native, has been talking about the importance of those in the downtown cultural scene joining forces. When the theater opened, he stressed that it would not be a competitor for other businesses, but a collaborator. He echoed that sentiment at the forum.

“If we’re competing against each other, we’re not promoting the scene in a growing manner,” he said to those who had gathered in the screening room of the theater. “Competition doesn’t make the scene better. The cultural scene needs collaboration.”

About two dozen individuals from around Indiana turned out for the forum. Those in attendance ranged from local art gallery owners to borough council members to students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

During his presentation, Howard shared some specific ways he thought local creative ventures can grow what he considers a burgeoning cultural district.

Howard said he thought downtown Indiana venues and events with a cultural bent should pool resources and efforts to increase publicity and promote that specific area as a cultural destination.

Among his suggestions were sharing the cost of ad space, pooling resources to create promotional materials and identifying a specific location to publicize cultural events.

Other ideas he put forth were a ticket swap program that would encourage patrons to take in more than one cultural event and promote other artistic and cultural offerings in the downtown area.

“Try to get them to go out all around town, and it will make the scene better,” he said.

Lending her voice to the discussion, Rebecca Slak, executive director of the Indiana Arts Council, provided a list of resources such as the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and Downtown Indiana Inc. that she said could provide information and support to cultural endeavors.

She also encouraged those in the downtown cultural scene to consider membership with the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce and to work with the Indiana County Tourist Bureau.

Consolidating details on events was a specific improvement she said could be made. She suggested a single community calendar that would pull that material together in a single source.

That duplication of efforts — and information — in repeated calendars and event listings apparently isn’t unique to the area.

“This problem we’re talking about, it’s not just Indiana,” she said.

It’s one that is seen from large metropolitan areas to small towns, according to Slak.

Gerald Smith, a borough councilman, attended the meeting and gave his input from a personal point of view.

Among his suggestions were improvements to the municipal parking garage at 650 Water St. and transformation of the front of the Indiana Theater into a “town museum” display that highlights the borough’s cultural aspects.

Use of the new Indiana Regional Medical Center Park on Seventh Street for cultural happenings, transportation to and from the municipal garage to KCAC events and a Day of the Dead festival — a tradition in Mexico that IUP’s Anthropology Club recently brought to campus — were also discussed at the forum.

In light of all the creative ideas coming out of the event, Howard is trying to steer the cultural community toward practical solutions.

The next step for the effort is bringing those interested together again, he said, this time for a roundtable discussion, which will be scheduled soon.

“Now,” he said, “it’s the time to put this into a process to get things done.”

For more information on getting involved with the cultural district effort, contact Howard at

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