The Levitt AMP program is all about building community—through music, through partnerships and through engagement across sectors to help create more thriving and inclusive communities. Among the sectors touched by the Levitt AMP program are local businesses. Today, we’re shining the light on how organizers behind three Levitt AMP Music Series—Fort Smith, Ark., Stevens Point, Wis., and St Johnsbury, Vt.—have leveraged their respective music series to support local businesses and stimulate their creative economies while strengthening connections within their communities.
Injecting new life into a scenic riverfront amphitheater
The city of Fort Smith, Ark., a former military post turned manufacturing hub with a population of more than 85,000 people, has seen a new wave of artistic life in the past few years, most notably becoming a nationally recognized hub for street art. Organizations like 64.6 Downtown, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Fort Smith Music Series, have been at the forefront of this movement. 64.6 Downtown Executive Director Talicia Richardson and her team recognize the power of compelling creative programming to attract residents and visitors alike into underused spaces and to activate the surrounding area.
Richardson applied to bring the Levitt AMP program to Fort Smith to draw attention to her community’s underused Riverfront Amphitheater in the heart of the city’s downtown. Since the inaugural Levitt AMP Music Series began at the amphitheater in May, Fort Smith’s local parks department has reported increased interest in renting the venue for other events. “Those are the numbers I want to look at,” Richardson explained, “because that drives the economic activity downtown.” And she’s correct. Local restaurants and bars experienced a noticeable uptick in patrons on Levitt AMP concert evenings. More events at the amphitheater would be a welcome boost for businesses during a tough year.
Richardson is already looking for ways to build upon the success of the past season, so Levitt AMP audiences can continue to have meaningful experiences on the lawn, while injecting “much-needed revenue for the businesses downtown.” She went on to share that a 2022 goal will be to increase the number of audience members going to nearby establishments before and after concerts in order to fuel a more vibrant downtown, and she is continuing to deepen partnerships with local businesses to make that a reality.
Learn more about the Levitt AMP Fort Smith Music Series.
Building an energetic community hub for residents and local businesses
While Stevens Point, Wis., is a small town home to just about 25,000, it punches above its weight given its diversity of arts, cultural festivities and businesses. With an emerging tech sector, strong arts scene and a diverse cultural makeup including Hmong and Latinx communities, Stevens Point stands out among rural Midwestern communities. Recognizing the power of shared arts experiences to nurture the local economy, CREATE Portage County, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series, has collaborated with several local businesses and entrepreneurs since it first received the annual grant in 2017.
CREATE Portage County’s executive director Greg Wright said the Levitt AMP series is a valuable way to strengthen connections within the town, which is why it’s always been a priority for them to “give partners in the community a chance to activate part of the lawn.” The first year of the series, there was local interest in food trucks, but an ordinance limiting their operation downtown was stifling the growth of local food truck culture. By choosing to work with food trucks exclusively, CREATE demonstrated a path forward that respected that ordinance and took advantage of the best asset of a food truck—its mobility. The trucks came to the Levitt AMP site at Pfiffner Park and to other locations allowed by the ordinance, and the food truck scene has taken off in Stevens Point! According to Wright, “now there’ll be three food truck rallies in the summer, food trucks are around every day for lunch and at a lot of events…it’s been great to watch the food truck culture grow from the series.”
Wright went on to share that the CREATE Portage County team has celebrated the growing tech sector in town by bringing entrepreneurs with technological innovations to the lawn during concerts; engaging local arts groups, who’ve introduced audience members to their programs and services; and partnering with various wellness organizations, who’ve helped Levitt audiences enjoy kayaking, agility courses, pre-concert yoga and more. The Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series has become an ideal hub for local businesses, entrepreneurs and community members to come together and spark economic activity. This is particularly valuable in a town like Stevens Point, where the best way to build buzz about new events, products and services in the community is by word of mouth. People now understand “if they want to introduce the community to something new, one of the best places to do that is the Levitt AMP lawn,” said Wright.
Wright hopes the community spirit fostered through the Levitt AMP Music Series will spill into daily life in Stevens Point. “Community gathering turns into economic activity,” he explained. “The role [organizations play] in creating that community is really important.”
Learn more about the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series.
Inspiring locals to #GetDowntown
Over on the East Coast, in the idyllic town of St. Johnsbury, Vt., Catamount Arts, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Music Series, has spent the past year deepening their collaborations with local downtown businesses. When offered an open-ended 2020 Levitt AMP Bridge Grant to build community during last year’s unprecedented challenges, the team at Catamount Arts conceptualized an event that would benefit two groups hit hard by the pandemic—local businesses and artists. “If you opened up a textbook on the creative economy, this is it,” said Molly Stone, associate director of performance at Catamount Arts when asked about the resulting event, #GetDowntown. “Bring music and entertainment downtown, people come downtown, and they go to the restaurants,” she continued. Her team’s intent was to bring people together safely for free music in a way that “[made] people feel like they’re still appreciated and loved by their community.”
#GetDowntown 2020 spanned two days over the course of two weeks last September, and featured various artists including poets, puppeteers, visual artists and musicians, who were situated across downtown in three different locations. In addition to providing paying gigs to these artists and giving community members something to look forward to during a time of isolation and uncertainty, there was excitement among businesses, who held sidewalk sales and donated gift cards to be given away.
Last fall’s event was a huge success, with downtown restaurants and businesses experiencing revenue spikes on both days. This past summer, two #GetDowntown concerts were incorporated into the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series, which is typically held three miles away in an expansive, dog-friendly outdoor park called Dog Mountain. Stone shared that one reason they were inspired to bring #GetDowntown back this year was that it “gained so much traction because of the support of the town and local businesses.”
Ultimately, as Stone said, “the [Levitt AMP] series itself doesn’t stand alone: it stands in solidarity with the community surrounding it.” And for St. Johnsbury, the incorporation of #GetDowntown into the Levitt AMP Music Series reflects that “Levitt means so much more than just concerts at Dog Mountain.” It’s a feedback system that encourages community excitement, and that gets the business community excited as well.
The Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury’s Music Series wraps up with Scottish trio Cantrip on September 4.
For 64.6 Downtown, CREATE Portage County and Catamount Arts, the Levitt AMP Music Series is a meaningful way to strengthen the social fabric of their communities while nurturing their local economies. Each of these nonprofits is taking Levitt’s dedication to building community through music to the next level by harnessing their respective Levitt AMP Music Series to both build sustainable partnerships with local businesses and give these businesses a platform to connect with residents.