Author Archives: Nicole McGaffey

Tonight at 8pm ET/5pm PT, tune in to a Levitt AMP virtual concert for a taste of what makes Monday nights so special in Utica, New York. Featuring performances by four talented artists—acclaimed singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Isaac French; new mellow rock collaboration Tree of Life, local rapper Leeky XIV featuring Eric Armitage; and award-winning blues legend Jimmy Wolf, this lively and eclectic evening celebrates the creative energy that’s transforming a ‘Rust Belt’ city in Upstate New York into a thriving hub for residents from across the globe. Tonight’s show is co-presented by the Levitt AMP Utica team and the nonprofit Utica Monday Nite, who’ve spearheaded the transformation of a littered triangular throughway in the heart of their city into a vibrant, inclusive and music-filled point of pride. Check it out tonight at levittamp.org/virtual!

Reviving a ‘Rust Belt’ community through inclusion and creativity
Located on the Mohawk River at the foot of the majestic Adirondack Mountains, Utica residents enjoy stunning geography, access to global culinary delights and neighbors from all over the world. Like many other former industrial hubs in the Northeast, Utica experienced decades of decline in the mid-20th century, losing about a third of its population after local factories closed. Yet new populations were soon to arrive with the 1981 founding of the nonprofit Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, which would change the face of the city by resettling more than 15,000 refugees from over 30 nations, increasing the city’s population to more than 60,000 and making the city home to the nation’s fourth largest concentration of refugees—including Somalis, Bosnians, Syrians, Sudanese and people from Myanmar. Today, nearly 20 percent of Utica’s population is foreign born with more than a quarter of the population speaking languages other than English (and over 40 languages spoken in the local high school!). People from all over the world have found a home and a welcoming space in Utica.
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Tonight’s Levitt AMP virtual show brings the bright, buoyant sounds of Appalachia straight to you! Tune in to experience an incredible evening of music curated by the team behind the Levitt AMP Berea Music Series, including a performance by headlining act The Possum Queens. This all-female ‘Kentucky Old-Time’ quartet “got down the fiddle, rosined up the bow [and] dusted off the cobwebs” to record tonight’s lively virtual performance at Berea’s newly launched Rebel Rebel Studio and Lounge, a multi-use creative space co-founded by Levitt AMP Berea organizer Ali Blair with photographer Erica Chambers. The virtual concert will also feature local favorites Tyler Devall and Corey Shenk. Be sure to tune in at 8pm ET/5pm PT at levittamp.org/virtual!

A small town with trailblazing roots

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Berea College students, faculty and staff joining 25,000 other demonstrators in the last phase of the March on Montgomery from Selma, Ala., on March 25, 1965; Photo courtesy of Berea College, Special Collections & Archives

Blair first crossed paths with The Possum Queens fiddler Anna Harrod at a local backyard bonfire, surrounded by the joyous live folk and bluegrass music of Berea College professors and student musicians. The trailblazing Berea College has shaped the surrounding community since it was founded in 1855 by minister and abolitionist John G. Fee, as the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. Fee and his colleagues put their lives on the line to remove barriers to higher education. Since 1892, the boldly inclusive institution has also provided a high-quality education to its students—many of whom are from underserved areas of Southern Appalachia—completely free of charge. Driven by the homegrown talent of students and their families, the school has developed a phenomenal artisan craft program, laying the groundwork for Berea’s wide-reaching reputation as the ‘Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky.’ Every year, lifelong learners flock to Berea from far and wide for the city’s summer ‘Festival of Learnshops’ and winter ‘Make it, take it, give it!”—both rooted in artisan craft workshops. Continue reading

Tune into tonight’s Levitt AMP virtual concert to experience the critically-acclaimed soulstress Julie Black, co-presented by the Marion Cultural Alliance (MCA) and the City of Ocala—the dynamic team behind the Levitt AMP Ocala Music Series. Recorded in collaboration with the Reilly Arts Center, as part of the new Reilly Digital Series, tonight’s concert celebrates the collective creativity, innovation and resilience of Ocala’s cultural sector.

Stitching Together ‘One Ocala’

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Sign welcoming visitors to Ocala

Nestled in the heart of north central Florida’s ‘horse country,’ classic Florida charm thrives in the 60,429-person city of Ocala. Home to more horses than anywhere else in the country and the U.S. Equestrian Team’s official training site, many consider the Ocala/Marion County area to be the “Horse Capital of the World.” Located about 80 miles northwest of Orlando, Ocala is surrounded by freshwater streams and rolling hills, and just minutes away from ‘Florida’s Original Attraction,’ the scenic Silver Springs State Park—which boasts crystal clear 72-degree springs year-round.

Today, community leaders are working together to create ‘One Ocala’ after decades of disinvestment in the city’s historically Black neighborhoods created a tale of two very different Ocalas. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 changed the face of West Ocala, transforming this once vibrant hub of local African American commerce and community life on West Broadway into a busy throughway—destroying homes, businesses, a hospital and other landmarks in the process. For decades, US Highway 301 stood as both a physical and social division between West Ocala and the city’s downtown, deepening cultural and economic divisions, as well. Continue reading

The Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series fun continues tonight with an intimate home studio performance featuring Iowan country/blues/folk/punk fusion sensation William Elliott Whitmore. Tune in to see why this 2019 Levitt AMP Earlham Music Series fan favorite packed more than 750 people into Earlham City Park last summer during the city’s inaugural Levitt AMP Earlham Music Series—the largest crowd the park had ever held! Tonight’s new virtual show will be filled with energy and heart, much like Earlham itself.

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Photo courtesy of the City of Earlham

One-square mile of small town charm
Situated in an idyllic, rural setting about 30 miles west of Des Moines, the historic community of Earlham is home to 1,450 people where residents get to enjoy the pace, camaraderie and charm of a small town. Nostalgic and vibrant, this one-square mile community is home to both families who’ve lived there for generations and newer transplants seeking that “small town feel”—including many who work in Des Moines and reside in Earlham. Continue reading

Tonight, the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series continues with a throwback to one of the most memorable nights of Levitt AMP Carson City’s 2019 season. Tune in to enjoy full concert footage of Tribal Celtic powerhouse The Wicked Tinkers delivering an exhilarating performance to more than 3,000 concertgoers from The Change Companies stage at the Brewery Arts Center. The virtual show celebrates Carson City’s communal effort to save a community treasure and transform an underused downtown into a thriving arts destination.

What a difference five years can make
Nestled just minutes from world famous Lake Tahoe, bustling Reno, historic Virginia City and the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range, Carson City has aptly been described as “the centerpoint of your Nevada experience.” Boasting exciting new opportunities for residents to work, play and connect, it’s no surprise that the city’s population of more than 55,000 is growing larger and more diverse. Five years ago, walking down Main Street in Nevada’s capital city would have felt like a different street altogether. The city had just started work on the last leg of a new freeway linking Reno and Carson City. This new stretch of road would go on to increase regional and national traffic flow, and decrease through-traffic congestion through the heart of downtown Carson City. This pivotal infrastructure change laid the groundwork for Carson City’s historic downtown to become a more visitor and resident-friendly destination. With significant changes underway, the City had also just approved redevelopment plans for the downtown area, but the arts were not yet a part of the revitalization strategy.

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Historic photo of Carson Brewing Company; Courtesy of Nevada Historical Society

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This summer, Levitt AMP communities coast to coast are bringing the joy of free, live music straight to you with the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series! The 20-concert series co-presented by the Levitt Foundation launches tonight at 8pm EDT/5pm PDT with a one-of-a-kind evening curated, produced and presented by the Levitt AMP Galva team. The virtual show will include intimate performances and interviews with acclaimed homegrown artists Chicago Farmer and Edward David Anderson, along with footage from a newly released mini-documentary about the Levitt AMP Galva Music Series—giving viewers a taste of what makes the rural town of Galva, Ill., such a vibrant place to call ‘home’ and why supporting the area’s creative economy is so vital.

A community-driven effort, decades in the making
e6c20cc1e9213bd52925900c53cf5784Nestled in Northwest Illinois, the 2,500-person community of Galva is one of many small rural communities that make up Henry County. Once home to an utopian-esque Swedish settlement, this historic and culturally-rich county has been shaped by agriculture, industry, Swedish artisan craft traditions, and, more recently…live music.

Bringing free, live music to Galva became a reality in 2018 with the inaugural Levitt AMP Galva Music Series, yet this community-wide effort has been decades in the making. For the past 30 years, the dedicated volunteers of the Galva Arts Council (GAC)—many of whom are still active—have worked together to position art as a community-building tool and have built a culture of volunteerism, laying the groundwork for the Levitt AMP Music Series to succeed. With robust experience rallying support for community arts experiences, like the launch of the GAC’s Coffeehouse Music Series in 1992, series organizer and Henry County native John Taylor saw the GAC as a natural fit to lead the Levitt AMP effort. Continue reading

The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing reminder that there are many ways to stay connected while remaining physically distant. One new idea that we love is enlivening your porch (or balcony, front yard or stoop) as part of Porch Placemaking Week—which begins tomorrow, May 30 through June 5! Brought to life by The Experiencity Project in partnership with CoDesign Studio and the Town Team Movement (with support from global placemaking leaders like Project for Public Spaces and Places for Good), this weeklong celebration of place will ignite a network of small and large self-organized projects across the globe, with the shared goal of building safer, more connected communities.  Continue reading

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Humans are hardwired to respond to music. Imagine watching a thriller film without a tension-building soundtrack—would it be nearly as suspenseful? Or imagine trying to lull a baby to sleep with a driving rock song—would it be nearly as calming as a mellow lullaby? Music impacts how we feel and function by triggering our brains and bodies to become more alert or more relaxed. This makes music a powerful tool for regulating stress levels and feeling calm during challenging times.

With today’s ongoing public health crisis bringing a range of new challenges, we’d like to share five ways music can be woven into your daily life to help lower stress, boost your mood, provide comfort and promote better sleep. Continue reading

The devastation of COVID-19 has impacted just about every aspect of day-to-day life, including the way we’re called to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. With fewer cars on the roads and planes in the sky, many of us are seeing improved air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. These changes are temporary and have come at a tremendous cost, but they speak to our collective power to impact the health of our planet.

While we’re physically separated right now, there are plenty of ways we can come together this Earth Day to celebrate and protect this remarkable planet. Here are five ways you can take action from your home.   Continue reading

Artmaking is proven to reduce stress levels, foster hope and build connection, so it’s no surprise that so many of us are embracing our ‘inner artist’ during this crisis. Creativity—in all its forms—can help make these challenging times more manageable. In a recent NPR interview, University of Alabama Birmingham neuroscience professor Christianne Strang explained that “creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world”—all of which are invaluable right now. Today we’re sharing a few heartwarming ways people are getting creative with physically distant communal artmaking. Continue reading