Category Archives: Placemaking

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The penultimate performance of the 2020 Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series kicks off tonight! Co-presented by CREATE Portage County, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series, this live broadcast stars Minneapolis-based emcee Nur-D, whose lyrics span playful topics like geek culture and pro wrestling as well as complex social issues like racism and toxic masculinity. “He brings a wide perspective to his art,” says Greg Wright, executive director of CREATE. “Nur-D’s desire to make people re-think aspects of hip-hop music brings a layer to our programming we haven’t had before.” The show starts at 7pm ET / 4pm PT — catch the live stream on Facebook, or watch it over at levittamp.org/virtual at any time!

Re-framing the story of small-town living
Stevens Point is a small town in Central Wisconsin home to about 25,000 people. Located along a three-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River, the land, which belonged to the Menomonie people for over 14,000 years, became a vital stopping point for logging industry workers after European settlers colonized the area in the 1800s. As industrialization emerged in Wisconsin, paper mills and other logging-adjacent businesses flourished along the river, and Stevens Point, officially incorporated in 1868, eventually expanded into one of the region’s most robust communities.

An 1878 map of Stevens Point, WI

An 1878 map of Stevens Point, WI

Today, the town is known for its many local breweries, vibrant green spaces, strong arts scene, and emerging tech sector. The University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point, recognized statewide for its top-tier environmental science and fine arts programs, brings nearly 10,000 students to town each year and further invigorates community life with a wealth of activities.

While many other small communities in the region have experienced steep declines in both population and prosperity in recent decades, Stevens Point remains somewhat of an outlier. With a healthy economy and steadily increasing number of residents, the town has taken on an identity as a trendsetting, mold-breaking model for what life in a small Midwestern community can be. Diversity is also on the rise in Stevens Point, with frequent cross-cultural festivities celebrating the town’s Hmong and Latinx communities. Even so, the success of Stevens Point has mostly flown under the radar, and according to Wright, one of the goals of the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series has been to raise the town’s profile. “We really wanted to get the word out about our community,” says Wright. “People who are looking for a smaller place that feels more progressive, more vibrant, they can find that here. We can prove that it’s possible to live in a small community without sacrificing quality of life.”

Making community-wide investments to create change
CREATE Portage County, launched in 2015, exists to better the lives of community residents through investments in arts, culture and creativity. Placemaking and public art projects are a major component of the nonprofit’s work, as well as programs designed to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and connections between community members. Back in 2016, after one of CREATE’s board members interned at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the nonprofit presenter of the Levitt AMP Sheboygan Music Series, the idea to bring a Levitt AMP series to Stevens Point began to take shape. “We saw the Levitt AMP grant as an opportunity to both add some live music into our vibrant arts scene and get our name on the map,” says Wright. “We wanted to reframe the story around small towns and show that they can thrive in the 21st century if they invest in creativity.” With buy-in from the City of Stevens Point, as the parks and recreation department would be pivotal to presenting the outdoor music series, CREATE applied for a Levitt AMP grant in 2016 and presented the first ever Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series the following summer.

The view from above of Pfiffner Pioneer Park

The view from above of Pfiffner Pioneer Park

Providing a stunning view of both the Wisconsin River and downtown Stevens Point, the picturesque Pfiffner Pioneer Park was a clear choice of venue for the series. The park houses a band shell that was constructed in 1977 as a centennial project, though outside of a handful of performances from local acts each year, the facility saw relatively little use. Through a Levitt AMP series, organizers sought to realize the full potential of this space while bringing in a diverse array of artists that the community may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. The park is also easily accessible to residents across the city, with downtown Stevens Point within walking distance and the university just down the road, and reachable by just about all modes of transportation — a series of trails brings concertgoers to the park on foot or by bike, and a recently installed dock even allows residents to float over on boats. The park itself sits within the “Nortside” neighborhood, historically home to working class Polish immigrants, which has seen a resurgence in recent years spurred in part by the success of the series.

Wright describes a growing audience at Levitt AMP concerts each summer, with some performances drawing audiences of over 1,000. By booking college musicians as opening acts and intermission shows, an increasing number of attendees are students, helping to bridge the town and gown divide within the community. In addition to the music, CREATE has fostered a festival atmosphere on the lawn on concert nights that’s also become a platform for local businesses. “We bring arts activities, kids activities, good food, locally produced beverages…it’s a really relaxed and fun environment,” says Wright.

Overall, Wright believes the concert series has not only engaged the community and elevated the Stevens Point arts scene, but has also opened the door for profound growth within the community. “People are trusting in that culture change as a result of having a positive experience on the Levitt lawn,” says Wright. “We’ve been able to leverage that to make long-term, community-wide investments in inclusivity, in diversity, in creativity.”

Joyous scenes from the lawn at Levitt AMP Stevens Point

Joyous scenes from the lawn at Levitt AMP Stevens Point

Keeping the community safe and connected
In March, as the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic began to sink in, CREATE Portage County quickly sprang into action to help keep the community safe. Utilizing the 3D printing facility at the organization’s IDEA center, CREATE began producing plastic face shields for medical workers, first responders, in-home care workers, and other frontline personnel. Word quickly spread through the town, and residents who owned personal 3D printers joined the effort, while partnerships with local manufacturers Worth Company and Gamber-Johnson helped expedite the assembly process. “At our peak, we had 23 printers running, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” recalls Wright. “We just cranked out as many as we could.” Through this community-wide effort, CREATE produced over 4,000 face shields, providing a critical boost to hospitals and clinics at a time when personal protective equipment was still in short supply. The project had a global impact as well — after sharing the schematics online, Wright learned that people in the UK, Japan and Germany were 3D-printing the same locally-designed face shields to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

Health workers at Ascension St. Michaels Hospital in Stevens Point wear face shields 3D-printed by CREATE

Health workers at Ascension St. Michaels Hospital in Stevens Point wear face shields 3D-printed by CREATE

In addition to helping the community stay physically protected from the virus, CREATE is also working to combat COVID-related loneliness. “One of our biggest concerns right now is the mental health toll of COVID-19,” says Wright. “Right now, it’s so important for people to still have access to social connectedness.” Following the success of several one-off concert livestreams in the spring, CREATE made the decision to bring the 2020 Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series fully online this summer. The series, which is funded in part through a Levitt AMP Bridge Grant, began in July and includes seven live-streamed concerts, including tonight’s performance from Nur-D. Participants are encouraged to watch the performances outdoors in small, socially-distanced groups, bringing the spirit of Levitt concerts out of Pfiffner Pioneer Park and into the community. “You can take your speakers outside, bring your close friends and family, wear masks, order takeout, and create a mini Levitt lawn right at home!” says Wright.

Another goal of this year’s series is to provide paid performance opportunities for musicians who have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. According to Wright, some of the artists booked for the 2020 Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series hadn’t played a single show, virtual or otherwise, since March, with one artist reporting upwards of 100 of their concerts having been canceled. “We really wanted to make sure we honored our contracts and paid musicians,” says Wright. “It was important to us to do our part to support the arts economy.”

Minneapolis-based rapper Nur-D in action

Minneapolis-based rapper Nur-D in action

Wright is especially excited for tonight’s concert with Nur-D, whose unique perspective and left-field lyricism are already making huge waves in the Midwest hip-hop scene. Originally from the Bronx and based out of the Twin Cities, Nur-D first stepped into the rap arena in 2018, and has since earned accolades such as the #1 spot on City Pages’ “Picked to Click” list. Sporting superhero sweatshirts, bowties and thick, square-rimmed glasses, Nur-D is a striking performer with an arsenal of hilarious and insightful rhymes at his disposal. “He’s a really intersectional performer,” describes Wright. “We’ve had hip-hop artists every year of our series, but the specific messaging in his music really fits the goals of Levitt AMP.” Catch Nur-D in action tonight as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series, and experience the rest of the series over at levittamp.org/virtual!

Woonsocket's River Island Art Park before and during the 2018 Levitt AMP Woonsocket Music Series

Woonsocket’s River Island Art Park before and during the 2018 Levitt AMP Woonsocket Music Series

Friday night is almost upon us, and so is another virtual Levitt AMP concert! Co-presented by NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley (NWBRV), tonight’s show is set to be a genre-spanning musical spectrum—headlined by Dominican-American salsa star EhShawnee, the concert also features acclaimed indigenous artist Daryl Black Eagle Jamieson, renowned djembe drummer Sidy Maiga, and treasured Rhode Island big band Steve Smith and the Naked Truth. This stacked lineup of local talent is sure to bring the rich array of Rhode Island’s music scene to the digital stage with style—watch from anywhere tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT at levittamp.org/virtual!

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The view from the stage at the AMP at Sam Michaels Park

Vantage point from the stage at the AMP at Sam Michaels Park

Tonight, as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series, experience an all-new show from indie roots group The Woodshedders, co-presented by West Virginia’s Jefferson County Parks and Recreation (JCPRC)! Dedicated to promoting health, well-being and the environment, JCPRC is a nonprofit component of the Jefferson County government and will present the Levitt AMP Shenandoah Junction Music Series next summer. For tonight’s virtual concert, the series’ organizers are excited to present a home-grown band whose sound captures the unique spirit and flavor of their community. The Woodshedders blend vintage rock, honky-tonk, and Appalachian roots music to create an upbeat and modern take on the region’s musical traditions. “They have a real West Virginia feel to them when they play,” says Becki Zaglifa, JCPRC’s public relations specialist. Known for their fun, danceable live shows, The Woodshedders are a mainstay of the D.C. area music scene and have four albums of original music under their belts. Their performance for the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series was recorded live earlier this year at Chord B Brewing Company, and airs tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT. Tune in from anywhere at levittamp.org/virtual! 

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The "Y-Block" in downtown Springfield before and during the Levitt AMP series

The “Y-Block” in downtown Springfield before and during the 2019 Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series

Tonight, experience an all-new virtual concert from harmony-driven acoustic folk trio The Deep Hollow as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series! The show is co-presented by Downtown Springfield Heritage Foundation in partnership with Downtown Springfield, Inc. and Springfield Area Arts Council, the nonprofits behind the Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series. Known in their native Springfield and beyond for their raw, sparse and powerful take on traditional Americana, The Deep Hollow are a Midwestern sensation with a rapidly rising profile. Tune in tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT at levittamp.org/virtual!

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Coal Avenue in Downtown Gallup, New Mexico. Photo courtesy: Cayla Nimmo

Coal Avenue in Downtown Gallup, New Mexico. Photo courtesy: Cayla Nimmo

Tonight, Southwestern Blues-rocker and Navajo Nation artist Levi Platero performs an all-new livestream virtual concert as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series! Co-presented by Gallup MainStreet Arts & Cultural District, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Gallup Music Series, Platero is known for his captivating guitar acrobatics and stirring blues originals. Having earned a national following, Platero has a special connection to Gallup as he was born and raised in the neighboring Navajo Nation tribal land. Be sure to tune in tonight at 8pm ET/5pm PT at http://levittamp.org/virtual!

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Riverfront Amphitheater along the Arkansas River, home to the future Levitt AMP Fort Smith Music Series in 2021

The Riverfront Amphitheater along the Arkansas River, home to the future Levitt AMP Fort Smith Music Series in 2021

 

Get those birthday wishes rollin’ during tonight’s free livestream concert featuring the soulful vocals of Allison Grace, a hometown favorite in the city of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Her birthday is today, and “what better way to celebrate than with a show from one of our city’s best!” exclaims Talicia Richardson, executive director of 64.6 Downtown, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Fort Smith Music Series and co-presenter of tonight’s livestream as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series. Earlier this year, Grace made her nationally-televised debut performing a moving rendition of “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones during blind auditions on NBC’s “The Voice.” Her performance impressed the judges and racked up more than half a million views on YouTube, earning her new fans across the country in the process. Tonight’s livestream will also feature the hip-hop hooks and spoken-word beats of local musician, entrepreneur and community leader Chris Chaney, so be sure to tune in at levittamp.org/virtual at 8pm EDT/5pm PDT!

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Tonight, the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series continues with an all-new virtual concert featuring Alaska favorite bluegrass and folk-rockers Blackwater Railroad Company, co-presented by Vision Soldotna, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series. Formed in the small Alaskan town of Seward in 2012, Blackwater Railroad Company weaves the tapestry of the state’s musical landscape into songs that “consistently get people dancing and smiling, united in a love of live music and Alaska,” says Mary McCubbins of Vision Soldotna. The free concert airs tonight at 8pm EDT/5pm PDT at levittamp.org/virtual. 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.

Earlham-sign

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

Before and after photos of the public space home to Levitt AMP Middlesboro concerts

Before and after photos of the public space home to Levitt AMP Middlesboro concerts

Once a vacant gravel lot in the middle of town surrounded by decaying infrastructure, “Performance Park” in downtown Middlesboro, Ky. is now a lush green space with a state-of-the art stage built by local volunteers through a donation. For the past five summers, it’s been home to the Levitt AMP Middlesboro Music Series, which has delivered free, live music under the stars to thousands of people in the community on Thursday nights.

Southern Avenue performing at Levitt AMP Middlesboro in 2019

Southern Avenue performing at Levitt AMP Middlesboro in 2019

Although live concerts won’t return to Levitt AMP Middlesboro until 2021 due to COVID-19, the series is bringing music to the community virtually for the first time ever tonight as part of the 2020 Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series! Featuring an all-new performance from GRAMMY-nominated Memphis blues group Southern Avenue, the show premieres at 8pm EDT / 5pm PDT. Following a thrilling show at Levitt AMP Middlesboro last summer, Southern Avenue is sure to bring a polished, energetic performance to the digital space.

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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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