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Urban Development Plan Seeks to Harness Artistic Power of Chester

New Initiative Chester Made Seeks to Empower and Enrich Local Arts and Culture


This year, Chester will see a new community-driven development project hit the ground running. Chester Made, a partnership of city planners, anchor institutions and nonprofit organizations, hopes to reinvigorate civic life in Chester through developing its arts and culture sector. They plan on attracting investment to a mile-long corridor in the heart of the city to be developed as an arts district.

Perhaps unusual in city development plans, Chester Made has started its work by conducting a listening campaign, collecting stories and advice from both longtime and more recent residents of the city.

“We need to hear from you the ways in which you are creative in your lives, from things that you make in your home, to choirs that you participate in through your church, to the food that you create,” said Don Newton, founding member of Chester Arts Alive! and active partner in the Chester Made initiative, to the interviewees.

In its heyday, Chester was an industrial center, a city along the waterfront whose interior held movie theaters and music venues and all the makings of a rich civic life. Yet processes of deindustrialization have brought vacancy, crime and unemployment to the city.

Recent efforts to rejuvenate the city have made residents skeptical, however, as study after study and investment after investment fall short in helping average Chester residents lead more liveable lives. The vast majority of development projects have been along the waterfront rather than in the interior of the city, including a soccer stadium, a casino and a riverside office park. Although these projects often speak the language of positive social change, they rarely serve those truly who make the city what it is.

Chester Made hopes to offer an alternative model of development, attracting investment to artists and projects that are already enriching the community. While these initiatives have existed as somewhat separate from one another, Chester Made hopes to connect them to one another, and in doing so, build support inside and outside the city.

Chester’s citizens are cautiously hopeful. “On paper it’s great. It looks good, and I hope it totally works and I’m supportive of it, but at the same time I’m watching it as it grows,” longtime resident and artist Devon Walls remarked. “We’ve seen many movements like this come into the city and they have a lot of promises.”

“I think that Chester’s artists are moving forward and trying to get a lot of things done that politics couldn’t get done over the years, and I just hope that a lot more Chester artists are brought to the forefront and that their faces are visible,” he added. “Either way, I’m here for a lifetime.”

For the original article in Generocity, click here.