The Next Step for the Arts in Lansdale

After Wednesday’s Lansdale Borough Council meeting, I believe the writing is on the wall for 311 West Main Street: after much discussion both in the Administration and Finance Committee and in Council Chambers the direction is now to separate the building located at 311 West Main Street from the arts. In other words, commitment to the arts does not necessarily mean commitment to the building. Finally, at least a little common sense.

However, now the current thrust of the administration is to extend Ms. Burnham’s contract (she is the current business manager advising the Borough on the arts for the past year and a half, and the amount of her next contract is undetermined) to manage the arts for us in Lansdale. The issue that I have with this blanket, open-ended desire to support the arts is where does the spending end and what metrics will be use to assess the effectiveness of this spending on the arts?

We currently have a few worthy arts organizations in town including the North Penn Arts Alliance and Theater and Kids and the Montgomery County Concert Band which have been in the area for an average of 20 years each. The question I have is how do we support these organizations? Does throwing more money at another bureaucratic entity help them or if we’re dolling out cash, why don’t we just write each of them a check? A question to consider is whether Laura Burnham and the newly created 311 Arts Board know how to better promote the arts than the organizations themselves?

In order for the commitment to the arts to be genuine, there needs to be a grassroots effort to raise the money. As Carl Saldutti mentioned in his speech to Council on Wednesday night, a venue for the arts in Lansdale may take years to achieve in Lansdale. The pressure is off to save 311 West Main Street. This episode of the arts is over in Lansdale.

If people in Lansdale want the arts, go to see a production of Theater and Kids, attend the North Penn Arts Alliance Winter Show at North Penn Art or their Spring Art Show at Elm Terrace Gardens. Check out Mike Mohamet Jazz at Round Guys Brewery every Wednesday night or the incredible Irish Sessions at Molly Maguires every second Sunday (they used to play every Sunday, but the sessions were poorly attended so they cut back to once a month). Go to the Tuba Christmas Concert.

Or better yet, support these already existing arts organizations by becoming a Board member or by contributing to them financially. I think they would appreciate this more than yet another Borough sponsored board meeting dedicated to “supporting the arts in Lansdale.” Go straight to the source of the art and make a real difference in the life of an artist or their organization. Do we really need government to do that for us?

Here are the websites for ways to support local art:


One response to “The Next Step for the Arts in Lansdale

  1. Unfortunately it is clear that 311 was a failed project from inception up to the end. I can point to several glaring mistakes along the way, of which I won’t list here. But I think the local leadership will do well to remember these mistakes because hopefully, at some point in the near future, the opportunity for a theater will arise.

    I still believe having a Theater (not necessarily a ‘Center for the Arts’) is a necessity for a suburban town to thrive. I look at Ambler, Phoenixville, Narberth, Ardmore, Sellersville, and I believe that it was the theater that spurred people into town. Dining, Bars and Shops followed and ideal those secondary attractions become main attractions unto themselves. Town centers are back in fashion as shopping malls fall to the way side. Lansdale lost an opportunity over the last decade due to bad planning, bad luck and bad organization….but we will learn from this and while the door to a 311 Center for the Performing Arts may have closed, I don’t feel that the opportunity for something special in Lansdale is gone. The location hasn’t changed, the infrastructure hasn’t changed, the surrounding population and amenities for them has not changed.

    Andy spoke about artists being the catalyst for a thriving arts community. I agree. The problem, as I see it, is we have a small local arts community that doesn’t have much economic, political or social cache. Nothing wrong with that, it is what it is. How to change this? Encourage artists to make Lansdale their home, or at least an artistic business location. I recently visited the Goggleworks in Reading, which is a collective arts community, where artist lease space to create their art. It is open to the public and offers 100’s of different artist, a small movie theater, and gallery space for exhibits. I am wondering what the status is of the industrial buildings along the train tracks between 5th and 8th St.? Can these buildings be revitalized efficiently? Can a local mega-company like Merk or Teva be our Boscov? Can these relics become Montgomery County’s Goggleworks? I know it’s an ambitious idea…but an idea to build on. The reason I suggest this is because if something of that nature were to become a reality, then a strong arts community would have a great chance to thrive and lead, and ultimately a theater of some sort (hopefully via a collective private endeavor with local government support, not ownership) could be a returning possibility to our downtown.

    Another alternative is to actually embrace the brewing and beer culture. I know that sounds counter intuitive to the “Bars and Biker” culture that Lansdale has a reputation for, but as we have seen the craft brewing revolution is not one of gluttony and decadence, but rather one of craftsmanship and savoring. Thanks to the Lansdale Beerfest, Round Guys, and other local breweries around the area, I think Lansdale could become the home to a craft brewery empire (think big right?). Think of Lansdale as the Boulder of the East Coast. Welcome craft brewers into town. There is a strong misconception among some that all bars are the same. Anyone who has gone to RGB, Prism, Iron Hill, Victory, etc…knows that these breweries are attractions as much as they are bars and people go not to get drunk, but to experience a liquid artistry (I’m going to trademark that). Many craft breweries see the importance of having a culinary arm to accentuate their brews. Go to Forest & Main in Ambler, or Tired Hands in Ardmore, the food is just as good as the beer. There is also a brotherhood among brewers. Competition would actually help local craft breweries to thrive. A centralized location with 5-8 craft breweries would be a boon to the area….and having a train downtown wouldn’t hurt either. Of course, permit and licensing issues would arise, but THAT is what our politicians should be working: helping private business come to Lansdale, not creating one for themselves. Why can’t craft brewing be OUR ART COMMUNITY??? (and maybe that will entice artists to live in Lansdale). Can you imagine Lansdale being a craft brewing tourist attraction….why not??

    The point is 311 was a failure but we can learn from this and there are alternatives that are out there. Our time hasn’t passed, we just need to make new opportunities and learn from our mistakes.

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