Top 5 public parks in Raleigh (or 5 of many reasons I’m sad to leave)

My husband and I are excited to be moving this month to Lexington, Kentucky. However, we are also sad to be leaving Raleigh. This is for many reasons, First, the great people. Second, the natural beauty of the area, which is accentuated by so many fabulous parks. It is about the latter of these reasons I would like to do some reminiscing.

For the past four years, my husband and I have called downtown Raleigh home — and before that, NC State campus. During this time, we’ve made it our goal to explore as many of the fabulous parks in this area as possible — and we still didn’t hit them all!

Our most recent visit to North Raleigh Landfill District Park

Our most recent visit to North Wake Landfill District Park

I’m proud to say we visited all 8 Wake County parks, 10 of the 90+ City of Raleigh parks, biked many of the greenways — and visited many other parks in the Triangle area, including State parks such as Umstead, NC State parks such as JC Raulston Arboretum, and privately-owned parks such as Joslin Garden, and WRAL Azalea gardens.

Given these experiences, I humbly offer my picks for top five public parks to visit in Raleigh — my love letter to this beautiful city! Each of these parks offer both opportunities to enjoy the greenery of Raleigh as well as cultural and educational enrichment. The combination of a beautiful space that also engages you intellectually or culturally in the history and strengths of your community is what makes a great park experience to me.

Without further ado, I present my top five parks to visit in Raleigh:

#5 – Lake Crabtree County Park

park 2

Biking at Lake Crabtree Park

Technically, this park is located in Morrisville, but it might as well be Raleigh as it’s located off of Aviation Parkway next to I-40. My favorite part is the fabulous green expanse that backs up to the Lake Crabtree waterside, which on many weekends is crawling with frisbee throwers, dog walkers, family picnicers, volleyball players and more. Yet, the park rarely feels crowded (as does Umstead). The park also boasts boating, wooded trails and mountain biking trails.

Don’t miss: Climbing the tower in the boathouse for a gorgeous view of Lake Crabtree and recreational areas in the park.


#4 – Pullen Park


As the first public park in NC, Pullen Park is a significant Raleigh historic site — including a working carousel from 1911 (which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places). Yet, this park continues to evolve and recreate itself into an even more interesting place for families to gather and enjoy themselves. You’ll also find miniature train rides, pedal boating, an aquatic center, and arts center to boot.

Don’t miss: the Drum Circle / Hoop Jam at Pullen every Wed eve at 6:30 p.m April – October.

# 3 – Historic Yates Mill County Park

This park off of Lake Wheeler Road has so much to offer. The short wooded trail around

Yates Mill Park during the holidays

Yates Mill Park during the holidays

Yates Mill Pond includes viewpoints of the historic corn mill. One of my favorite parts of this park, however, is the interactive educational center — the best in the county, I’d say. The high level of community involvement in this park (read about the Yates Mill Associates) is evident in the well kept grounds, its frequent programming, and even its Facebook page, which consistently keeps fans posted with natural and wildlife sightings from the park for those of us who want to enjoy from afar.

Don’t miss: The 30 minute guided tour of the mill Saturdays 1-3 p.m.

#2 – NCMA Museum Park


Biking at NCMA Park

Here is yet another beautiful oasis in the midst of our busy city. The NCMA park is a spacious area of woodland trails and grassy vistas dotted with works of art by artists both native to NC (see: Vollis Simpson and Thomas Sayre) and nationally known (see: Roxy Paine‘s Dendroid). In early summer, the Rodin Sculpture Garden outside of the West Building, plays host to a blooming pond of water lilies. Wander down by the amphitheater to see up close the components of the park’s coolest secret: larger than life Picture This installation. Trails are good for both biking and walking. Take the main trail all the way to the pedestrian bridge over 440 for a dizzying walk and a reminder of the crowds rushing about their busy lives just outside the park while you relax.

Don’t miss: Pick out your favorite film or concert from the Museum’s summer line up to enjoy an outdoor show surrounded by lit up sculptures and fireflies over head.

#1 – Historic Oakview County Park

Our wedding at Oakview Park

Our wedding at Oakview Park

In my opinion, this park is one of the best kept secrets in Raleigh. Located next to Olivia
Rainy Library at the corner of 440 and Poole Road, it is not an area I often frequent, but the trip out there is always worth it. My husband and I love this park so much, we got married there!

This park will charm you out of your socks. While not as well maintained or glitzy as some of the others, the park packs a lot in a small area. The most noticeable feature at first is a beautiful, upward sloping pecan tree grove that perfectly shields the park from the noise of nearby 440, creating a quiet refuge for you to discover the many facets of this park. The kid-oriented education center focuses on local farming and life on this land in the 1800s. Wander past the rustic water tower through the historic buildings including the colonial style family home, cotton gin house, and more. You can even pick cotton from the cotton field during cotton season! Like other special parks in Raleigh, this one has a long history which includes many familiar local family names.oakview


Don’t miss: Meeting the park’s resident creatures: two friendly goats who will let you pet them and feed them (park-approved food of course!).

I’ll end with a thanks to Raleigh city, county, state, community, and business leaders who have worked and donated to establish and ensure on-going support for these fabulous public spaces. I’m just excited to see how the newest park in the works, Dix Park, has blossomed when we return to Raleigh!

NC Arts Organizations Use Twitter to Reach New Audiences

Originally posted on the Triangle Artworks blog, this is a cross post I wrote this Spring. Triangle Artworks is a NC Triangle-based provide the services, support and resources necessary to cultivate and ensure a vibrant creative community in the Triangle. Follow @TriArtWorks on Twitter. 

Across the Triangle and throughout the state, arts organizations are tapping Twitter to reach and engage new audiences. Using social media enables arts organizations to affordably reach thousands of people with their messages. Of course, using social media to drive ticket sales and donations is notoriously hard to track. Though return on investment for a social media campaign often isn’t immediately quantifiable financially, Twitter is a proven and affordable tool for generating buzz, expanding your exposure and amplifying your message about performances, events and overall mission.

Below is a short study about how Carolina Ballet and the Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference each used Twitter for these purposes. The key in each case was to enroll supporters in reaching out to their networks on behalf of the organization. Thus, the organization’s message reaches thousands of members within their supporters’ networks – both your supporters’ existing arts supporter friends and some future arts supporters, no doubt.

Tweeting at the first Carolina Ballet “tweetseats” event. Photo by Chris Walt Photography.


 Carolina Ballet Tweet Seats 

Photo by Chris Walt Photography

Organized by Melinda McKee, ballet supporter and communications professional, Carolina Ballethosted the first in a series of Tweet Seats events during the dress rehearsal for September 2011’s performance of Black and White Swan. The Ballet hosted about 15 supporters to take a sneak peak at the dress rehearsal performance and, from seclusion in the balcony, tweet every detail.  Carolina Ballet’s performance became one of the top ten trending Twitter topics in Raleigh that evening, reaching thousands of people through the tweet seats participants’ tweets – not to mention the retweets and mentions from members of their networks. Read more about the second Carolina Ballet Tweet Seats event promoting Dracula at Tweet Seats participant Lisa Sullivan’s blog.


 SEACon Live Tweet 

To regain momentum cultivated during the first annual Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference (SEA), organizers from the North Carolina Entrepreneurship Center increased marketing across multiple channels during 2012 for the third annual conference. Additionally, Conference Coordinator Marshall Rollings and I arranged a live tweet, sending quotes from SEA speakers, pictures from the conference and bits of dialogue from conference attendees into the Twitterverse.

The live tweet surpassed expectations and achieved our goal to generate more buzz before, during, and after the conference. More than 25 tweeters, both attendees and non-attendees – from across the U.S. and as far away as Australia – tuned in to participate in the live tweet, logging 350+ tweets and 50+ retweets. Read more about the live tweet in the Americans for the Arts ARTSblog post. See also the Live Tweet case study.

#SEACon2012 Live-Tweet Recap Part 1: Keynote with Beverly McIver

More than 350 participants from five states and students from 18 universities attended the third annual Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference 2012 this Saturday February 11th at University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Elliot Student Center, hosted by the Entrepreneurship Center at UNCG.

I had the pleasure of live-tweeting the conference. I engaged in dialogue with both attendees and non-attendees from Australia and across the U.S. through 300+ tweets logged to the #SEACon2012 conversation! Thanks to Bryan Toney, Diane H.B. Welsch, Jan Szelkowski and Marshall Rollings of the Entrepreneurship Center for working with me! 

See also Recap Part 2 and Recap Part 3. Did you attend the conference? What did you think? Comment below!


 Keynote – Worthy of Winning, Beverly McIver 


Beverly said that as a young person growing up in the projects in Greensboro,  she didn’t feel worthy of winning. Now she is an award-winning artist recently featured in the New York Times.

Beverly said the first step to achieving your dreams is to know yourself. The better you know yourself, the better equipped you are to love yourself. If you love yourself, you can fully inhabit your dreams and ambitions. In addition, Beverly offered a few more tips —

 On time-management:

It’s important to time-track, Beverly said. We spend a lot of time doing nothing — and that is OK. But we must be aware. Beverly, for instance, does nothing all day on Mondays. She stays in bed all day. Tuesdays, she pays her bills. Beverly schedules studio time from 8pm to 2am and treats it like office hours. It’s a job. “I show up on time,” Beverly said.

On funding and grants:

Do you feel worthy of applying for a grant? You should, Beverly said. Apply for a local grant before you apply for a national grant. “North Carolina is a good state in which we support the arts,” Beverly said.

Often, you must be nominated to receive national grants, Beverly said. You’ve got to know your community. Your fellow artists and colleagues–particularly those who’ve already won the awards–are often the ones who nominate you for such awards.

On goal setting and achieving your dreams:

“We need some goals,” Beverly advised. Being an artist is like running a business. You need to have a plan, she said.

Some of Beverly’s goals? To live near her best friends, who will remind her that she is worthy. To be debt free (“Oh, LORD”). For students to say about her later, “She was generous.” To own a Porsche hybrid. To have someone else scoop her cat’s litter box. To be featured on the cover of Art in America.

Keep your goals to yourself initially, Beverly said. Many people will tell you, “you shouldn’t do this.”

Beverly shared some final words for us: “You are worthy.” Develop a mantra and tell yourself this everyday, she said.

“This is a journey, and it’s not about rushing to the end of it.” Indeed, Beverly is an accomplished artist with big dreams who seems happy creating right now — ever on her way to achieving the next goal: never again having to scoop her cat’s litter box.

#SEACon2012 Live-Tweet Recap Part 2: Jim Dodson

More than 350 participants from five states and students from 18 universities attended the third annual Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference 2012 this Saturday February 11th at University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Elliot Student Center, hosted by the Entrepreneurship Center at UNCG.

I had the pleasure of live-tweeting the conference. I engaged in dialogue on Twitter with both attendees and non-attendees from Australia and across the U.S. through 300+ tweets logged to the #SEACon2012 conversation

See also Recap Part 1 and Recap Part 3.


 The Art – And Soul – Of Creating a Good Magazine 

  — Plenary with Jim Dodson

Lunch speaker Jim Dodson began his travels in darkness. “All creativity begins in darkness,” he reminded us with Julia Cameron’s words. Having traveled through darkness, Jim is now an award-winning author, golf journalist and magazine editor.

Jim’s winding story begins in Greensboro and leads to early dreams of becoming the next Hemingway, writing for the News and Record and later Yankee Magazine, golfing adventures in Scotland, publishing several best-selling books, accidentally insulting famous golfers’ wives and, most recently, establishing two successful arts and culture niche magazines in North Carolina.

Jim had this to say: discover your unshakable dream, work to make an authentic contribution to your craft and doors will open. If you take after Jim, you’ll have a blast along the way.

A crowd favorite, Jim offered a wealth of tweet-ready pearls to #SEACon2012 attendees:

Develop a spiritual practice to root your creative process.

@coolmcjazz chimes in from Washington, D.C.

On monetizing your craft:

Industries change and new opportunities emerge. Innovate and keep moving. Take for example entrepreneur clubs that raise capital for local start-ups. The publishing industry is in upheaval too. Jim predicts independent bookstores will soon make a come back!

Conference attendee @KSVintageGarden captures an exciting moment in Dodson’s speech

Advice along the way:

Jim is at a turning point himself. He is taking his own advice to pursue his passion authentically and courageously. No longer interested in sports writing, he plans to take the plunge into writing about his old love: Southern gospel and folk music —

Jim moves forward through the darkness, alongside all artist-entrepreneurs, with courage and creativity. We trust that light will continue to emerge. Hear hear!


#SEACon2012 Live-Tweet Recap Part 3: Breakout Sessions

More than 350 participants from five states and students from 18 universities attended the third annual Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference 2012 this Saturday February 11th at University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Elliot Student Center, hosted by the Entrepreneurship Center at UNCG.

I had the pleasure of live-tweeting the conference. I engaged in dialogue on Twitter with both attendees and non-attendees from Australia and across the U.S. through 300+ tweets logged to the #SEACon2012 conversation!

See also Recap Part 1 and Recap Part 2.


 The Art of Collaboration 

 — Plenary with Jim Gallucci and Pat Gray

Sculptor Jim Gallucci and BioMusic Specialist Pat Gray discussed the value and practice of collaboration: 

Pat and Jim both agreed that with collaborative endeavors, the project is more important than any one person.

The most important quality in collaboration, Pat said, is the ability to weave participants in a way in which they can “own” the project.

Pat ended by challenging us to join the collaborative movement:

@PaperCatTales tunes in from Australia


 Creating Creative Publics, George Scheer 

George Scheer, Co-Founder of Elsewhere Artists Collaborative, wants to engage the greater community and people on the fringe–those unsure even if they want to go to “a living art museum”–in public art-making. Tune in to the conversation to learn more about some of Elsewhere’s community art projects:

George’s work has also played an important role in revitalizing downtown Greensboro. Now, 300-400 people visit Elsewhere on a typical First Friday night.

George is also involved in reclaiming a fenced-in former Soviet-era amusement park in Berlin now called Kulturpark.

Elsewherians started a community garden, a store-front window theater and have plans to open a library this year to further engage the public.

@ArtsNC joins in Katie’s enthusiasm about Elsewhere


 Entrepreneurial Career Paths for Young Artists 

— with Jimmy Hunt of Yellow Dog Entertainment, Ryan Barringer of Technic Productions, Marshall Rollings, Rasheem Pugh and  Moderator Joe Erba

Some highlights from young artist-entrepreneur panel discussion:

Though only one of the four entrepreneurs began a formal business plan, all began with passion, drive and helpful mentors.

Each entrepreneur emphasized the importance of surrounding oneself with a team of people who understand the vision and take it seriously.

Jimmy advised entrepreneurs to utilize the strategic planning tool, SWOT, and to gather as much data as possible before launching.

Entrepreneur Marshall Rollings emphasized the importance of time management and staying on top of your schedule, as did Beverly McIver in the keynote. He also suggested performance artists check out Yap Tracker for resources and audition notifications.

 Beyond the Conference – Connecting & Creating Sustained Value, Margaret Collins 




Margaret Collins, Executive Director of Center for Creative Economy (CCE), “North Carolina’s Network for Innovation,” spoke about momentum around the creative economy in the NC Triad area:

More than 30,000 people in the Triad area are employed in the creative economy, which includes industries such as game and software design, entertainment and arts. The creative economy is the ninth largest sector in this area.

Attendee @terrylkennedy chimes in from another breakout session

Tools: CCE is developing the Idea Index (launching late 2012), an initiative to build creative economy infrastructure. The Idea Index is an online platform offering services to creatives such as portfolio-sharing, forum, RFP and job listings.

Tools: New CCE website (launching later this week!) will include helpful resources and links including a job preparation/search tool for creative economy subsectors.

Tools: Industry partner, EverWondr, offers a comprehensive web listing of arts and culture events taking place in cities throughout the Triad. See: Explore Greensboro

Triad area CCE programs: Triad Design Leadershop (design thinking training for local leaders), Creatini events (networking and idea sharing), Innovation Summit workshops and Triad Creative Showcase tours

CCE works with local companies such as Hanes and RJ Reynolds to help cultivate corporate innovation.


 Additional breakout sessions + tweets 


Check out the #SEACon2012 hashtag archive for more conversation about these presentations.

Session 1: Running a Creative Business: How to Avoid Hitting the Panic Button with Jo Solér – Your Novel: From Yellow Pad to Published Book with Michael Parker, Kathy Pories, Megan Fishmann and Moderator Terry Kennedy – 400 Seconds: 4 Visual Artists Share Their Success Stories with Jim Paulsen, Dave Thomas, Leigh Maddox, Jim Barnhill and Coordinator Mario Gallucci

Session 2: Building a Professional Practice with Gwen Rukenbrod – Making a Living as an Actor through a Non-Profit with Charlie & Ruth Jones – Making Music for a Lifetime with Woody Faulkner

@jmknc tunes in from Raleigh, NC

Session 3: Getting Known: Creating Promotion and Awareness for the Visual Artist with Xandra Eden – It’s My Pitch Party with Darell Hunt – Marketing, Financing and Legal Advice for Creative Business with Adam Tarleton, Sue Sassman, Ryan Whitehurst and Moderator Bryan Toney

Tuning into Arts + Entrepreneurship: #SEACon2012

Let’s talk about building sustainable income and careers as creatives and arts-entrepreneurs! Let’s talk with highly gifted artists and entrepreneurs about their vision and some of the “a-ha” moments in the careers! Let’s talk about the leaders, networks and initiatives that comprise our region’s creative economy!

Are you registered for Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference, this Saturday February 11 at University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Elliot Student Center?

If not, I suggest you register now! And if you can’t come, I have good news for you: I’ll be live-tweeting the entire conference (including the Iron Pour Friday with Sculptor Jim Gallucci).


Follow our hashtag,


  • #SEACon2012 

Saturday 9am – 6pm to catch snippets, quotes, links and resources from the conference. Use the hashtag to chime in with your comments too! Then, check back here Monday the 13th for a series of posts about the conference sessions.

So, what’s on Saturday?


Beverly McIver, Greensboro-born award winning artist featured in the new documentary, Raising Renee — on being “Worthy of Winning” (featured in the NY Times yesterday)


Jim Dodson, critically-acclaimed author, golf journalist and Editor of award-winning PineStraw Arts & Culture Magazine  — on “The Art and Soul of Creating a Good Magazine”

among other sessions.

See the conference schedule and tune in on Twitter #SEACon2012 this Saturday 9am-6pm!


NCSU Center Stage Mixes it Up With Prophets of Funk for 40th Anniversary

Clad in platform shoes, a suede-fringe jacket and three-inch afro, the performer asks the 500+ audience in NCSU’s Stewart Theater to raise each hand in a peace sign as Sly & the Family Stone’s “Higher” plays.

Next, the audience is on its feet, peace signs floating in the air, singing in response to the performer’s prompt: “hiiii-gher — HIIII-GHER.” It’s all very fitting and un-cheesy at the end of an hour-long tribute to funk which lightly (dare I say playfully?) tangled the strife of the civil rights movement with colorful moments that suggest, yes, we can transcend our differences.

(Picture) David Dorfman speaks to dancing audience members on stage at conclusion of the performance

The performers invite audience members on stage to dance. After thirty seconds of chaos, a gush of women and men in dresses, jeans and skirts flood the stage. More audience members are dancing on the stage than are sitting in the audience, it appears.

Minutes later, David Dorfman (Artistic Director) and the Prophets of Funk company have joined the audience in the adjoining ballroom for after-party dancing to DJ Ras J‘s mixing, mock tails and eats.

(Picture) Audience gathers in the ballroom to celebrate Center Stage’s 40th Anniversary. Multimedia visual installation by NCSU College of Design Advanced Media Lab

Outside the dark theater, audience members get a close look at one another. People of all ages and races again join on the dance floor — retired and middle-aged patrons, students, funk-aficionados, faculty and staff members with their significant others — to celebrate the performance they just witnessed. They have also gathered to celebrate NCSU Center Stage‘s 40 years of presenting exceptional performance art experiences such as this.

(Picture) Turlington Hall Council students manage the photo station at the 40th Anniversary celebration. Other participating student groups include Black Student Board.

As it turns out, David Dorfman Dance (DDD) and the Prophets of Funk company is in Raleigh for the final stop of a tour around the Southeast. The performance in Raleigh Saturday, February 4th, presented by Center Stage, is also the culmination of a community residency in Raleigh. Among other projects, the residency included a free live preview at Artspace for Downtown Raleigh’s ever-popular First Friday Gallery Walk.

(Picture) Audience development nerds — check out the audience survey included in the programs

With an interest in community-based projects and engaging audiences in challenging but hopeful dialogue about social change, DDD aims to encourage audiences that “in the face of the funk of life there is hope.”


Read more about NCSU Center StageDavid Dorfman Dance and Prophets of Funk.

Contemporary Art Engages the Community at the Newly-Opened Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh

I pushed open the inverted refrigerator door tucked into a crevice of the 20-foot high swooning inflatable white plastic-tentacled sculpture-creature and stepped into a whimsical bubble of exploration. Sound  ridiculous and a bit mind-blowing? It was! Welcome to the inaugural exhibition at the newly-opened Contemporary Museum of Art (CAM) in downtown Raleigh.

Entering artist Dan Steinhilber’s fascinating white industrial plastic creature through a refrigerator door creates the illusion of stepping through C.S. Lewis’ magical wardrobe into a whimsical Walmart stockroom–an explosion of colored plastic bag shreds and industrial plastic sheeting. See an image of the sculpture here.

There is a lot to like–other than the first exhibitions–about CAM. A “museum in progress,”  CAM was born of a partnership between the NCSU College of Design and Contemporary Art Foundation. Located in the Warehouse district, the building is a charming reused space: a former produce warehouse with impressive architectural features.

CAM has already hosted a number of lectures and community events–and I mean interesting, lively events rather than the stuffy, cloistered museum kind. The staff incorporated participatory art activities for CAM’s inaugural First Friday reception during which attendees (more than 900, according to the CAM website) created their own versions of Steinhilber’s winged mobile-like paper wire hanger sculptures, currently hanging in the Museum alongside the infamous sculpture-creature.

If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, then check this out: CAM’s docent team is comprised of seventh graders! The ambitious middle schoolers attend a series of after-school interactive training sessions. In fact, several staff members and gallery assistants told me the docents have more insights into contemporary art than they have. Clearly, CAM aims to inject the conversation about contemporary art (often authoritarian-tinged or yawn-inducing lectures) with new thinking.

The CAM website reflects this thinking. The home page reads: “The world is always changing. Shouldn’t the museum experience be always changing too?” CAM helps to demystify the making of contemporary art by sharing a rare behind-the-scenes look at the installation–be sure to check out the time-lapsed video of installation of the current exhibition in the gallery.

On any given afternoon, chatty CAM gallery assistants are peppered throughout the not-too-large space, waiting enthusiastically to engage museum goers. (Thank you, Lorie, for an excellent discussion about museum experience, CAM background and contemporary arts culture in the Triangle!) I wasn’t surprised–though still delighted–to find that CAM’s three part mission encompasses the objective to generate a sense of community.

I was impressed by one particular detail which demonstrates CAM’s interest in engaging the community in the contemporary art experience: interactive prompts embedded throughout the exhibition leaflets that provoke new insights and thinking among Museum goers. One prompt reads: “Steinhilber chooses not to title his works so he does not impress his ideas upon the viewer. If you were to title his work, what would you call each?”

The innagural exhibitions–Steinhilber’s Hold On, Loosely and Naoko Ito’s Urban Nature–both respond to the history of the angular, lofty building with industrial materials and themes. Steinhilber’s neutral, playful presentation of industrial materials often associated with mass production and mass consumption is light, fresh and unique. Ito’s installations are a thoughtful, though less neutral look at the connection or disconnection between nature and development.

So, has CAM succeeded in creating a museum in progress? From what I’ve seen so far, I’d say yes. I’m impressed by CAM’s initial surge of innovative programming and creative tactics to engage Museum goers and the larger community. I anticipate CAM’s continued evolution in the coming months and years.

Check out a podcast featuring perspectives on the building of CAM and the inaugural exhibitions.

Have you been to visit CAM yet? What did you think? Introduce yourself below, subscribe to my RSS feed and say Hi on Twitter.

Gap Year Travels: Chiang Mai, a Creative City

[This is the final in a series of posts about my travels through Western and Central Europe and Southeast Asia this Winter/Spring as part of my self-designed Alternative Gap Year. Click here to read more.]

The air is crisp and fresh in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This isn’t extraordinary in and of itself, but it is a delight to step off of the bus (a twelve-hour over night bus, that is!) into the misty mountain-dwarfed town after three weeks in hot and muggy Central Thailand. Oh, and Chiang Mai has great used book shops!

Our time in Chiang Mai was fun-filled with exciting adventures including–but not limited to–two hour-long Thai massages at six dollars each (read: near beatings that leave you feeling exhausted but refreshed), three hours spent mountain biking down (as slowly as our tired brake-clenching fingers would allow) Doi Suthep Mountain, bamboo reed river rafting and riding a banana-happy elephant through a beautiful natural area surrounded by mountains.

We made it to the bottom alive..?!?

You could say these were “creative” experiences in Chiang Mai and the surrounding area, but what I found particularly blog post-worthy was the city’s campaign to join the UNESCO Creative City network. Drawing on the importance of what John Howkins termed the Creative Economy and Richard Florida’s concept of the Creative Class, the distinction Creative City refers to a city which has worked to develop post-industrial knowledge sectors and actively network, nurture and promote its robust creative industries. Such industries include IT, media, software, urban and social development, tourism, art, crafts, design and healthcare. Read a thoughtful post about the Creative City concept at Community Arts Network.

The Chiang Mai Creative City initiative’s mission is to “put in place the foundations, people, connections, marketing and infrastructure to develop and promote Chiang Mai as an internationally known city of creativity and innovation.” Not too shabby, Chiang Mai, and I’d say something is working! There is a distinctly modern, eclectic feel to this ancient, culturally rich walled city. Later this month, in fact, TEDxDoiSuthep (Chiang Mai region) is hosting a TEDx event entitled Creativity and Collaboration.

See more pictures of our pictures of Thailand here.

Gap Year Travels: Art & Community Development in Troubled City of Belfast

[This is the fourth of a series of posts about my travels through Western and Central Europe and Southeast Asia this Winter/Spring as part of my self-designed Alternative Gap Year. Click here to read more.]

“Why would you want to go to Belfast?” my family members in Northern Ireland asked, adding, “watch where you go, I would stay close to the University area.”

I had visited my family in Northern Ireland twice before but never spent any time in the city to which they’ve traveled for errands, business and doctor visits throughout their lives — a city painfully pockmarked by the period of sectarian violence known as the Troubles. “Well, there HAS been a lot of redevelopment and cleanup the last few years,” my Aunt conceded.

The first thing I noticed about Belfast–home of C.S. Lewis, Van Morrison and the band Snow Patrol–was the architecture. The downtown area is a delightful mixture of Edwardian classics (see the regal City Hall) and eclectic, sometimes even funky, contemporary additions. Oh, and the public art scattered throughout the Cathedral Quarter, Queens University, the Titanic Quarter and divided residential areas is oh so generously cataloged in the City Council’s excellent Public Art Directory! Yes, the ill-fated RMS Titanic was built in the impressive Belfast dock yards, now presided over by the iconic Samson and Goliath cranes.

I was even more struck by the number of arts and cultural organizations we saw — virtually one on every corner! In particular, we saw a number of community arts organizations, those dynamic and creative organizations which engage members of the community in arts participation and projects that promote healing and positive engagement. For instance, the Re-imaging Communities Project, which endeavors to replace divisive sectarian murals infamous to Belfast with positive images of heritage and community interaction, is a compelling example of a community arts project tailored to engender positive change in a community plagued by a specific problem.

The city has undergone extensive urban regeneration and redevelopment since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which brought peace to the troubled city. It seems that the community and governing bodies have embraced arts and culture as a critical element of community development and revitalization. The result is a thriving city with relative peace and a vital, extensive cultural scene enriching the lives of locals and driving one of the hottest tourist destinations in Europe. This is in part I’m sure due to the partnerships among governmental and cultural organizations, as seen in the development of an Integrated Cultural Strategy in partnership between the City, the City Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

In fact, we just missed the Belfast Film Festival, the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and completion of the largest piece of public art commissioned in Northern Ireland, a sculpture entitled RISE. (See below an extensive list of arts organizations and venues we stumbled across while visiting.) Local cultural institutions include the award-winning Crescent Arts Center, oh yeah Music Center and Grand Opera House.

For an extensive look at development of the arts scene and community arts in Belfast beginning in the 1970’s, check out the Northern Visions (a nonprofit access channel) documentary, In Our Time: Creating Arts Within Reach:

Also, see more pictures of our travels through Belfast and Northern Ireland here.

Below is a list of all the arts and cultural organizations and venues we stumbled upon in Belfast:

New Belfast Community Arts Initiative

Community Arts Forum

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Black Box Belfast

Oh Yeah Belfast

Crescent Arts Center

Queens Film Theatre

Publishing NI

Catalyst Arts

Belfast Film Festival

AU Magazine

The Metropolitan Arts Center (Opening 2012)

Belfast Waterfront

Belfast Print Workshop

Grand Opera House