York City government officials, economic-development pros and businesspeople are hoping to reinvent York through the talents of creative people. Allow us to introduce you to the folks who could be the key to unlocking York's future. Using video, photos and text, we're putting together a database of sorts, showcasing local artists of all stripes. Check out the artists we've tracked down and featured. We call this section "I Art York."
Three years ago, for the first time, Tez Ritter stepped in front of an audience to read a poem he had written.
Ritter, 19 at the time, had just discovered poetry as a coping mechanism. Friends who had gotten a sneak peak at his work encouraged him to perform at an open mic hosted by the Philadelphia shelter for homeless youth where he was living.
"When they heard me perform, everyone's jaw dropped," Ritter said. "Somebody started crying."
Now 22, Ritter is a poet who commits inspired thoughts to paper almost every day. He's also a fixture of York City's local arts scene and a resident of Verse 254, a gallery and performance venue that doubles as an apartment for creative types.
Ritter, a graduate of William Penn Senior High School, said he returned to York to be closer to family. What he found is an arts scene that's kept him firmly grounded in his hometown.
That's no accident.
In 2008, the Cultural Alliance of York County and dozens of community partners embarked on a project to create a long-term plan to take York's arts and culture scene to the next level — particularly with regard to economic prosperity. The York Cultural Plan, based on a 2008 market study that quantified regional demand for arts activity, established goals for the following years.
The idea that creative endeavors boost local economies is "just a well-documented fact," said Mary Anne Winkelman, president of the alliance.
Economic-development strategies based on that idea are gaining ground because there are other cities that have already achieved economic prosperity through the arts, Winkelman said.
"It's no longer, 'I think we could,'" she said.
Big business: Research suggests the arts and cultural sector is a larger part of the nation's economy than most might think.
The Wall Street Journal reported in December that the sector is half-trillion-dollar industry — or 3.2 percent of gross domestic product.
Citing figures from the U.S. Commerce Department, the Journal reported the arts sector is larger than the travel and tourism industry.
State Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, was the city's economic development director when the alliance developed its plan five years ago.
"If we went back and actually gave ourselves a report card on it, we probably would have done pretty well," he said.
Trying to mold a community into an artist hub is akin to "the proverbial pushing a boulder up a mountain," Schreiber said.
Eventually, having reached the top, the boulder starts to roll on its own.
That's finally happening, Schreiber said, pointing to evidence of York's popular First Friday events and boutiques popping up downtown.
Catching on: If York hasn't yet reached the tipping point, "I think we're darn near it," Winkelman said.
Kelley Gibson, director of communications for the alliance, is a New Jersey native who stayed in York after graduating from York College because of "the wealth of artists from the area."
"It's like it's in the water," Gibson said. "I feel like now it's being more and more celebrated."
Ritter lives in a York City neighborhood, known as Royal Square, that might as well be ground zero for York's creative momentum.
Verse 254's neighbors include art collectives The Parliament at 116 E. King St., HIVE artspace at 126 E. King St. and the King's Courtyard at 124 E. King St. Around the corner at 108 S. Howard St. is F. H. Pappy's, an "underground practice space geared toward providing local bands with a place to hone their skills and connect with local artists," according to its Facebook page.
Each of the collectives popped up within the past few years.
Add to that Marketview Arts, a cultural arts venue at 37 W. Philadelphia St. that opened in 2012, and a healthy open mic and live music scene at downtown bars.
In the works: This fall, the owners of Rudy Art Glass are planning to open a "makerspace" inside the company's 15 E. Philadelphia St. studio.
Meanwhile, Artspace — a Minneapolis-based nonprofit with three decades of experience building and operating artist-housing projects — is considering York as a potential site.
But, first, Artspace is trying to gauge the marketability of such a project through an online survey geared toward creative types.
Wednesday is the last day the survey will be available at www.artspaceyork.org.
The survey will help Artspace determine whether York can support an artist-housing project large enough to make the investment worthwhile. Typically, Artspace aims for a threshold of at least 30 units it can expect to fill quickly and sustainably.
Artspace, Schreiber said, "would be a nice injection of steroids into the artist community."
Such a project would be "catalytic" for other development, said Sonia Huntzinger, executive director of Downtown Inc.
Artists are economic generators, Huntzinger said. They bring themselves and their resources.
"But they also bring the audiences," she said.
An art culture also leads to special events, which naturally drive more traffic downtown, Huntzinger said.
For example, Downtown Inc has partnered with the alliance to launch Second Saturday on Continental Square in May. The family-friendly, interactive monthly events will be entirely arts-related, she said.
When it comes to economic development, there are two schools of thought for incorporating the arts, Huntzinger said.
Some communities use their creative resources to drive urban revitalization, she said. And others, like York, see artists as "a component of" that strategy.
York's Cultural Plan is a "living and breathing" document the alliance reviews on an annual basis, Winkelman said.
Its success does not hinge on Artspace, but the nonprofit's focus on York is valuable because of the information it is gathering through the surveys, she said.
"We really want to dig into those numbers," Winkelman said.
— Reach Erin James at email@example.com.