WATERVILLE — Nate Rudy envisions a downtown five years from now that is beautiful and welcoming with buildings and a natural environment so attractive that people will want to be there not only to attend the theater, visit art galleries, shop and eat, but also to rest in parks and other public places.

“I’d like to see Castonguay Square be the heart of the downtown, to see the Head of Falls and the business district and the neighborhoods all around downtown unified and welcoming for pedestrians and bicycle users,” Rudy said. “I’d like for it to be very easy for visitors and tourists and community members to find the arts and culture resources, and I’d like to see all of Waterville’s public spaces animated with music, art, dance and creative people doing creative things.

“Everything else we do culminates in helping Waterville to become a healthy, happy community.”

As Waterville Creates! enters its second year — it was formed at the end of 2014 to replace the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center — Rudy sees big things in its future.

One major move was joining Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, a national study measuring the economic effect of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences, which Rudy announced Jan. 25.

Nearly 300 organizations across the country have joined the study to collect data about local nonprofit arts and cultural organizations.

“Many people don’t think of nonprofit arts organizations as businesses,” Rudy said in a recent news release about the effort. “But this study will make clear that the arts are a formidable industry in our community, employing people locally, purchasing goods and services from local merchants and helping to drive tourism and economic development.”

As part of the study, Waterville Creates! is collecting surveys from people who attend arts events, an effort that began in November and will continue throughout the year.

‘ALL ABOUT PLACEMENT’

Rudy, 40, was hired as executive director of Waterville Creates! in December 2014.

While its primary goal is to promote arts and culture in the city, it also has a specific focus on providing marketing, advertising and program support for its five core partners — the Waterville Opera House, the Maine Film Center, Waterville Main Street, the Waterville Public Library and the Colby College Museum of Art.

Overseen by a 14-member board of directors, Waterville Creates! owns and manages The Center building downtown and Common Street Arts on Common Street.

Drawing people to the city to enjoy arts and culture requires an understanding about what programs and offerings resonate with people, according to Rudy.

Patrons of the arts also will spend more time downtown if attractive spaces are there, as well as connections to and around the downtown for people walking and bicycling.

Waterville Creates! has applied for more than $250,000 in grants it hopes to use for hosting public meetings to garner input on arts, culture and public spaces as part of an effort headed up by the city and Colby College to help revitalize the downtown.

“It’s all about placement — artist-led, community-driven visioning for public spaces and parks downtown and to hire facilitators and cover the cost of visioning, paying landscape designers and architects and rendering the community’s ideas and create a plan document,” he said.

Rudy attended meetings headed by Colby President David Greene, city officials, business leaders and downtown groups over a period of about six months last year to help identify ways to revitalize downtown with a focus on the arts and culture and helping to strengthen retail businesses and create new ones, draw more people to live and work downtown and help boost the economy.

Colby College has bought five vacant downtown buildings and has plans to build a dormitory for students and faculty and staff members in what is now part of The Concourse parking lot. The city is in the process of selling the site to the college for $300,000. Students who live downtown would be required to take part in community service, Greene has said.

Rudy said he would welcome Colby students who would live and work downtown to intern or volunteer at Waterville Creates!. Waterville Public Library Director Sarah Sugden also said she would love to have students work with the library.

Rudy said his organization was fortunate to have been invited by the city to be involved in the downtown visioning process, as it is important that arts and cultural assets be accessible and easily identifiable for tourists, regular visitors and area residents.

“It’s a long-term investment for Waterville Creates! while we’re building our marketing and advertising presence and building our programs to be part of long-term envisioning for shaping the downtown for the next 100 years, and all of those things are happening all at once,” he said.

Rudy said he can understand why some people are concerned about building a dormitory downtown, for instance, but those heading the effort are doing it in the right way.

“I’m confident in City Manager Mike Roy and city administrators’ handling of the infrastructure projects and their development partners’ capacity to improve the historic buildings downtown,” he said.

Rudy contends that history’s greatest civilizations are remembered for their contributions to architecture, literature, science and the arts, and a city’s historic architecture reflects who its people are and where they have been in the community since Waterville was built.

“That’s why it’s so great to have Colby College as part of this. It’s one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the country, and President Greene has been very interested in putting arts and humanities at the center of the student experience.”

The program Colby wants to build around having students living downtown is visionary, according to Rudy.

“If they build the kind of program I think they’re going to build, it will be a world-class student experience,” he said. “What a great way to engage the power of the liberal arts as an economic driver, as a community resource, and to have arts and culture play an active role in defining a place.”

MEETING NEEDS

Besides Rudy, Waterville Creates! employs Marie Sugden, executive assistant, and KiKA Nigals, a program manager who is based at Common Street Arts.

Marketing Director Dick Dyer resigned Jan. 18 and Waterville Creates! expects to hire someone to replace him soon, Rudy said.

“Our parting was amiable and respectful,” Rudy said of Dyer. “Many people in the Waterville community recognize Dick’s contributions to our arts and cultural economy over several years of service.”

Waterville Creates! promotes programs including the annual Maine International Film Festival, the Maine Open Juried Art Show and Maine Craft Weekend, in addition to advertising for partner events, including educational offerings at Colby Museum.

“Arts and culture serve a need in the community for self-expression and creativity, but also provides venues for people to come together who otherwise will not meet,” Rudy said.

He said upcoming events include a discussion Feb. 11 by Maine Arts Commission Director Julie Richard about an effort to get the state to provide more to support arts and crafts in the Maine economy. The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and Thomas College are hosting the business breakfast event.

“Julie Richard understands the arts are a major sector of our state economy, and she’ll be coming to speak at Thomas College about the power of arts in our local economy,” Rudy said. “Arts and culture contribute a tremendous amount to our downtown district. People come here for the arts and they stay here because of the arts and they visit the shops.”

Waterville Creates! is funded primarily by foundation grants. Its office is on the second floor of the 68,000-square-foot Center, which also houses some city offices and the City Council chambers, as well as the Community Dental Center, WABI-TV, REM, Maine Made & More, Studio 93, a youth theater and the Kennebec Club.

“We would love to rent our vacant space to artists as studio space,” Rudy said. “If anyone is interested in that, we would love to have them call us and talk about it.”

Rudy, married to Adrian Blevins, Colby poet and teacher of creative writing at the college, said promoting all that Waterville has to offer is hard but rewarding work.

“Community development is a full-out sport,” he said. “It is fun and challenging work, it’s meaningful work, and they call it work for a reason. It’s tough sometimes, but we’ve got a great team and we feel good about the work we’re doing.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17