Can Pompano Ever Be Cool?

How do you inject culture into a city? Do you hire children to ride their bikes around the neighborhood flinging black-rimmed glasses onto suburban doorsteps in the early a.m.? Do you replace the national anthem with Neutral Milk Hotel at all local little league games?

How do you make people care about artisanal cheeses and craft beers?

Do you kidnap Ira Glass and force him to be everyone's mailman? Can you kidnap Ira Glass? How athletic is he? After all, we only ever hear the guy. Who has actually seen him?

I digress.

Back to the main question: How do you spark a cultural renaissance? More specifically, how do you spark one in Pompano Beach?

I mean, it's Pompano. When most people close their eyes and think "Pompano," they see a Bru's Room and that kid you used to go to school with whose parents let you drink beer in their backyard.

It's a tough question, but the Pompano Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) thinks it has the answer. On February 18, the CRA approved a contract with the Creative City Collaborative (CCC) to manage a new cultural venue in Pompano, the Bailey Contemporary Arts, or BaCA.

The BaCA, located at 41 NE First St. in Pompano Beach and formerly the Hotel Baily, will essentially be an Olympic training facility for artists. The dusty old space will be converted into more than a dozen studios that will be used as classrooms, galleries, kilns, concert venues, and basically anything else an artist could want.

Spearheading this project is the executive cirector of the CCC, Alyona Ushe. Before coming to South Florida, Ushe founded a theater company in Washington, D.C., called the Classika-Synetic and is former executive director of the New Orleans Opera Association.

But now her mind is set on Pompano and the almost-finished BaCA. Ushe wants the venue to be a haven for anything creative. "Everything from spoken word to music to film to workshops. You name it, we're going to put it in there."

A Natalie Portman kissing booth.

Hey, I named it. Ball's in your court, Ushe.

In the same line of thought as the crazy cat lady who borders her house with bowls of milk or Kevin Costner hacking his farm into a baseball diamond, the CCC hopes that if they build it, they will come.

And by "they," I mean artists.

But Ushe is no crazy cat lady (allegedly). She thinks this will work, because it has worked. And not in some art hub like D.C. or New Orleans. It worked in Delray, where the CCC managed the Arts Garage. Can you guess what's in the Arts Garage? What? Carrots? Are you an idiot? No, art.

And the people of Delray seem to like it.

"When we first started less than three years ago, our budget was about $270,000. We're close to $1.7 million this year," Ushe says.

They built it. Artists came. Money was spent.

Though Ushe says the Pompano BaCA won't exactly be the same animal as the Delray Arts Garage.

"The program is going to be distinctly different, but the concept of bringing different disciplines into one building, under one roof, and trying to merge them as much as possible to create an unusual and creative experience for our patrons -- that concept is the same."

Ushe and the CCC are banking on the fact that Pompano has an art scene -- but it just doesn't have anywhere to put it.

"Anything that we're doing is primarily for Pompano residents first. Getting their input, vision, participation, and involvement is critical to us, and we're going to be doing everything we can to make sure that it's for Pompano."

So will Pompano flap its chicken wings and rise to the level of arts destination? Yes? No?

That's not really up to Ushe, the CCC, or the CRA. It's up to the thirsty stray cats of the Pompano art scene. And Ushe has a message for them.

"Get involved. This is your home. This is for you. The door's always open, and we want to hear from you."

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