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Town focusing on promotion of ‘community-building activities’

You may not realize it, but when you head down to Music on the Square, or even sit outside at a downtown Jonesborough restaurant and have a drink, you’re participating in what town officials call “communit-building activities.”
Activities like MOTS and even just sitting at a restaurant’s outdoor venue promote socializing between neighbors, friends, and even strangers, said Town Administrator Bob Browning.
Bringing more community-building events to Jonesborough is one goal of the newly formed McKinney Center Advisory Committee.
One of the most important components of the committee’s job is to “look at what we’re calling community building, and look at ways in which the committee can encourage that” at the new arts center, Browning said.
Members will come up with ideas for activities that help bring all different areas of the Jonesborough community together. One current example of such an activity is Music on the Square, Browning said.
Recently, Jonesborough officials sat down with new Economic Development Council CEO Robert Reynolds to talk about the overall economic picture in Jonesborough and how to bring more money to the town.
“He said the things he saw and his family saw going on in Jonesborough, such as Music on the Square, he didn’t see in a lot of other places,” Browning said. “We just talked about the importance of it being an opportunity for people to get together and socialize.”
With the committee’s gudiance, town leaders hope the McKinney Arts Center will be another way to promote such socialization. The committee also hopes to collect and share stories from town residents.
“Interpretation was dicussed to some extent in the first meeting,” Browning said. “One of the points of focus of the second meeting will be around ways to collect information and how the committee can be of assistance in being able to put information together.”
That is also the goal of the Telling Jonesborough Stories program, which will collect stories from Jonesborough residents from all walks of life. The stories will be turned into a community performance event next year.
“We’re talking about how to improve relationships, create diversity,” Browning said. “Storytelling in particular is an excellent vehicle. It’s hard to dislike somebody when you know their story.”
Community Performance International is helping to use stories to bring Jonesborough together as well.
“They’re bringing different people together, people who don’t normally communicate,” he said. “There’s a definite bonding that goes on.”
As far as funding for renovations inside the school, Browning said he has been working on a Rural Development Association “community facility loan grant” application. The school has already received a $50,000 energy efficiency grant from the Community Block Development Grants, and the Town is also pursuing a grant from the National Trust of Historic Places, which has just opened a grant program for converting old schools into public use buildings.
Jonesborough acquired the school from the Washington County School System, who handed over the deed to the dilapidated school, which had been used for storage, in return for a $25,000 annual gift to the school system.
Later, through a $400,000 donation from James C. Martin, the Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts was created. The program will include educational and historical enrichment programs which will be headquartered out of the school, but performed throughout the Town.
Plans for the school are included in the Town’s Interpretive Master Plan, and are detailed as such: “To provide instruction and hands-on experiences in the arts for Jonesborough residents and visitors, the Booker T. Washington School, now used only for storage, should be acquired and renovated as a cultural arts center.”
The school, “housing the county’s educational program for African-American children,” would offer a cultural enrichment program” in partnership with Washington County schools and other area organizations and institutions,” the plan reads. “Located in the neighborhood surrounding Booker T. Washington School, a network of exterior exhibits could also tell the story of the early residents of Jonesborough, including the town’s African-American population. The Center and its program would honor the African-American community of Tennessee’s first town.”