VISION 2021 - Paul Rosenblatt, Creator Square

Paul Rosenblatt, founder of Creator Square Inc., is shown in a Jan. 15, 2020, file photo speaking about the Creator Square project inside its building at 134 Gazebo Park, Johnstown, which was then being remodeled. The maker facility is now up and running, Rosenblatt and other leaders of the project report.

With a $100,000 grant from regional foundations, a partnership of four organizations will begin to test whether creative entrepreneurs and craftspeople might revitalize Johnstown’s economy.

The partnership is piloting a program in Johnstown that could later be used in other south-central Pennsylvania mill towns, said Lindsay K. Gates, executive director at Touchstone Center for Crafts.

Touchstone, in Fayette County, is among the four organizations partnered in the Alliance for Creative Rural Economies, or ACRE Partners.

“We envision this as a pilot program, really targeting Johnstown first, because it has the infrastructure to welcome artists in – there’s Creator Square, Bottle Works and the Center for Metal Arts, and ArtHouse 6.” Gates said. “So we thought it would be a great place to start.”

ACRE’s $100,000 grant is from the Arts Equity Reimagined fund, presented by a collaboration of 17 foundations from 14 counties and an anonymous donor in the Pittsburgh metro area.

By the end of the one-year grant period, ACRE Partners hope to have about seven new creative businesses getting traction in Johnstown.

But first, the partnership aims to attract a network of 200 budding creative entrepreneurs to attend training and information sessions starting in January, said Blake Fleegle, local small business owner and JARI entrepreneur coach.

JARI is one of two ACRE members from the economic development sector.

ACRE Partners ( set up an inquiry form and landing page to gather data on creative entrepreneurs wanting to start and grow businesses in the region.

Fleegle said applications of artisans of all types can apply.

“We are trying to take broadest definition of ‘creative entrepreneurs’ possible,” Fleegle said.

“On the website now, there’s a registration form for people to get more information. We will also have two information sessions in January through Zoom to go over the program and introduce ourselves to people who reached out.”

Creator Square at 134 Gazebo Park, Johnstown, is another key arts organization of the alliance along with Touchstone.

Those organizations will provide studio access, workshops, and exhibition opportunities.

Creator Square includes a community gallery, maker space and artisan studio facility and serves as an artisan residency program for for craftspeople, small-batch manufacturers, and other creative industries.

“Johnstown has all the ingredients to start a new economic chapter in part driven by makers,” Paul Rosenblatt, Principal at Springboard Design and founder of Creator Square, said in a press release.

In addition to JARI, Bridgeway Capital, a Pittsburgh-based social impact investor, is in the partnership.

Fleegle said Bridgeway and JARI have worked together in Johnstown in the past, and ACRE Partners was an idea of Adam Kenney, Bridgeway Capital’s managing director of programs.

Both JARI and Bridgeway are set to provide Johnstown entrepreneurs with small business guidance and access to flexible capital – including grants and micro-loans.

Bridgeway Capital operates the Creative Businesses Accelerator to empower makers, designers, artists, and craftspeople to grow and contribute to equitable economic growth.

“The Creative Business Accelerator has been operating in Pittsburgh for over five years,” Kenney said.

“But for the past two years, we’ve been interested in shared impact opportunities in Johnstown, so what an amazing opportunity ACRE is.”

Russ O’Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

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