The Energy of the Arts District

Missy Hartney Brings Energy and Ideas to the South Side Arts District

Colorful murals in South Bethlehem burst from what used to be blank walls. The addition of a mural on E. Third Street has brought vitality to the city’s streetscape. Created by Manhattan street artist Denton Burrows, this piece of artwork combines elements of South Bethlehem’s history with excitement for the city’s future. It is evident that the murals on the South Side are statements of creativity and energy. The bike racks, painted flower pots, and “yarn-bombed” trees bring character to the South Side as well. Missy Hartney, Main Street Manager of the South Side Arts District, has made this all happen. Her ongoing efforts to facilitate development projects through the use of art has helped to transform the South Side into a vibrant arts district.

Photo of Missy Hartney, Main Street Manager of the South Side Arts District. Photo credits: Ally Kornberger.

Missy is not kidding when she tells me that the “energy is addictive” on the South Side. Her passion for her job echoes the vibrancy of the art district. She has marketed and advertised for major brands, such as Nintendo, Shutterfly, and 20th Century Fox when she worked in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. Yet, her current job on the South Side has given her the most fulfillment. Her role provides her with the opportunity to combine her interests in fundraising, grant writing, and event planning, with her deep passion for South Bethlehem.

The Catalyst of Revitalization

What makes Missy’s role so unique is that her development efforts flourish through art. She calls art “the catalyst of South Bethlehem’s revitalization.” Missy values her partnerships with various organizations including Banana Factory and Touchstone Theater, which are two key organizations that have influenced South Bethlehem’s culture. One of Missy’s biggest challenges is time. There is simply not enough time in the day for her to accomplish all that she wants to do on the South Side. The creation of beautiful murals and colorful planters does not happen instantaneously. Missy is constantly searching for new artists that are committed to following through with community projects.

One of Missy’s painted flower pots pictured on the South Side. Photo credits: Ally Kornberger.

As Missy says: “Art is both sunshine and water. It helps all of the other things grow.” Her words express the South Side Arts District’s dedication to economic development and its role as a destination in the Lehigh Valley. South Bethlehem’s deep-rooted history is evident in the artwork, with many of the pieces referencing steel. Bethlehem Steel was the driving force of the South Side’s economy for almost a century. When the plant ceased operations in 1995, the South Side faced the challenge of revitalization. The art captures the history in a way that both respects the past and ignites a sense of pride in regrowth. “We should feel inspired by how we took something that shut down and turned it into something brand new,” Missy says. The challenge of respecting the past and keeping people energized for the future is a balance that Missy wholly understands when it comes to both development strategies and art.

Envisioning the Future

Missy looks to the cities of Pittsburgh and Easton as models for development. While she doesn’t like to talk up our rival Lafayette’s city too much, she has to admit that Easton’s Main Street Initiative is a nationally renowned nonprofit organization. Specifically, the Easton Murals program focuses on the role of art in enhancing the city’s visual landscape. The Easton Out Loud activities program brings members of the community together through music, art, and exciting events. These programs are examples of effective initiatives that could be adopted on the South Side.

Incorporating Bethlehem’s history into its street art. Photo credits: Ally Kornberger.

Perhaps the biggest piece of advice Missy can give to Lehigh students and members of the community is to explore. “Take a walk and go into every shop that’s open. Challenge yourself. You don’t need to buy anything, just check it out,” she suggests. She points to how the South Side has changed over the years, as we discuss how my dad’s experience on the South Side (he’s an ‘88 grad) differed significantly from my own. It is not the same South Side as it was when a parent or grandparent attended Lehigh. Yet, the changes that are happening on the South Side are exhilarating. Those who have grown up on the South Side or have heard stories from family members who have grown up on the Southside can attest to these changes. Missy and other members of the community work tirelessly to make the South Side feel like home for both Lehigh students and everyone in the Lehigh Valley. There is something exciting about discovering a new coffee shop or listening to an amazing new band. The South Side has become a place that cultivates this experience.

Two or three years from now, Missy is certain that “South Bethlehem will be booming.” She says, “You won’t need to look anything up. You’ll be able to walk down the street and find something on every street corner.” Missy’s accomplishments on the South Side have impacted us all. Her projects have transformed the district into a space where art brings all members of the community together. Missy’s passion for the South Side is contagious. She radiates positivity and strength. In the future, it is apparent that Missy will continue to be a key leader of South Bethlehem’s revitalization.

*Feature image photo credits: Ally Kornberger*

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