Art and Business
"The idea is to get people to come downtown, have fun and create a good memory."
Though you may not know Joanna Levitt’s name, if you’ve spent any time Downtown over the past few years, chances are you know her work.
Cornish Associates, which branded the area’s central business district as Downcity and is one of its biggest landlords, hired her in 2007 for a job with a deceptively straightforward title. “The ultimate agenda of my role was to activate Downtown in a positive way,” she elaborates. “My role is always on the first floor, the street and the experience you have when you come Downtown.”
The first part of her job is to find tenants: restaurants like Tazza and Sura, quirky retailers like Craftland and Queen of Hearts, and small, creative businesses like product designer DCI. “But just having tenants isn’t enough,” Levitt maintains. “You have to have a reason for people to engage with them.” Therein lies her second role: coordinating the In Downcity marketing group, which mixes traditional advertising, social media and events to promote its member businesses. “Marketing sometimes sounds like a dirty word,” she admits, “but we don’t tell people about anything that they wouldn’t think is fantastic.”
The third part of her job is coordinating activity in Grant’s Block, a small patch of land on the corner of Westminster and Union Streets that Cornish maintains as a publicly accessible park. This is the epicenter of Downcity’s success, hosting events like Tazza’s free Movies On the Block, the Downcity Bocce League and the Providence Art Festival. The latter has brought hundreds of artists and thousands of shoppers to Westminster Street, proving popular enough to expand into summer and fall editions last year.
Levitt doesn’t plan to rest on her laurels either. With new developments from Cornish on the horizon for 2012 (the company remains tight-lipped about the details), she’ll be activating even more of Downtown. “It’s a work in progress,” she notes. “We have a couple blocks of what we think is really great, but we’d like to double or triple that.”
• Her first job in Downcity was as manager of Bowl and Board, a now-defunct homegoods retailer in the space currently occupied by Teriyaki House.
• Graduated from Classical High School, NYU (undergrad in Media Studies) and Brown (graduate studies in Modern Culture and Media).
• Was born and raised off Hope Street on the East Side.
• Twitter Handle: @indowncitypvd
• On returning to Providence from New York City: “I didn’t move back here for a job, I moved back here for Providence. New York is fantastic, but the pace of life, the cost of living and the community here is something you can’t find there.”