By Taylor Pettit

Richmond and Eastern’s relationship have singled out the university as the site for the 2012 International Town and Gown Association [ITGA] conference from June 4 to 8.

“I was told once that when you think of Richmond, you can’t help but think of Eastern, and when you think of Eastern, you can’t help but think of Richmond,” said Marc Whitt, conference chair and associate vice president of public relations.

The conference, which is in its seventh year, focuses on how universities can improve and maintain relationships with their host cities.

ITGA focuses on “sharing ideas, best practices with other institutions,” said President Doug Whitlock.

Whitlock said he is excited for the impression that Eastern will make on the attendees.

“When people see us for the first time, I think they will be surprised at the breadth and depth of our programs,” Whitlock said.

Eastern’s conference will be themed “town and gown partnerships for the present and future,” according to a press release.

“The mayor, the president [Whitlock] have been involved together from the very beginning,” said Kim Griffo, executive director of ITGA. “It is one of the strongest working relationships we’ve seen. The performing arts center is a very strong example of Town and Gown relations.”

The event is expected to bring approximately 400 guests, which the new EKU center for the arts can more than accommodate.

“I believe substantially more invitations were sent out than 400,” said James Street, associate vice president for capital planning and facilities management. “But the facilities can accommodate 2,000.”

Past conferences have brought guests nationally, but Eastern is hoping to place a larger emphasis on guests in the international community.

“We have been marketing this much earlier than it has been in the past,” Whitt said. “We have already been able to secure a delegation from Australia and currently have 17 countries following our Twitter at TownandGown2012. We are hoping to attract the larger international population.”

The committee, consisting of delegates from Berea College, Blue Grass Airport, Richmond and Eastern, is also hoping to include as much student input as possible.

“I think really getting the students involved is important,” said Erica Childress, 20, public relations major from Independence. “I want to go into higher education public relations, so this is exactly what I want to do.”

Childress has become involved in the project through her honors senior thesis and has been coined as Whitt’s “left arm.”

Childress said she will become more involved in the project as they approach the conference date, but her main objective is to involve student organizations.

“The event is an international, cultural event,” Childress said. “I know honors, I know SGA. I don’t know Greek life; I don’t know the cultural groups on campus. I want to make sure I have their input.”

The conference will feature sessions on various issues, such as seeking creative ways to involve students, quality of life, economic issues, off-campus housing, student affairs, marketing and how the new Center for the Arts can affect Richmond and Eastern. Musical performances by The Drifters, The Coasters and The Platters will also be featured.

Debra Hoskins, director of the EKU Center for the Arts, said the performances were booked to specifically choose a performance that was fun.

The events are open to the public and will offer discounted registration prices to students.

“One thing that’s going to be impressive, besides the show, is how it all came to be,” Hoskins said. “This is not just one event; this is the work of state, county and city. It’s unusual and highly commendable.”

The EKU Center for the Arts is one of the main factors behind the decision for Eastern to host the conference.

“New performing center for the arts is the ultimate county and city joint venture,” Whitlock said.

But one project still remains as the pinnacle of university-community relations—vying for the 2012 presidential debate.

Madison County has been supportive of the project, Whitlock said.

Another area where community and university relationships have presented themselves is the recent acquirement of the Elmwood estate.

Street said the acquisition of Elmwood was very indicative of Whitlock’s mastery of his relations with the local community.

“I’m a local yocal; we’ve grown up here,” Street said, “The mayor is a friend of mine. We are in close communication; we see those folks socially.”

One main aspect of town and college relations focuses on how a university can help a community.

“The presence of this campus with all these smart people with all these areas of expertise…it is making sure that the faculty and staff are involved with the life of the community,” Whitlock said.

Hosting conferences of this nature are considered positive for the community by attracting visitors and new residents.

The “economic impact, the response to that opportunity” was another reason Eastern applied to be the site for conference, Whitlock said.

 The registration fees are expected to cover all costs associated with the conference, making the conference self-sustaining.

“We’re excited to get here. We’re excited for Richmond. We’re excited for Kentucky at large,” Griffo said.    

For more information about the conference, see itgaonline.com.