I Get A Better Understanding Of Creative Placemaking

A short post today. I spent most of the day at a conference organized by the Ohio Arts Council to discuss the Arts and Cultural Ecosystem in the state and there was a lot of driving involved.

The keynote speaker was Jamie Bennett, Executive Director of ArtPlace America. The start of his speech was essentially the same one he gave for TEDxHudson that I wrote about last month.

However, then he went on to talk more about what ArtPlace was trying to accomplish which gave me a much better understanding of the creative placemaking concept. (Which is why a time limited TED Talk can’t replace substantial conversation on a topic.)

Bennett pointed out that the concerns faced by any community basically fell into broad categories of medical, education, housing, transportation and public safety. If you are the mayor, council person or other government executive/legislator, these are the areas that are important to you. If you work for a community development corporation, again, the quality and availability of these things are among your concerns.

What ArtPlace and creative placemaking wants is to put arts and culture at the table as something government and community development entities, among others, include in conversations and planning.

It is not that these things aren’t recognized as assets in the community. In a session I attended on finance, representatives of banks, venture capital firms and community development organizations all acknowledged that even if people have no intention of attending an opera, they want to move to a community with an opera because it is a signifier of quality of life.

The reason arts and culture are often absent from planning and other conversations seems to be more about lack of understanding how arts and culture contributes and how to bring about involvement.

Bennett said creative placemaking isn’t about creating more creative organizations, but to bring creativity to what is already in place in the community. I may be paraphrasing badly from my notes, but the essence seemed to be that the focus is outward from arts and cultural organizations rather than development of something internal to the organization.

Bennett said the projects should delineate a community (literally drawing lines on the map came up a couple times), identify a challenge, propose an arts intervention and know what success looks like so you know when to stop.

The example he gave of a really successful project was one Springboard for the Arts did in conjunction with the construction of the Green Line in St. Paul, MN. I had heard bits and pieces of this, but until today it wasn’t enough to understand the full scope.

Basically, given that the construction of the rail line was going to disrupt business and make residents feel miserable about the inconvenience, Springboard for the Arts’ solution was to train artists in placemaking and collaboration. According to Bennett, they turned about 120 artists loose telling them they could do whatever they wanted, as long as it was along the train line.

Over the course of two years, the number of positive phrases used to refer to the area far out numbered the negative. Instead of staying away from the construction, people converged on it.

According to an article written last month, this small effort resulted in deeper ties between the artists and the community. In one case, an artist’s effort was adopted as a mascot for the neighborhood.

An outcome of this type lends some credence to the idea that you can help yourself by helping your community.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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