Doing Art to Change a Place—March 3-5, 2014
This article is part of a series of four articles on Creative Placemaking publishing in conjunction with the 2014 ArtPlace America Grantee Summit. The Summit will livestream Mon, March 3 to Wed, March 5 on HowlRound.TV. View the schedule and archive here. In Twitter, use #ArtPlace to participate in the conversation.
I began as the Executive Director of ArtPlace America at the beginning of this year, and I have spent much of the past seven weeks talking about the organization and our mission to support creative placemaking across this country.
On March 3, 4, and 5, 2014, we will be convening all of ArtPlace’s grantees, our foundation and government partners, and the readers and panelists who have worked with us over the past three years in Los Angeles, CA. We will be webcasting almost all of the conversations on HowlRound TV, which will offer an unprecedented opportunity to understand our community and our individual and collective victories, challenges, and issues. The schedule is available here (and features a session co-led by David Dower and Polly Carl), and the webcast will be archived by HowlRound TV and available here.
In preparation for our gathering, I want to share the history of ArtPlace as an organization and the evolution of what I sense is becoming a national movement around creative placemaking.
Four years ago, then-NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman and now-President of The Ford Foundation, Darren Walker felt there needed to be a fundamental reset of the arts conversation in this country. Borrowing a trope from the new play sector, they felt that too often arts organizations found themselves operating from a place of scarcity: there was a project they would like to undertake, but they didn’t have enough money to do it, and they ended up, hat in hand, asking for the kindness of strangers. Arts organizations were operating from a position of weakness and need.
Both Rocco and Darren knew that fundamentally the arts are not about scarcity, they are about abundance. Artists, works of art, arts organizations, and audiences contribute mightily to their communities and on multiple levels. This was the abundance that arts organizations should foreground.
So they began using the phrase “creative placemaking” to describe projects in which artists and arts organizations are explicitly working as part of a larger strategy to help shape their communities’ social, physical, and economic characters. In other words, these projects are doing art to change a place.
We shared that definition of creative placemaking in a meeting with colleagues from National Arts Strategies recently and Russell Willis Taylor, their president and CEO, lit up and said, “Oh, now I get it: ‘creative’ is an adverb. It’s not an adjective. It’s the making that is creative.” I think that is exactly right.
This work is not new—in ancient Greece, the theater was the literal, spiritual, and civic center of the community—but putting a name on it is. And creating a sense of community among previously unconnected projects is new as well.
It is perfectly understandable that a town clustering arts organizations in a previously vacant neighborhood to drive positive foot traffic and increase public safety might not feel a special kinship with the nonprofit creating a craft trail in Appalachia to change the regional identity from one of poverty to one of creativity and invention. And yet both projects are supporting artists and arts organizations to do what they do best (make and present art)—but doing so in a context that creates a larger community benefit beyond the transformative experiences of the individuals encountering the art directly.
Over the past three years, ArtPlace has invested $42.1 million to 124 organizations in 79 communities of all sizes across this country. The full list is available here. (We have also just announced the projects that have been selected as finalists for 2014 ArtPlace grants.) In the coming days, we have invited three of the theaters—Redmoon Theater, Pillsbury House + Theatre, and Perseverance Theatre—with projects in which ArtPlace has invested to share the stories of their work. I look forward to these conversations and invite you to join us on HowlRound TV and on Twitter #ArtPlace.
1. 2011 Farm/Art DTour that took place as part of the Wormfarm Institute’s Fermentation Fest. Sauk County, WI.
2. Esperanza Community Housing Corporation’s 2012 Dia De Los Muertos celebration. Los Angeles, CA.
3. FringeArts’ outdoor plaza and performance space under construction on an underutilized section of the Delaware River waterfront. Philadelphia, PA.