Making creative places

There’s been lots of talk about ‘creative placemaking’ and ‘creative vitality’ in cities and towns and communities. It seems many people want such things, but whose job is it to build them? Is it the job of innovative artists and arts organizations? Or community-focused private funders and philanthropists? Or banks and community development interests? Or government?

A new initiative, ArtPlace, seems to answer the question above with a single word: ‘Yes’. The consortium, described in today’s New York Times, gathers grants from major national foundations (Ford Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, James Irvine Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Kresge Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, Robina Foundation), a loan fund capitalized by major financial institutions (Bank of America, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Chase, MetLife, Morgan Stanley), and guidance by a consortium of federal agencies and offices (Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education and Transportation, White House Office of Management and Budget, Domestic Policy Council), with coordination through the National Endowment for the Arts. Funds are overseen by the Nonprofit Finance Fund.
All of this to foster and fund ”groundbreaking work in creative placemaking” in communities across the country, and to build ”vibrancy” through those activities as measured by an evolving set of Vibrancy Indicators related to people, activity, and value (coming in May 2012).
The initiative announced its first grants yesterday, comprising 34 initiatives in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
Really cool and compelling stuff, that may lead to a more thoughtful, cross-sector focus on building and growing creative places. And the inspired and inspiring leadership of Carol Coletta, formerly of CEOs for Cities, seems poised to encourage action over talk.
ArtPlace is now accepting letters of inquiry to consider for their next grant cycle, through November 15.


  1. Sasha H says

    “Creative Class,” “Creative City,” “Creative Industries” discussions in relation to economic development are O.L.D. and, while this is one of the largest collaborations, it is still a very dangerous slippery slope. Often (not always) when “arts” is used to redevelop, artists get exploited and old patterns of redevelopment take over (except this time there’s no underused mall, civic center or stadium standing on top of what used to working class homes and shops). The magic formula, all too often is: Move artists in, area gentrifies, ta-da! Regenerated!
    – This development often does not benefit or even engage poorer (usually non-white) residents at all and, worse, it often displaces them from a community they have called home for generations.
    – If the goal of gentrification is accomplished, then artists are inevitably forced out because of skyrocketing rents and leases that were not protected with long term contracts that would protect below market rates for BOTH residential and commercial spaces.
    – “Creative placemaking” is often project based and not included in a larger redevelopment plan for an area, thus other development projects often undermine the efforts of what the arts-based economic development is trying to accomplish.
    In Providence, RI, one of the earliest consciously developed “Arts Districts” in the country, much of this occurred. Years ago artists moved into buildings that are now largely upscale apartments and condos for commuters who work in MA, NY or CT (FAIL). The arts district had almost no positive effect for non-white residents (FAIL). And, the lack of a central plan actually forced artists from where they were living (illegal and legal warehouse live-work spaces scattered around downtown and in neighborhoods) because the the city funded reuse projects (almost all upscale condo development projects) through the use of tax breaks and other subsidies (EPIC FAIL). So, many of the artists moved out of Providence to nearby small city Pawtucket. Or worse, out of state. The Arts District with a few exceptions has only a handful of working artists and mostly just an entertainment district with dining, bars, music venues and theaters. Whoops.