Building Communities, Building the Field

At NAS, we have seen many examples of what happens when arts and culture works to create positive change in the social, economic and cultural well-being of communities in the US and around the world. This work has been going on for many years, and now is coalescing in the range of approaches and attitudes as creative placemaking – a field of imaginative ideas, committed practice and dedicated practitioners.

In many communities, webs of organizations and individuals work in this way, integrated into the heart/soul of their neighborhoods, communities or cities – making constructive differences on small, medium and large scales. They are the nonprofit cultural organizations bent on social change; they are major institutions like a museum that act as a community convener and anchor; they are entrepreneurs, neighborhood advocates, working professionals inside larger institutions, and individual artists with a deep passion for overcoming the harm created by poverty and lack of opportunity.

My work in the community development/revitalization field and the arts and culture field has shown me that good ideas come from many sources – expected and unexpected. That partners come in all sizes and shapes. And that an array of inputs from different sectors, from different types of people may be more chaotic at times or confusing to manage, but it keeps our minds agile and open to new ways of solving old problems and builds supportive networks of differently minded people committed to a common goal. And we, at NAS, are committed to helping the field bring these ideas to fruition, scale what works, and explore how a broad range of interventions can impact neighborhoods and communities. We do this, in part, by creating space for useful conversations and framing constructive debate – like this blog.

Perhaps, like me, you have a mental model of how community development or creative placemaking works or doesn’t work. Let’s talk about these. Share our observations. Create conversations that tackle the hard stuff. And let’s disagree and debate and listen. Together, we can forge ideas into actions that build our communities, our neighborhoods, our colleagues and ourselves.


  1. says

    I was wondering how much we should consider self and group identity and its influence on developing strategies to engage with community and the development of creative placemaking The understanding that we are freethinking individuals has shaped Western society, but contemporary research shows that socially, group thinking within small or large communities rules, John Charles Turner “self- categorization theory”. In group/communities deindividuation occurs to some degree or another and automatic social learning will emerge. People overwhelmingly rely on social learning and are more efficient because of it. This built-in social learning needs to be considered as a major factor in community building, community identity, and I believe in creative placemaking.

    • Gail Crider says

      You raise good points, which in part, made me go back and review Professor Turner’s research in social psychology and the nature of groups. One of things that struck me was the concept of “Us” to “Them”. When we think of ourselves as a social group, to what degree does that definition exclude others? We’ve heard from the fellows that they want to be part of a larger group – one in which they feel a sense of unification (we’re not in this alone) and one that has enough friction to bring about conversations that can help test and form ideas. If we pull back our focus to the communities that these artists and cultural entrepreneurs are influencing through their work, we see two basic forms – those creating open and welcoming space to any and all who want to join for whatever span of time feels reasonable and those creating a sense of positive, unified space for engineered communities such as incarcerated individuals. Thank you, Vaughan, for the insightful comments.

  2. says

    Now that practically ever funding source in the arts demands some type of social or economic engagement or creative placemaking focus what will happen to the artists who work in the intrinsic realm of the arts? What will happen to the artist, the writer, the actor whose work isn’t about economic development or social change at the level creative placemaking requires? And what does it say about a society that requires it’s artists to prove themselves economically or only do work that will relate to a prescribe set of social problems or issues? What happens to the art that isn’t about those things but rather is about the poetically unknown, the ephemeral, the psychologically challenging, the visually unequalled? Do we just let that aspect of art whither?

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