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A rotating panel of experts will provide commentary on topics related to the creative economy. We encourage readers to respond and share their thoughts.

Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, Principal, Metris Arts


From Creative Economy to Creative Placemaking

Recently Salon.com writer Scott Timberg and Richard Florida debated whether the creative class was a sham or alive and well. Whatever camp you fall into—skeptic, critical consumer, or unabashed proponent—you need to know about the burgeoning creative placemaking movement. So far, it appears to have transcended the fracas.

At its core, creative placemaking is about how arts and cultural activities strengthen community vitality. Ann Markusen and I offer this definition in a white paper for the Mayors' Institute on City Design:

In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, nonprofit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.

Creative placemaking overlaps with the larger creative economy, but it emphasizes local strategic initiatives. Foundations, and the government and private sector are investing serious money in its potential. This fall a new funding consortium called ArtPlace doled out $11.5 million in grants. Ten top national foundations participate. Although government financial support is made through a separate NEA grant program, ArtPlace's strategic federal partners include such unlikely suspects as HUD, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and Agriculture. Six major financial institutions capitalized an additional $12 million loan fund.

Why is creative placemaking engendering such diverse and sizable support? Because initiators are emphasizing public benefit over private enrichment. Among compelling arguments for broad-based arts support, a recent report by ArtsWave highlights arts' ability to enhance an area's economic vitality and to connect diverse groups through shared experiences. Economic arguments couched in terms of vibrant communities resonate more with people than dollar impacts and jobs created.

One need not look far for compelling proof of the concept. California shines with creative placemaking. Through its 01SJ Biennial, nonprofit art and technology network ZERO1 is recasting San José as a place that weds technology with art. With funding from ArtPlace, ZERO1 is launching ZERO1 Garage, a year-round platform to engage artists, scientists, academics, and business people and spur innovation. Another Artplace grantee, YoloArts, sponsors artists to create works inspired by local farms to raise awareness about farm preservation and spur community dialogue in rural Yolo County. Under the Watts House Project umbrella, artists, architects, designers, and residents collaborate to revitalize LA's Watt's neighborhood through physical renovations and inventive programming.

Across California and the nation, creative placemakers have been at work for decades. But now that they enjoy a unifying moniker and an infusion of resources, opportunities abound and responsibilities are greater. In researching successful creative placemaking efforts across the country, Markusen and I synthesized common challenges, such as difficulties in forging partnerships and in avoiding gentrification-led displacement. We also summarize factors for success, including the importance of initiators with innovative vision and strategies tailored to distinctive features of place. This is only the beginning of the conversation. To sustain momentum and interest, practitioners should critically evaluate what works and why and communicate impacts and lessons learned.

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