The term “creative placemaking” may sound new, but at its core, it’s a strategy that has long been used by urban planners and economic development agencies to attract and retain people and raise the quality of life in a region. Creative placemaking in particular generally involves partners from public, private, non-profit and community sectors who work together to strategically revitalize neighborhoods, cities or regions around the arts and cultural activities.
ArtServe Michigan first became involved in creative placemaking when it started to support creative practitioners across Michigan. Cezanne Charles is the director of creative industries at ArtServe Michigan. She noted that the work ArtServe does engaging artists in various communities led to thinking about ways artists could play bigger roles within their communities.
Charles cited two projects ArtServe is working on that will engage artists in the revitalization of different regions. First, in Manistee, ArtServe is part of a team with a few other organizations who are looking to redevelop the city’s north corridor.
“Our role is to work with individual artists in the community and determine how they are engaging in the community,” Charles said. “The goal is to present the information in such a way that will aid decision making in how to aid artists in the community in their redevelopment.”
Another example is ArtServe’s involvement in a county-wide discussion in Washtenaw County on how to bring quality of life to cities and cityscapes, and what role does art play in that?
Charles asserted that creative placemaking can transform Michigan’s communities.
“From a city level to the state level, other communities across Michigan can rapidly learn from each other,” she said.
Charles also noted that the fact that creative placemaking brings so many diverse groups and organizations to the table helps its success.
Elsewhere in the state, creative placemaking is also a priority.
Arnold Weinfeld is director of strategic initiatives and federal affairs for the Michigan Municipal League. In determining some of the best courses for Michigan cities to take, the League studied economic development initiatives that were working in other parts of the country. They identified eight distinct assets of prospering communities, and one of the most important factors was having a vibrant art and culture community.
“We believe arts and culture should be a focus of every community,” Weinfeld said. “It doesn’t mean that every community has to have a performing arts center or a big theatre. But each community has a heritage and history they can build on.”
Weinfeld gave an example of the city of Ludington, which is moving forward with a cultural element in their economic development plan.
“Ludington has a rich and deep history in agriculture and maritime. Over the last few years, they have put together a cultural economic development plan to capitalize on their heritage. They commissioned a sculpture park, and now there’s copper sculptures scattered throughout a park that tell a story about Ludington’s history.”
Weinfeld noted that even in small towns, there is opportunity for culture and creative placemaking to help drive the community and make it a place that people remember and want to be in.
“Creative placemaking based on authentic culture and heritage is important,” he said. “Communities must understand what their cultural assets are and build off them to make sure they’re creating places that people want to visit.”
On a national level, ArtPlace is a relatively new collaboration of foundations, agencies and banks that is helping communities across the U.S. do just that, by investing in projects that support a vision of creative placemaking.
This year, according to their website, ArtPlace received almost 2,200 letters of inquiry from organizations seeking a portion of the $15.4 million available for grants in this cycle. Inquiries came from 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Carol Coletta, president of ArtPlace, said that the significance of the creative placemaking initiative that’s sweeping the nation lies in the fact that it recognizes the special role art and artists can play in transforming our communities by making them more vibrant and fuels their work with money, research and advocacy.
“Creative placemaking will help produce communities that are more vibrant with more opportunity for everyone to succeed,” Coletta said. “As artists become valued partners in community transformation, they will become resources to produce creative responses to the community’s other challenges and opportunities. That’s enormously exciting for the future of our communities.”
One of ArtPlace’s 2011 grant awardees was Midtown Detroit, Inc., a nonprofit planning and development agency charged with revitalization of Detroit’s Woodward Corridor. With the grant money, Midtown Detroit, Inc. recently bought a historic, abandoned church property in the emerging Sugar Hill Arts District and is currently doing a feasibility study on turning the structure into a neighborhood performing arts center. The Sugar Hill district is about two city blocks, bounded by roads Forest, John R, Garfield and Woodward. The once-thriving jazz center is experiencing a cultural renewal from the new restaurants, galleries, businesses and residential spaces that are filling vacant structures.
Midtown Detroit, Inc. is a good case study for the successes possible in creative placemaking, as the organization is also currently wrapping up work done with the support of another grant from the National Endowment of the Arts’ Our Town initiative.
“The NEA grant we received through the Our Town program was for $100,000, and that money will be used to develop a public art and landscaping master plan over five years for the area,” said Annmarie Borucki, special projects manager at Midtown Detroit, Inc. “We’re working with our partners to revitalize the area with public art, lighting and landscaping, and we’re developing a brand identity for the district.”
Borucki noted that Midtown Detroit Inc. received the largest ArtPlace grant in the country last year. The grant was for $900,000 and helped them purchase the vacant church.
None of their projects would be possible without the support of grants, she said.
“It’s the glue that will try to tie everything together.”