Commentary: How to assess the impact of creative placemaking

Greg Baeker, [Canada], 10/19/12

'Creative placemaking' is receiving increased attention in both Canada and the United States. The belief is that creative placemaking can produce a wide range of positive outcomes at a neighbourhood or district level -- job creation, strengthening networks, building social capital and community capacity. While there are many individual projects that have demonstrated success, there is movement on both sides of the border to establish a more empirical base of evidence to substantiate the merits of creative placemaking. Toronto-based Artscape, a globally recognized leader in city building through the arts, has developed a Creative Placemaking Toolbox to support groups interested in undertaking this work. "Understanding the impact of cultural facilities on the cultural, economic, social and environmental condition of their neighbourhoods" is a project with the Martin Prosperity Institute and other partners. Similar work is being conducted in the U.S. ArtPlace has invested considerable effort in this area. To date, it has awarded 80 grants to 76 organizations in 46 communities across the U.S., worth $26.9 million. ArtPlace's work on Vibrancy Indicators serves two purposes. The first is to measure the change in people, activity and value in communities in which ArtPlace invests funds. The second is to make the indicators widely available to others as a way of stimulating further discussion and exploration in the area. ArtPlace's Vibrancy Indicators are divided into three broad areas: People, Activity and Value. To date, indicators have been developed for People and Activity; whereas work on Value indicators is under development. While social and other outcomes are not excluded, it is interesting to note current indicators are dominated by economic development issues and outcomes.


Commentary: Evaluation via proxy data doesn't work for creative placemaking

Ann Markusen, guest post on the Createquity blog, 11/9/12

Creative placemaking is electrifying communities large and small around [America]. Mayors, public agencies and arts organizations are finding each other and committing to new initiatives. That's a wonderful thing, whether or not their proposals are funded by national initiatives such as the National Endowment for the Arts's Our Town program or ArtPlace. It's important to learn from and improve our practices on this new and so promising terrain. But efforts based on fuzzy concepts and indicators designed to rely on data external to the funded projects are bound to disappoint. Increasingly, I am hearing distress on the part of practitioners about the indicator initiatives of the NEA and ArtPlace - [expressing] considerable anxiety and confusion about these indicators and how they are being constructed. In particular, many current grantee teams with whom I've spoken are baffled by the one-measure-fits-all nature of the indicators, especially in the absence of formal and case-tailored evaluation. Why are the major funders of creative placemaking staking so much on indicators rather than evaluating projects on their own aspirations and steps forward? Pressure from the Office of Management and Budget, the federal bean-counters, is one factor. We're in good company. Huge agencies of the federal government, like the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and NASA, fund experiments and exploratory development without asking that results be held up to some set of external indicators not closely related to their missions. They accept slow progress and even failure because the end goal is worthy and because we learn from failure. Evaluation by external generic indicators fails to acknowledge the experimental and ground-breaking nature of these creative-placemaking initiatives and misses an opportunity to bolster understanding of how arts and cultural missions create public value.


Commentary: The conflicting expectations around creative placemaking

Laura Ng, Americans for the Arts blog, 11/12/12

Arts administrators, philanthropists, patrons, and practitioners converged on October 20 for Emerging Arts Leaders/Los Angeles' full-day Creative Conversation to explore "Sparking Inclusive Dialogue Through Creative Placemaking." One unifying outlook voiced by the panelists was that creative placemaking must happen organically with a collaborative conscientiousness responsive to a specific community. Anne Bray of Freewaves [remarked] that attaching predetermined signifiers, especially the word "art," without attention to one's audience can be alienating. She prefers to introduce new projects using an open-ended term, like "experiment," and spoke for caution around the institutional and corporate preoccupation with branding. In the drive to align with the language of creative place, declaring an area an "arts district" is often tethered by conflicting expectations for economic redevelopment and its consequences of gentrification, displacing the original characteristics that made a place unique. What we admire in projects we've seen, how we hope we can impact or revitalize a community are bright guideposts to be tempered by the living conditions of our chosen locale. Creative placemaking is participatory and evolving, nurtured by a smattering of elements whose chemistry is under ongoing experimentation. Whether it be the residents' energy, the artists' expertise, the philanthropists' assets, or municipal access, it requires collaborative engagement for a long-term commitment, where time-based creative projects spiritedly unveil a place's character with each iteration. With sustained effort from this foundation of respectful openness, we may find ourselves addressing real social inequity and sustainable identity in tangible ways. A flourishing culture and economy will be the resultant indicators of our mutually empowered well-being.


Commentary: The question all creative placemakers should ask

Neeraj Mehta, Next American City website, 10/16/2012

In a May blog post, researcher Ian David Moss attempts to address some of the negative outcomes associated with creative placemaking. He uses a schematic of what he calls "The Artist Colonization Process" to break down the trajectory of a gentrifying neighborhood. The process starts with "artists move in" and ends with "developers take over space, pricing artists out of the market." His schematic made me wonder what happened to all the people living for decades in the community in which the "creative placemaking" experiment was underway. What happened to them when the artists moved in? To me, this is the crux of the problem: For whom are we trying to create benefit when implementing our creative placemaking strategies? I believe that arts and culture have a significant, important, too often underutilized, one-of-a-kind way of helping to shape and revitalize previously distressed neighborhoods and communities. [But] I wish somebody would talk more about if the outcomes we're aiming to achieve are actually the right ones to begin with. Revitalizing an old building, turning it into a theater and attracting new artists and audiences are all great outcomes. But if you can't show me that a large percentage of these artists and audiences are from within the community, then I'm not so impressed. Let's define "who benefits?" as a clear indicator of our success or failure. We need to be more purposeful, targeted and explicit about whom our creative placemaking strategies are intended to benefit. And if we're working in communities that are distressed, poor or have been historically populated by communities of color, then we need to make sure that whatever strategies we design, or investments we make, are creating benefit for them.
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