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What is Creative Placemaking?

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By Brandon Jones, WonderRoot
There’s never a shortage of new buzz words circulating the community development sector that energize Grantmakers, provide marketing wins for capital developers, and force administrators to re-strategize programmatic efforts. The recent decade has given way to terms such as placemaking, creative placemaking, place-keeper, etc. All of which, providing significant contributions to community planning, design, and activation.  
Yet, as the lexicon of discussing community development initiatives and strategies continues to expand, clarity among professionals seeking to engage in such work is imperative. As a creative placemaking practitioner, I am keenly astute to the myriad of projects that may be inaccurately veiled as creative placemaking and/or projects and partnerships that miss the opportunity to effectively communicate their work.  As a result, laymen understanding of creative placemaking as a field is often vague.
Explicitly, the work of creative placemaking is far from new. We can all look to a century’s worth of successfully examples throughout the world. However, the term gains prominence following the 2010 whitepaper, Creative Placemaking, commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts. There within, authors Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa described creative placemaking as when “partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.”
I reference this definition in my own work, as it effectively articulates the creative placemaking school of thought. often confusion remains in truly separating what creative placemaking is or is not, when compared to placemaking/keeping and art in public spaces. In an effort to further refine the language employed, I offer five key distinctions for a creative placemaking initiatives:

  1. Place-based- All projects are rooted in geographic parameters.
  2. Ethical Community Engagement- Projects strive for shared agency among all stakeholders.
  3. Cross-sector Collaboration- Projects cannot exist in the arts sector alone. There must be cultivation of diverse partnerships across sectors.
  4. Public Cultural Consumption- Arts or cultural products must be assessable to the public and be outward oriented.
  5. Influence Localized Development Systems- Projects seek to address complex community development subject matters.

Admittedly, creative placemaking is an ever-evolving field. Our language and understanding of it will certainly continue to shift.  What I hope is consistently reinforced in public discussion, is the pivotal role arts and culture play in community development. Art, with its intrinsic ability to communicate who we are, must not be left out of the equation when we plan, design, develop who we want to be as a community.


Brandon Jones is the Head of Creative Placemaking at WonderRoot.

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