Art Works Blog

Welcome to Our Town 2012

Alaska Arts Southeast, which runs the acclaimed Sitka Fine Arts Camp each summer, received a 2011 Our Town grant to support the Sitka Festival of the Arts, Humanities, and Natural Sciences. Photo by Jayleen Beedle

Today we announced the second round of Our Town grantees!

I'm excited about these grants for many reasons. Ever since I read James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I have been obsessed with the creative mind---its flexible ability to amaze, inspire, and do good for the world. After painfully coming to terms with the fact that I'm not a truly talented artist (may you never suffer though one of my musical 'compositions'), I've been dedicating my life to helping creative people succeed instead. As evidenced in the partnerships forged in these projects, there are some very creative people working in communities across the country.

We took an educated guess that requiring a partnership between an arts organization and a local government would be fruitful for communities taking on creative placemaking projects, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the 80 projects funded this year would have 566 partners and 192 arts organizations working together to create great places through the arts. And what diversity! The non-arts partners range from not-for-profit aging services, botanic gardens, religious, and scientific organizations to local businesses including banks and farms; from educational institutions and government agencies at the state and federal levels---including the Army---to business improvement districts and land trusts.

I personally can't wait to see how these partners are going to work with the creative folks in their communities to delight, surprise, and engage.

With so many people engaged in the success of the local projects, it's not surprising the NEA is constantly being asked---how exactly do you DO this kind of work? It's a complex question because the term “creative placemaking” includes so many different types of work and happens in so many types of places. Creative placemaking in a town of 268 on the Bering Strait in Alaska is not the same as in Miami, Florida! Also, the knowledge base in creative placemaking has different levels of locally useful research. Certainly some topics---like how and when to build artist space---have become relatively known sciences. Others, like what exact ingredients you need to have a successful program of artists activating empty commercial spaces, or how a city can grow its design cluster, need more in-depth attention. Hence, we must continue the conversation about how to do this work well, when and how it is effective, and how to measure those successes.

We anticipate the funded Our Town grantees will have lots of lessons learned to share, as I described in my previous post. Another way that we expand our own knowledge at the NEA is through grant review panels. Every application at the agency is reviewed by experts who not only can give a proper review to an application, but also advise us on policy. This year we decided to do Our Town review panels a bit differently. Three separate panels were held: a Non-Metro and Tribal Communities Panel, a Design and Cultural Planning Panel, and an Arts Engagement Panel. You can read more about the types of applications that were reviewed by these panels here.

Each of these panels had six experts from the American public on these topics plus one layperson. It was an honor to spend time with these brilliant people, as so many of them have depths of understanding which they impart with great generosity. Spending three days with them to discuss creative placemaking projects was a fantastic learning experience that will inform our thinking about next year's processes.

We thought it was about time for you all to have a chance to hear from some of these folks too, so we’re organizing three webinars in July:

July 17: Creative Placemaking in Rural Communities

July 24: Creative Placemaking through Design and Cultural Planning

July 31: Creative Placemaking through Arts Engagement

The intention here is to continue the conversation about how to do creative placemaking in a variety of settings and ways. Please join us to hear about their perspectives on the field---where it's going , what's occurring, and how it is done well.

To sign up for a webinar---click here. (They will also be archived on our website if you can't make it.)

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