Chairman's Corner: June 25, 2020

Jo Reed:  I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman's Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Our Town. The Arts Endowment's Creative Placemaking program. Creative Placemaking is a concept we hear a lot about, but is a bit hard to nail down.  How exactly does the Arts Endowment define it?  Here’s Mary Anne to explain….

Mary Anne Carter:  The Arts Endowment defines Creative Placemaking as integrating arts and culture into community and economic development plans by leveraging local arts and culture assets. These projects combine art with purpose toward community goals set up by cross-sector partnerships that bring the unique values of artist to local issues. And you know, the Arts Endowment launched this program in 2011 and to-date has awarded 636 grants totaling more than 49 million with projects in all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Jo Reed:  Can you give me a sense of the types of projects that would come under the heading of Our Town?

Mary Anne Carter:  Sure, so from a colonial plaza in Arizona, to solving flooding problems in Fargo, North Dakota, from reconnecting communities severed by a new highway in Greensboro, North Carolina, to revitalizing a former college campus through an arts festival in Sitka, Alaska, Our Town projects, they make a difference to the well-being of communities, both urban and rural, and the program has been enormously successful.

Jo Reed:  You know, these are such complex projects that also cast a really wide net. Is there anything that we've seen that contributes to a project's success?

Mary Anne Carter:  Partnerships. Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships. Partners run the gamut, including elected officials, neighborhood organizations, social service providers, housing developers, transit providers, faith-based organizations, and so many more. In many cases, we have found partnerships forged through an Our Town project remain together after the Our Town grant is completed, and they continue to work together to address local needs.

Jo Reed:  Can you give me a couple of examples?

Mary Anne Carter:  Sure! In 2014, the Mayor's Office of Arts and Culture in Boston started an Artist Residency program, in which artists were selected to work closely with other city departments to develop arts-based approaches to the city's challenges. By injecting the creative process into public service, the artists demonstrated how arts can promote healing for people involved with the city programs, and that became ongoing. Another example on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, or CDC, established its first ever Artist Advisory Board to provide input on the architectural design of the planned community center. And so together, the Lakota artists and people in the community incorporated their voices into development. So when the CDC broke ground on the new community center building, residents saw the enhancement of their local landscape, while the artist advisors were encouraged to continue participating on the board.

Jo Reed:  And I'm curious about the 2020 grantees, Mary Anne, because these are such challenging times, between the pandemic and economic suffering and, of course, widespread civil unrest. Are Our Town projects able to speak to these challenges, and on such short notice?

Mary Anne Carter:  They are. So in 2020, we had 51 Our Town projects with about 3.6 million in funding. And I don't have to tell anyone listening that these projects are being funded in an unprecedented time in our country. We're coping with the ravages of the pandemic, social isolation, economic hardships, alongside civil unrest in response to racial inequities. In this extraordinary moment, we are seeing the dynamic creativity of arts organizations in changing their programming and operations as well-- and I say this from the bottom of my heart-- the attempted professionalism of the Arts Endowment staff to help all our grantees make changes quickly, efficiently and effectively.

Jo Reed:  I’d love to hear examples of some of the projects that are just speaking to this moment.

Mary Anne Carter:  So Creative Sonoma and Santa Rosa's Downtown Action Organization in California. They applied to the National Endowment for the Arts with a project to address the destruction left behind by the wildfires. With the arrival of COVID-19, the organizations pivoted to a more pressing concern of helping transform streets and sidewalks into public spaces that accommodate social distancing, and our Arts Endowment Creative Placemaking staff worked with the grantee to make this scope change. Another example, in Louisville, Kentucky, Ideas X Lab. They're going to be working with City Planning and Public Works agencies to stage what they call the Un(Known) Project. It's a series of multidisciplinary experiences contributing to a citywide initiative to understand the local history of slavery. I've said repeatedly, the arts are key to individual and communal self-expression and healing, and I think these projects like so many of our other Our Town projects do it brilliantly.

Jo Reed:  Mary Anne, that's a good place to leave it. Thank you!

Mary Anne Carter:  Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed:  That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about Our Town and all its projects, go to  I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.

The chairman celebrates the tenth anniversary of Our Town, the Arts Endowment’s creative placemaking program.