Aerial view of park

Making It Happen

How do creative placemaking projects happen? The right strategic team must be put in place, team will have to meet head-on the needs for implementing community engagement strategies, developing communications plans, managing evaluation tasks, and creating on-going funding strategies. Hear from Our Town project managers on these lessons and more below.

Lessons Learned: 
Look Beyond Traditional Funding Streams

Sources for Our Town project funding are as diverse as the projects themselves, and range from large-scale private philanthropic donations, to municipal bond dollars, to small contributions made by local businesses. Many projects find funding through cross-sector partnerships, such as in New York City where an artist residency program in senior centers was funded from different city health and human services agencies.  

Other projects happened through a combination of small-scale local resources, like funding from non-arts local government agencies, donations from local businesses and individuals and local foundations. Seeking out these types of resources can also help to establish a network of community ties that can provide later social and political support as well.   As project manger Cindy Steinhauser from Dubuque says, “Take advantage of the resources (no matter how little they seem) that people make available.  If all it does is create awareness and help that person or organization feel connected to the event, that’s important for the project’s long-term success too.”



Never Underestimate the Importance of Project Communication

The majority of creative-placemaking project managers cite the day-to-day coordination of communications internally between partners, and externally with stakeholders, was the single most important element of project success. Whether electronically, or in face-to-face meetings, continuous project updates, and channels for feedback, are essential. As Ronna Reynolds project managers in Hartford, CT said, “Communications, and the collaborative spirit they engendered, were of paramount importance to the successful execution of the project.” 

How To:  Work with Remote Consultants

  • Often times, consultants on a project need to travel from a distance so day to day communications can sometimes be a challenge, particularly for more remote or rural areas. In the Fargo Project, the two primary team members -- Nicole Crutchfield from the City of Fargo, and Jackie Brookner, a New York based environmental artist – found an innovative way to make sure they were always “together on the same page.”  Since Brookner did not reside in Fargo, communications by email and phone were critical to keeping the project moving forward during times that Brookner wasn’t there.  To add to those communications and aide their understanding of where the project was, after every visit, Brookner would make a “mind-map” of every component of the project and send that map to Crutchfield for review.  In this way, they were able to share not only lists of tasks to be done, but a larger understanding of what all the component parts of the project were and how they related to each other. 
Invest in Community Engagement

Artists have innovative ideas in how to engage community members.  Artists can infuse what might be seen as typical community engagement - meetings and feedback sessions -  with different modes of creative expression, such as theater and video. In Minneapolis, the Plan-It Hennepin project employed artists to help structure community conversations around the formation of a new cultural district and help stakeholders envision potential futures.  Working with large scale models, interpretive paintings, and digital story gathering, participants collected information about the area and explored new ideas alongside creative professionals.

Along with arts-based engagement techniques, it is also important to achieve a balance of methods, and create a mix of traditional and non-traditional modes of outreach such as media releases, surveys, and town-hall meetings. In Houston, the Southeast Houston Arts Initiative saw the importance of broad outreach when they undertook an in-depth analysis of the project.  One of the many things they learned was the fact that “clear and consistent communication can help to build more momentum and widen interest and participation, whereas its absence stymies efforts.” Their recommendations to other project managers are to, “not underestimate the importance of communication and to take advantage of multiple modes of dissemination.”

How To:  Decide on a Community Engagement Plan

  • There are many different resources available to help project managers think through different community engagement ideas and opportunities.  Two key organizations which provide both general and step-by-step resource materials are the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) and the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD).  The websites of both organizations offer a wide array of traditional (and innovative) practices and materials that can help practitioners think through the issues of implementation.  For ideas on more non-traditional, arts-based ideas the Animating Democracy website provides a broad array of case studies and links to resources that illustrate what current practitioners are doing. 
Create Clarity – and flexibility - in Partnership Roles

One of the defining characteristics of creative placemaking projects is the number and complexity of partnerships that are needed to bring individual projects to life.

Stone Mountain project managers remarked on how import it is to clearly define the roles that each project partner takes. “There were many partners in the project. Keeping everyone focused and "on the same page" was a challenge…. It’s very important to define specific leadership roles that each partner can take.”

Others project managers found it was helpful to maintain a stance of flexibility in partnership relationships to make sure that they could be maintained for the long term. Project manager Ben Fyffe reported, “It was important to build strong coalitions with partners, particularly as we dealt with opposition….. It was also very important to maintain flexibility with those coalitions and partnerships over such a long process with so many variables.”

Establish Clear Leadership Roles

Many Our Town project mangers talked about the importance of strong leadership, and they had lots of differing views on the subject. 

In North Adams, Blair Benjamin remarked about how important it was to identify leadership roles, particularly in partnership arrangements. “One of the challenges is having one front person who can say, ‘we’ll do this come heck or high water’.”

From the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles, Tina Watkins talked about the role of a leader as one of keeping a clear sense of direction. “Leadership’s role in this project was about carrying the vision, and helping to make sure that all the different partners understood it and stayed true to it -- that no matter how many new challenges got introduced or how many new ideas got introduced, the larger team, and the community all stayed connected to the overall purpose of the project.” 

In Providence, Lynne McCormack had similar thoughts but also emphasized the need to let others take on leadership roles as well, “I think when you’re doing a project this large, with this many people, you have to relinquish some degree of control  - but at the same time keep the rudder steady.”

How To: Ensure Project Success Beyond the Grant Period

  • One of the key lessons learned in the Southeast Houston Arts Initiative was the importance of creating an ongoing leadership structure that could maintain the project within the community beyond the grant funding period.  In an evaluation done by Metris Arts Consulting, one the primary challenges that was identified was the issue of maintaining ongoing project leadership with citizen volunteers. While enthusiasm for the larger project goals existed, the needed time and skills required to serve in a project leadership role was not always available within the community.  
Remember Large Scale Projects Require Patience

Project managers often note that implementation takes longer than anticipated. 

As Belle Jackson from Berea, KY said, “Everything seems to move faster on paper and slower on the ground.” But taking time, particularly in terms of community relationship-building, is critical for project success. From the Willowbrook project in Los Angeles, the project team remarked on how much “the work of entering a community, building trust, and on the ground partners, takes time. To really embed an artist in a community for cultural observation and relationship development, we realized partway through that we needed at least a year or more. We wanted to give our lead artist Rosten Woo the space to deepen investigations into the creative pulse of the neighborhood through its residents and their stories”

Along with the need for additional time, also comes the need for patience and perseverance. In Memphis, the city set out to transform a 110-year old warehouse into affordable live/work units for artists.  Identifying financing for such large scale urban projects can be a long and arduous process of identifying local, state, and federal resources.  In reflecting on their experience, project manager Gretchen Wollert McLennon told the story of how she would often work through project challenges by repeating a favorite Peruvian saying, “The world will be changed by those with a burning patience.”