Light installation

Large Urban

Large urban refers to communities of more than 200,000 in population.

Lessons Learned: 
Focusing on Issues of Equity

A large percentage of Our Town project mangers feel their work directly addresses issues of equity, and this was particularly true in large urban areas.

Animating Democracy, a program of the American for the Arts organization that looks at the social impact of the arts, defines equity within the context of social justice efforts to ensure that all people have equal political, economic, and social opportunities. “Social justice is grounded in the values and ideals of equity, access, and inclusion for all members of society, particularly for poor communities and communities of color that historically and structurally have experienced social inequities.”

Many projects addressed a range of equity issues from physical accessibility to ensuring that neighborhood residents had the opportunity to voice their ideas and opinions about upcoming development changes.

In Tuscon, the Tuscon Pima Arts Council wrote an excellent report on how to directly address issues of equity which can be found here.  Be sure to read the section on 'belonging.'

In Detroit, they approached the issue of equity by creating a masterplan that provided guidelines for hosting outdoor events and arts programming. Experience showed them that outdoor events tended to feel more democratic and welcoming than events hosted indoors, and their plan provided guidelines for ensuring that a large range of experiences would be provided in order to attract as wide a range of audience members as possible.

In Phoenix, the Cultural Connections project provided temporary public art commissions that helped to activate the pedestrian experience downtown. Project managers made sure the call to artists framed the proposals in terms of local concerns. One of the projects “Feast on the Street” brought forward a larger conversation about access to healthy food sources, urban gardening, and the resources needed to eat healthful food. Another project "Ground Cover" raised the issue of housing and comfort by providing materials to create blankets for those in need.

Gentrification and the arts is anothor topic that frequently enters the equity conversation. It is a complex issue that warrents much further discussion beyond the Exploring Our Town Storybook.  This article by Anne Gadwa Nicodemus is a good starting point.

Working with Regulations

Dealing directly with municipal regulations is a fact of life for most projects, especially the complex projects that work to directly impact design and development options within highly urbanized areas.

In Large Urban Our Town projects, the impact of regulations most often emerged when temporary art was part of the project –- either as a direct focus or as a supporting activity.  These activities often surfaced a regulatory “no-mans land” where events or objects were too small to be addressed by festival permitting requirements or more permanent building regulations.

In San Jose, CA, for example, the Silicon Valley Inside/Out (SVI/O) project supported numerous temporary art installations that focused on the intersection of art and technology. As they worked to install various temporary installations, project managers found that two different departments held the same responsibility for authorizing elements related to street closures and permits for events. Though they were eventually able to resolve the issue, they had to work closely and patiently with city staff to find the appropriate solution.

If embarking upon the creation of a new program or installation in a public space, remember to leave ample time for the permitting process.  Many cities do not have regulations in place to approve temporary installations, and can require up to 6 months to approve standard permanent installations or large-scale performances. Leave as much time as possible when starting project planning and try to meet with city officials who can help you to identify existing requirements and call out any potential roadblocks. 

Valuing the Unique Work of Each Artist

Recognizing, and harnessing, the potential contribution of each artist within a project often entails additional effort by project managers to understand the specific perspective an artist bring to the table and the ways in which they can most fully contribute.  

As one project manager remarked, “each artist has his/her standards of practice that often can be different from another artist's…. Trying to find common ground "of, by and for" artists is an on-going, and challenging, opportunity and requires the effort of the entire staff and many board members.” 

Those differences that artists bring can also provide great opportunities for thinking in new ways about how standard project planning take place. 

As project manager Tom Borup said in the Minneapolis Plan-It Hennepin project, “why couldn’t our traffic and pedestrian planning be done with a choreographer?”  Project partner Tom Hoch from the Hennepin Theatre Trust further explained, “artists and arts organizations have people that have tremendous skill sets – it’s artificial to assume that those skills only work inside the theater or the studio – those skills transfer into the creation of the public realm as well.”