Beyond the Building: Performing Arts and Transforming Place

Pre-conference survey questions and responses

Morning Discussion: When is performance "Placemaking"?


  1. Discuss the range of activity, from community engagement and development to placemaking strategies that performing arts organizations employ;

  2. Address whether performing arts groups feel excluded from the conversations surrounding creative placemaking, and if so, why.

Questions and Key Summary Points: Click on the title of each question for a link to the complete summary of responses.

  1. Language & Framing: What does "creative placemaking" mean to your organization? Has your organization framed "creative placemaking" in other terms, or in other language?

    • In part because of the association with physical space and the built environment, ‘creative placemaking” does not seem to have gained currency in the performing arts field.  Community engagement is a more common - but not ubiquitous – frame used in the performing arts.​
    • Alterative frameworks and language describing practices were offered that emphasized ways that performing artists and organization operate in a community.
  2. Place & Mission: How does the work of your organization relate to the place and community within which it is situated? In what ways have you engaged in creative placemaking strategies?  How might you see creative placemaking as part of your organization's operational or artistic missions or philosophy? 

    • Responses from place-based performing groups and presenters included several whose missions are shifting to reflect the view of their civic role.  Performing arts leaders are active community leaders. Program examples (too many to include in this summary) illuminated myriad ways the performing arts provide ongoing rather than episodic contributions to creative placemaking in their communities including projects and programs that investigate history and issues, tell local stories, introduce new ideas, create new social platforms, engage marginalized people, model democracy and inclusivity and drive local economies. Some have become centers for health and well being while others are activating places and spaces beyond their own halls and walls. They have challenges in supporting development while being cautious of gentrification that may affect them or the communities they intend to serve.
    • National service organizations broadly connect their missions with creative placemaking objectives. Theresa Ewing’s observation could be generalized: “through all of our programs, whether convenings, research, publications, grantmaking or advocacy, we are working to strengthen and promote the theatre field--with the hope that theatres and theatre artists will in turn be or become integral to the health and vitality of their communities.”  All cited both general and specific programs and services that, in the past or currently, encourage, inform and in some cases incentivize responsible community engagement. Several initiatives such as the APAP’s Wallace funded Arts Partners program and Dance USA’s Engaging Dance Audiences supported by Duke were cited as having “profound” impact on field practice.  National conferences were mentioned for distinct creative placemaking contributions to host cities throughout the country –when they are planned with local engagement and use, highlight and boost local artists and venues citywide. They bring a national eye to the host cities that can reinforce creative placemaking strategies. Several noted their own local creative placemaking activities - others highlighted the innate placemaking value of certain practices.
  3. Events & Effects: How can temporary performance events transform and imbue lasting meaning and change within particular spaces and communities? How are they tied to broader social and environmental strategies?

    • Some respondents challenged the idea that performance experiences do not have lasting value and offered transformative benefits that may be produced - including endowment of  physical space with meaning or producing new ways of imaging space.  Performance was noted for its particular ability to create psychic space where new possibilities can form and empathy emerge. This power is derived from story and narrative. Temporal performance events are even more effective when experienced as an element of other civic activity or dialogues (or when linked with programming).  As well, temporal events create the experience of participation on which further community engagement can be built.
    • Some voiced that view that for performance to have lasting value, it must emerge from intentional work and relationship building.  It is through relationships that lasting impact can be achieved.


Afternoon Discussion: What are the opportunities and challenges to performing arts organizations engaging in placemaking strategies?

Goal: Discuss the challenges, both internally and externally, for performing artists or organizations seeking to engage in placemaking.

Questions and Key Summary Points: Click on the title of each question for a link to the complete summary of responses.

  4.  Issues & Impact: What are the types of community issues or needs best addressed by placemaking activities?  What is the intent of the activity, and the impact?

  • Performance work can “make issues seen,” as noted by Ashley Sparks.  Responses enumerated an expansive list of community issues or needs* that could be addressed, including equity, racism, hunger, gentrification, immigration, community identity/history, lack of access to (arts) education/ lack of creative outlets and artistic expression, political issues, environmental concerns, public education, public health and nutrition, housing, employment, transportation, immigration, the justice system/incarceration, city/community planning, urban/rural divides, aging, gun violence, economic justice, brown fields, food deserts, abandoned neighborhoods, converted military bases, historic preservation, and more.
  • There was consensus that any issue could be undertaken. But, that “true and equal partnership between organizations” with an emphasis on listening and making space for uncomfortable ideas was critical. While performing arts can be the spark for activating neighborhood revitalization, Carlton Turner urged respect for local cultural assets and leaders. Recognizing that issues are interconnected rather than individual problems was viewed as necessary to have impact. The importance of understanding the nuance of the issues from the community, rather than assuming what they might be from the outside, was highlighted in several examples.

  5.  Relationships & Resources: What are the relationships and resources necessary for the performing arts to be effectively engaged in placemaking activities?  What are the goals and desires of each stakeholder in this work? How and when are stakeholders engaged?

  • The resource list that emerged described the internal commitments, leadership and capacities and external skills, supports and connections that could make a difference. While community engagement is a way of working for some performing artists and presenters, others called for producers, community organizers and liaisons that could help them develop the skills and capacity for effective community and cross sector work. Technology, evaluation tools, guides and “people” support were also cited. Help in making connections across sectors in the community and in government was requested. Access to and cooperation from municipal agencies (beyond local arts agencies) was cited numerous times as a valued relationship and needed resource.   Also, investment from diversified sources for creative work, as well as staff time for relationship building and program management, for complex, long term projects is needed.  Some place-based groups hoped for more attention from national funders.
  • There was agreement that relationships that can yield meaningful outcomes need time to mature and for trust to develop. The necessity of dealing with issues of equity and “with recognized power and unrecognized influence” was emphasized as was the importance of share values and everyone having “skin in the game.”
  • There was consensus that stakeholder goals are likely to be situational and making assumptions about the stakeholders is risky.  Discovery of “mutuality of purpose” is vital. Also, artists want to share work, be appreciated, and  make income.

  6.  Addressing Equity: How can performing arts organizations address issues of social and cultural inequalities and equitable access within their communities using placemaking strategies?

  • While it was acknowledged that art making and creative programming can be a platform for addressing address issues of social and cultural inequalities and equitable access, it was recognized that performing arts organizations need to be careful and committed to this work in a holistic way.
  • Some made the point that the creative work is what performing arts organizations bring to the table and it is how they work with the community to make that asset relevant that counts.
  • Several respondents noted the practices and values they have incorporated into their work.
  • Tactics cited for increasing accessibility, such as locating programs in neighborhood settings, offering free and reduced costs program, and providing transportation, are increasingly being devised in the context of community collaborations and partnerships and through community research.