What Does Creative Placemaking Mean to Your Community?

by Paulette Beete
Participants pair up for an exercise during the first SHIFT professional development workshop presented by the Arts Incubator of the Rockies, a project supported by a 2011 NEA Our Town grant. Photo © Harper Point Photography

Participants pair up for an exercise during the first SHIFT professional development workshop presented by the Arts Incubator of the Rockies, a project supported by a 2011 NEA Our Town grant. Photo © Harper Point Photography

To celebrate our latest round of Our Town grants to support creative placemaking projects, we asked our Twitter followers and Facebook fans to tell us what creative placemaking means in their communities. Read what they had to say and then add your own definition in the comments!

"Through art, we enrich the roots of our nation, empowering a creative foundation."---Taylor B.

"I see creative placemaking as an intersection between public art and community engagement. It can not only transform the aesthetic of a location, but it can be thought-provoking, inspiring a dialogue among the members of a community about the past, present, and future of a specific site." --- Jeffrey S.

"At Inside Out we find creative placemaking in our work when we teach youth the confidence and skills to express what's on their minds. The original plays that our middle school participants write and perform address needs for change in homes, families, schools, neighborhoods, cities, the nation and the world. These play topics spark community conversations, which we see as the perfect catalyst for progress. Young people see the world in ways we often cannot and by simply listening, we begin to believe that change is necessary and possible---the next step is creating the space in which a community can take action toward collaborative growth. --- Inside Out Community Arts

"Our students use poetry to celebrate the particular wonders of the places they call home! We also try to showcase youth poetry in public venues like libraries, lighthouses, galleries, and other fun sites!" -- California Poets in the Schools

"In our community the artists at my middle school created scavenger hunt artworks based on images of our area. We created two large paintings placed on either end of the River Greenway Trail, which connects our art center and a state park. We then made and painted birdhouses that contain smaller sections of the large paintings, and created flyers for people to use while hunting down the images. The students expressed their ideas of our community and created an interactive communal work of art that can be enjoyed by all." --- Hallie K.

"Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, New York, is quite literally the center of our town---it is our arts center offering theater, opera, dance, and music performances. But also classes in all of the above---it is a very small, rural town. It is also where ideas on everything are exchanged in The Curiosity Forum. Everything that happens here is from the ground up. When there is a spark in the community, Hubbard Hall fans the fire. The quality of the work being done here rivals New York City---and in many cases has led to engagements in New York for our performers. We may be in a tiny rural town, but we are, nevertheless, a sophisticated audience and one that is quite supportive of the performers. Sometimes we even house them. But in one extraordinary performance of Rachmaninoff, each time the enthusiastic performer stabbed at his viola he rocked his chair closer to the edge of the riser, there was no way he was going to finish the piece without dropping off the edge of the stage----an audience member quietly knelt behind his seat and held it on-stage for the rest of the performance. The audience saw this, but the performer was never made aware of it, and the piece ended to thundering applause.---Leslie Parke Studio

"I am midway through my sixth large public mural project with ArtWorks in Cincinnati, Ohio, and we are involved in creative placemaking on a grand scale. Artists like myself are empowered to engage with community partners to find ways in which the arts can solve complex problems across disciplines, and can build a strong sense of identity and place. Working with youth representing a cross-section of our city, teams of artists research and present solutions to these problems in a way that exposes them to the history and spirit of a neighborhood. It also builds confidence and introduces them to a network of artists and professionals in other fields. Those involved are thrilled to contribute to a beautiful work of public art that will be embraced by its community. Neighborhoods come to be identified by the works of art they contain; these works become way finders, symbolize pride, tell us about history, and spark discussion.

"These high school- and college-aged apprentices are learning about one another, about their city, and about their own abilities to be bridge builders in communities. They will be able after two months---and two decades---to point to something in which they had a hand, perhaps one day bringing their children to see their work and be inspired to do something similar.

"Art improves lives, strengthens communities, and has the ability to make places quite special. It is an important layer of experience that transforms 'somewhere' into 'here.'" --- Jenny U.

"In Mount Rainier, Maryland, the arts community is partnering with local businesses, two community development corporations, four cities, and Prince George’s County to enliven the Mount Rainier town center and increase the regional visibility of the Gateway Arts District using a mix of temporary projects and equity investments to support existing small business, attract commercial in-fill, prepare for new anchor developments, and further strengthen our diverse, creative, streetwise communities. This is Art Lives Here." --- Art Lives Here

"Placemaking = collaborative community initiative to make 'special'---a neighborhood/community/city where untapped possibility and potential exists that people are made aware of by the happenings, activities, and events that are presented/produced/created there." --- Sculpture Space, Inc.

"It means a great organization like Springboard for the Arts in Minnesota with their Irrigate project that focuses placemaking along our new high-speed public transportation corridor." --- Amy U.

"It means being affordable enough to work a single job with lots of free time to create. I also think it's important to have an informed audience that is more interested in buying what they like rather than what they think would make a good investment." --- Carrie Journell

"In our community, artists and members of arts [organiztions] that use our space, our facility, and our resources to develop their skills are asked to engage with community in return for the use of space. The artists are asked to offer up the range of skills they have while the community is asked about the arts and what they would like to create, promote, and dedicate time to learn. The artists and community are matched up, then we dig a little deeper to develop a program, project, or event that may push the artist beyond what they consider engagement (or introduce them to it) and connect the community with the artist and the art form. Creative placemaking for our community is about instigating the artist to work with the community in which they reside and for community to actively participate in the conception, process, and practice of art. Our hope is that we focus locally, to plant small seeds and grow relationships between art + community and artists + community and artists + artists. There is always more work to do, but we are incredibly excited about the possibilities." --- East L.A. Rep

"Creative placemaking is listening to your organization's community and finding ways to connect your mission to their interests." -- Rhode Island State Council of the Arts

"Creative placemaking is mining an echo chamber for statements of justice, anger, bliss, the sublime ... everything that bursts forth." --- Jonelle W.

"Where ideas become corporeal. Tangible evidence of community identity through art." --- Chad S.