Why Is Kresge Taking Creative Placemaking Nationwide?

Here's a theory. "Creative placemaking" is just another term for "gentrification." The difference? The arts is the engine of the former, while real estate profits drive the latter.

Discuss.

OK, perhaps that's a reductive comparison. But we couldn't help thinking about these differences within the context of news that the Kresge Foundation is committing $3.5 million to support nationwide creative placemaking projects spearheaded by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). With deep ties in 30 U.S. cities, the LISC is in the business of investing philanthropic dollars in communities with the goal of transforming some of America’s most distressed neighborhoods into safe, vibrant places of economic opportunity.

Creative Placemaking is also the guiding principle behind Kresge’s Arts and Culture Program, which "seeks to expand the ways different fields and sectors incorporate arts and culture into efforts to improve the social, cultural, physical, and economic conditions in low-income communities." As a result, Kresge cuts checks to organizations like LISC and ArtPlace America, which are using creative placemaking to transform their communities.

And Kresge's hardly alone in funding in this area. Many funders are excited about Creative Placemaking, which is why we called it "the future of arts funding" a while back. If your arts or community organization is not yet thinking about how to tap into this trend, it should be. 

Related - Three Reasons Why "Creative Placemaking" Represents the Future of Arts Funding

But transforming a distressed neighborhood, as we all know, is no easy task. In fact, we venture to say that it's doubly hard for creative placemakers. Hear us out for a second.

As you read this, every major U.S. city is experiencing some form of gentrification. Gentrifiers are a savvy bunch, and they go for what we call the "low-hanging fruit" first—the neighborhoods that can be gentrified relatively easily compared to others. And so the cycle perpetuates: Some areas become hip and expensive, while others remain distressed due to their relative lack of gentrification opportunity. It's precisely this latter group that creative placemaking seems most interested in, because after all, there really is no point in using creative placemaking to revitalize an already gentrified neighborhood.

This is a noble and tremendously challenging goal. It's also why Kresge's gift to LISC is so telling. Kresge understands that groups with deep ties to the communities they plan to transform will have a greater impact. It helps to build trust in among residents who can be justifiably suspicious of voracious real estate agents.

The Kresge grant will initially support creative placemaking in five of LISC’s 30 local program areasplaces where arts-related community development work is already underway but needs support to grow. Kresge is also keen on identifying and disseminating best practices, taking what works in communities and sharing it with others.

The key takeaways here? First, while Kresge is cutting the check, it is LISC doing the legwork. Which brings us to our second point. 

Creative placemaking, while exciting and full of potential, remains a relatively amorphous term in some quarters. Kresge admits this much on their Arts and Culture website, noting, "Many elements of creative placemaking are not well understood, and that lack of clarity inhibits more widespread adoption of the practice."

The good news, however, is that any arts nonprofit using the arts to transform its community is, semantically speaking, engaged in some form of creative placemaking. And if these approaches can be adopted by arts organizations elsewhere, Kresge has made it known that they'd love to hear from them.

Related - Hey, Arts Groups Looking to Get in on Creative Placemaking: Read This Post!