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

ArtPlace America recently announced it secured close to $28 million in funding to support creative placemaking from 14 foundations, including its newest partner, the Barr Foundation in Boston. This development further underscores the growing impact creative placemaking is having on communities and nonprofit arts organizations across the country.

Before we take a closer look at why creative placemaking is ascendant, let's first look at what it means. ArtPlace America defines it as an approach that uses the arts to "shape the social, physical, and economic futures of communities." That sounds nice, but it would probably be more helpful to look at this approach in practice, which brings us to the first reason why creative placemaking is enjoying such success: The approach epitomizes "localism in action."

Previous examples of creative placemaking projects funded by ArtPlace America include:

  • An effort to revitalize a commercial district in Chattanooga, TN, led by the local Glass House Collective.
  • "Fermentation Fest," a project to stimulate collaborations between artists and the farming community in Sauk County, WI.
  • The reactivation of the Higo Garden Hub through the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle.

In addition, creative placemaking is predicated on the idea that the "arts" can be a destination. We often hear about efforts to create immersive arts experiences or how groups strive to integrate the arts into the daily lives of audiences or viewers. Yet these efforts often languish due to the sheer inflexibility of the programming model. Experiences like exhibitions or symphonies have fixed beginning and end points.

Creative placemaking takes a different approach. It puts the place itself front and center. The place itself is the art (as strange as that may sound). This approach generates two positive outcomes. First, creative placemaking capitalizes on the distinctiveness of a place. In the for-profit world we call this "differentiation" and it works to create a unique brand awareness that resonates with viewers. Second, it creates places where people want to go and, over time, can lead to greater economic activity and development courtesy of the private sector.

Of course, all of ArtPlace America's efforts would be slightly less compelling if foundations didn't go along with their vision. Fortunately, they are. If following the money is any reasonable barometer, creative placemaking has a bright future. In addition to its new funder, the Barr Foundation, ArtPlace America has 13 other groups on board, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Ford Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation (check out IP's take on their Arts and Culture program here), the McKnight Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Not too shabby.