On Creative Placemaking, Susan Lucci, and Why It's Not So Bad Being Runner-Up

Sometimes, albeit infrequently, the runner-up can eclipse the winner in the annals of history.

Charles "Chuck" Wepner almost went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1975. He lost, but his resilience, depending on who you ask, inspired the movie Rocky. Bobby Thomson hit the most famous home run in baseball history—the "Shot Heard 'Round the World"—to win the 1951 NL pennant, yet his New York Giants went on to lose the World Series to the Yankees.

And we'd be remiss if we didn't mention soap opera star Susan Lucci, whose inability to win an Emmy—she was nominated 18 times (!) before finally breaking the drought in 1999—was an ongoing drama (pun intended, naturally) in and of itself.

So what's it all have to do with recent news courtesy of ArtPlace America? Quite a bit, in fact.

That's because the creative placemaking proponent announced 80 projects that it will consider for its 2016 National Creative Placemaking Fund. There's no guarantee every project will walk away with funding, but if sports history and daytime television are any indication, we can learn a lot from the possible runners-up.

And why is that? Two reasons. First, creative placemaking's surging popularity shows no signs of abating. Big-time funders who've embraced this strategy include the Kresge Foundation and Heinz Endowments. Schools aren't immune from creative placemaking's allure either. We recently looked at how the University of Chicago is tapping the arts—and with it, hopefully donor dollars—to revitalize a neighborhood.

In short, it's important to see what organizations are doing in this space, even if some of them don't walk away with a check.

The second reason involves the challenge of defining "creative placemaking." As previously noted, there is no universally accepted definition of the term. Kresge admits as much, saying that "many elements of creative placemaking are not well understood, and that lack of clarity inhibits more widespread adoption of the practice."  

And so, like most philanthropic buzzwords—"emerging artists" is another favorite of ours—the definition is whatever the foundation in question says it is. And since ArtPlace America is the preeminent proponent of creative placemaking—its National Creative Placemaking Fund, for the record, "invests in planning and development projects where arts and culture play a central role"—matching their definition to real-world projects can be illuminating.

Check out the full list of ArtPlace's National Creative Placemaking finalists here. These 80 projects represent six percent of the 1,361 initial applications that ArtPlace reviewed. Also click here for an interesting demographic breakdown of said finalists.

And what, precisely, is next for these finalists?

Well, they will now complete a more extensive application and schedule a site visit with a peer expert and an ArtPlace staff member. These peer experts will come together as an in-person panel to make recommendations this fall for the $10.5 million that ArtPlace will invest in this round of the National Creative Placemaking Fund.

So to all the finalists out there, good luck. And remember these immortal words by that wise sage, the Italian Stallion himself, Rocky Balboa: "Life's not about how hard of a hit you can give...it's about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward."

Now go get'em!