The Complex Funder Pushing Creative Placemaking With Millions in New Grants

Today, ArtPlace America is announcing the winners of its 2015 grants and asked if we wanted to take a first look at where $10 million in funds is heading. Of course we did, since we've long been super-interested in ArtPlace, and for a couple of reasons.

First, it's the premier grantmaking outfit that's underwriting creative placemakingthe practice, which is red-hot right now, of using the arts to boost communities (to put things really simply). Second, ArtPlace is an unusually muscular funders collaborative, one with a 10-year horizon that includes not just top foundations, but financial institutions and government agencies.

ArtPlace's grantmaking backs creative placemaking initiatives around the country in a diverse set of communities, many of which may not otherwise have access to some of the heavy hitters ArtPlace brings to the table. That includes Bloomberg, Ford, Rockefeller, the NEA and Department of Education, Chase, Morgan Stanley and others.


This year, ArtPlace is distributing $10 million pooled from participating funders to 38 organizations across 26 states in communities of various sizes, all toward the goal of community development through creative placemaking. This brings the total of ArtPlace’s national grants program funding to $66.8 million across 43 states and the District of Columbia. With these grants, ArtPlace has now funded 227 creative placemaking projects in 152 communities in the U.S.

That's some serious money, and these grants have come along at a moment when there's surging interest in urban living, with young creative types on the vanguard of that surge. We live at a moment, too, when community leaders now really understand how important it is to be friendly to artists. 

Executive Director Jamie Bennett says, "There continues to be a growing understanding in this country that artists are the one asset that exists in every community and that artists have a unique value to add when they work alongside other citizens in shaping the futures of their communities."

Yet before you conjure images of hipster gentrification, take a look at the current list of winners of this year's awards. We were struck by the attention to communities in distressed and depressed areas of the country, including rural areas. That reflects ArtPlace's aim to create a diverse portfolio. As ArtPlace's Director of Partnerships and Communications Prentice Onayemi told IP: "Our grantmaking strategy is to build a cumulative portfolio that is a microcosm of the many communities and strategies that comprise the creative placemaking field."

ArtPlace has a pretty complicated methodology for making awards, but the bottom line is that it is keenly attuned to connecting the arts to a wide range of sectors that drive community development. Those sectors include agriculture and food; economic development; environment and open space; immigration and social justice; and workforce development. These areas are indeed a focus with the organizations that received funding this year.

ArtPlace's grantmaking model seems even more elaborate when you consider the role of community input in the process. ArtPlace's Director of National Grantmaking F. Javier Torres says:

Each one of these grants supports a geographic community: a collection of people who live, work, and play within a defined circle on a map. In each case, a community development challenge or opportunity was identified by local stakeholders; and these 38 grantees are serving as conduits for their community's desires by leading arts-based solutions through their projects.

Yup, lots of moving parts with ArtPlace, both with the range of funders at the table and the way it gives out its money. 

So who were the grant winners? Here's a sampling of some of the organizations that received funding in this cycle:

Re-Locate Kivalina (Kivalina, AK, $500,000) - Kivalina is an Inupiat community of 400 people on the Northwest coast of Alaska who have been planning to relocate for generations out of desires for improved infrastructure and to re-inhabit traditional lands. Re-Locate is a collective of ethnographic artists and interdisciplinary partners working on a community-driven planning process to generate momentum around the relocation process while celebrating the local culture.

Five Points Cultural Commission (Montgomery, AL, $150,000) - The Five Points and surrounding community in downtown Montgomery is a socioeconomically and racially diverse area that has been neglected for decades. The Five Points Cultural Commission will create a neighborhood gathering space, hold outdoor food and cultural events, and facilitate interactive community art projects in order to overcome the psychological barriers that perpetuate racial divisions and hinder social interaction in the community. 

American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (Grand Canyon, AZ, $500,000) - The 11 Native American tribes traditionally associated with the Grand Canyon will work with the National Park Service to repurpose the Desert View Area and historic Watchtower from gift shops into an inter-tribal cultural heritage center and marketplace.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco, CA, $250,000) - An open call for creative ways to improve Market Street—which runs through the heart of San Francisco and can feel uninviting and
disjointed—yielded hundreds of submissions from citizens and organizations. In Spring 2015, Market Street came alive with 50 prototypes that included performance spaces, relaxation zones, and dynamic art pieces. The city’s response to the inaugural Market Street Prototyping Festival was overwhelmingly positive, and paved the way for a continuation of the plan, which includes several prototyping events; with the next "mini" installation happening in Fall 2015 and the next festival happening in Fall 2016.

Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Dept. (Miami, FL, $200,000) - "The Underline" is a 10-mile corridor underneath the Metrorail, which extends from downtown Miami to the southern edge of its core. This urban trail and linear park is within a 10-minute walk for thousands of residents, hundreds of businesses, and millions of annual visitors to the city. The project is currently in the master planning phase to create a world-class linear park that reflects the thinking of artists through innovative public art interventions that engage the community.

Horizon Theatre Company (Atlanta, GA, $170,000) - The Little Five Points community of Atlanta is an arts-retail district known for its alternative flavor and diversity since the 1970s. Increased petty crime in the area has led to a negative reputation, despite the number of local arts and cultural amenities. After a six-month community planning process, Horizon Theatre Company and the L5P Community Improvement District Steering Committee will partner with local arts organizations and artists for a nine-month series of outdoor performances and installations. This effort will engage local businesses, instill community pride, and draw visitors to experience the community as a safe and welcoming destination.

Silk Road Rising (Naperville, IL, $150,000) - Naperville is home to one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the nation. Members of the Muslim community have attempted to build a mosque on unincorporated land but have been denied zoning permits to proceed. To shed light on biases that diminish the community's social fabric, the multimedia theater group Silk Road Rising will implement "Mosque Alert," a civic engagement project that dramatizes the difficulties Muslim Americans often face when attempting to integrate with their local communities.

Kentucky Center for African American Heritage (Louisville, KY, $280,000) - The Mayor’s Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods is investing in projects to reduce violence and increase educational attainment among young African Americans. The Kentucky Center for African American Heritage will support a collective of Louisville-based artists to lead immersive public workshops that blend traditional West African and Appalachian arts with contemporary urban performance techniques. These workshops seek to decrease youth violence and increase youth participation in community development efforts alongside other municipal investments and strategies.

ArtsEmerson (Boston, MA, $450,000) - Boston’s downtown arts district, formerly labeled the "combat zone," has long struggled with racial and social discord, and through intentional displacement of ethnic minority communities has now become home to private universities—including Emerson College. The College first moved to the neighborhood in the mid-1990s, when it acquired its properties through an agreement with the city to rehabilitate the spaces and return them to public-facing use. ArtsEmerson will create a series of residencies that take these venues and transform them into spaces for citywide engagement around the complex civic challenges of race, class, and equity.

These are only some of the projects around the country that ArtPlace has chosen to direct funding toward. For a full list of this year's grant recipients, you can check its updated website later when it releases the official announcement.

So what does the next five years hold for ArtPlace, with millions more in grants slated to head out the door? Onayemi told IP:

There are sectors, networks, and communities that our grantmaking does not yet fully reach. The next five years will require increased effort on targeted outreach, relationship-building, and investments that strengthen the field. 

In other words, an outfit that already casts a pretty wide net sounds like it plans to go even wider. Does that make for effective grantmaking? Don't ask us, ask ArtPlace, since it's also spending to evaluate what it's doing. We'll be interested to see the findings.