Want to Know Where Funding for Creative Placemaking Is Headed? Start Here

The popularity of creative placemaking shows no signs of abating. And with lots of money in this space, backing a diverse range of activities, it's important to know how funders are thinking. A challenge here, though, is that there is no universally accepted definition of creative placemaking. The Kresge Foundation 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." 

Maybe the best way to keep a finger on the pulse of creative placemaking funding right now is to watch ArtPlace America, the 10-year collaborative of foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions that "works to position arts and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development in order to help strengthen the social, physical, and economic fabric of communities." (Okay, there's one definition for you.)

Earlier this year, we took a look at the 80 finalists that ArtPlace America selected for its 2016 National Creative Placemaking Fund. Now, ArtPlace America has announced the winning 29 creative placemaking projects.

So what does this latest round indicate about where this new funding field is going? 

For starters, you may be forgiven for thinking that creative placemaking is an urban phenomenon. This is generally an accurate assumption, given how closely this movement has been associated with today's urban renaissance, but ArtPlace is determined not to ignore rural areas, as so many funders do. In fact, rural areas—which often lack any clear means to jump-start economic activity and community vitality—may benefit even more than cities from strategic arts grantmaking that has those goals in mind. So it's good to see that ArtPlace's grantmaking has developed an increasingly rural bent. According to the funder:

The U.S. Census estimates that approximately 20 percent of the US population lives in rural communities, and now ArtPlace’s cumulative portfolio percentage investment in rural communities is 21 percent—aligned with the geographic spread of the country's population. Almost 30 percent of our 2016 investments are in rural communities, reflecting a concerted and sustained effort to support this population.

Meanwhile, seven of the 29 winning projects—that's 59 percent for those keeping track at home—were classified as "urban" in nature. These projects netted a total of approximately $6.17 million of the total payout of roughly $11 million.

This approach aligns with our analysis of ArtPlace back when it issued a call for submissions earlier this year. At the time, we noted that the funder was keen on broadening its project portfolio while embracing geographic diversity. The numbers suggest it's managed to create a nice balance between town and country.

Let's take a look at an example of each, shall we?

In the "urban" category, Desert Botanical Garden, which received $496,500, will complete the design and construction of an 18-acre urban farm and amphitheater as a solution to the lack of access to nutritious food in South Phoenix, Arizona.

And in the "rural" category, Adams, Massachusetts' Old Stone Mill, equipped with $325,000, will restore and reuse an historic mill as a zero-waste maker space, serve as a center for economic innovation, and function as part of the region’s brand of cultural creation. If you've ever been to Adams, you'll know that this area of New England needs all the help it can get in the wake of factory closings. An art museum in North Adams is an important boost and, with similar projects, the area's cultural offerings could become a stronger magnet for more visitors and new residents. 

One final point. If you're a nascent practitioner of creative placemaking, ArtPlace has a soft spot for newcomers. Of the 29 funded projects, 72 percent were first-time applicants and 97 percent received funding for the first time. 

The complete list of 2016 funded projects may be found here.