Roadmap: More Operational Guidance from a Creative Placemaking Leader

In a recent post surveying the state of arts philanthropy, I noted that organizations have been aligning with the impulse of funders to address issues like social justice, inequality, and engaging diverse audiences. Creative placemaking has been integral to this alignment, as proponents, armed with a growing body of research, demonstrate how the arts can strengthen the economic and social fabric of communities. 

The Kresge Foundation's Arts & Culture Program, now entering its seventh year of funding creative placemaking activities in urban, low-income neighborhoods, has led the way in promoting best practices in this space. A few years back, it partnered with the NEA to launch a creative placemaking technical assistance program. And last year, two Kresge partners—ArtPlace America and Transportation for America—kicked off a "rigorous national examination" to solve related transportation challenges.

Now comes word that the program has launched a series of white papers to help grantmakers and practitioners more successfully integrate arts and culture into community development.

The first paper, "The Kresge Foundation Arts & Culture Program: The First Decade," traces the evolution of the program from providing capital challenge grants to foundation's current creative placemaking strategy. Check it out here.

Combing through white papers may not sound particularly electrifying, but it's critically important. Kresge has admitted as much, noting that "many elements of creative placemaking are not well understood, and that lack of clarity inhibits more widespread adoption of the practice." 

What's more, given creative placemaking's surging popularity, we're seeing variations in how funders are tackling the issue in terms of intended audience. Take recent funding decisions by ArtPlace America. After allocating roughly 30 percent of investments to rural communities last year, the funder boosted that number to 52 percent for 2017's round of funding, underscoring a rural creative placemaking field brimming with vibrancy, innovation and economic opportunity.

Kresge, meanwhile, tends to views creative placemaking through a more urban lens. Last year, it published two case studies on successful creative placemaking efforts in Cleveland and Washington, D.C. In both cities, planners were able to allay residents' concerns about encroaching gentrification.

That being said, there's a great deal of thematic overlap between rural and urban creative placemaking efforts. All successful initiatives, to quote Regina R. Smith, Kresge's managing director of the foundation’s Arts & Culture Program, should reflect "the authentic characters and histories of neighborhoods and communities."

Rural and urban practitioners also grapple with similar operational challenges. Examples include measuring the effectiveness of a project or acquiring the skills to leverage applicable "capital and financial instruments," to quote Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors President and CEO Melissa Berman. 

And as creative placemaking continues to evolve, certain issues take on greater urgency. Case in point: Kresge's recent interest in how planners can integrate arts into civic and transportation projects.

Bottom line? The field remains fluid, and I predict that future Kresge white papers will move the dial even further for practitioners. Upcoming topics include "neighborhood change and tracking progress," "equitable outcomes and systemic change," "financing creative placemaking," and "arts & culture and local anchor strategies."

"Through this series," said Ms. Smith, "we hope our experiences will help peer funders, community organizations, development professionals and others better navigate their own journeys to impactful, locally-driven integration of arts, culture, and design into community development."