Redirection Takes Root

ArtPlace’s bold declaration of a new direction came with another change. As Jeremy Nowak’s tenure as interim director was coming to an end, a new executive director was named: Jamie Bennett, a philanthropy professional with wide experience in the arts sector who had worked as Rocco Landesman’s chief of staff at the NEA during the genesis of ArtPlace.

In January 2014 Bennett officially took up his new position. Leading a staff of one — Lyz Crane, the sole staff member who transitioned from the early team and was now promoted to deputy director — Bennett immediately began laying the groundwork to operationalize the strategic plan.

But first, preparations for a second Creative Placemaking Summit, slated for March, had to be attended to.

JAN 2014
Jamie Bennett Takes Lead
Jamie Bennett’s tenure as Executive Director begins

MAR 2014
ArtPlace Summit
The ArtPlace community gathers in Los Angeles

JUN 2014
2014 Grants Announced
2014 ArtPlace grants are announced to 55 projects totaling $14.7 million

OCT 2014
New Directions
Staff propose and funders approve suite of new field-building strategies and approaches to grant-making

OCT 2014
Matrix Unveiled
ArtPlace adopts the Community Development Matrix to guide its field-building work

Declarations in LA
When the Summit convened at the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles, ArtPlace had a chance to embed its new emphasis on broad field-building into the very structure of the gathering. While the 2013 Summit had proceeded in the usual manner of plenary sessions plus multiple breakouts, 2014 attendees spent most of their time in a single big group. “The idea was to create a shared conversation about field-building, a commons,” says Crane, “and to position ArtPlace as a container, not a viewpoint.”
Bennett addressed people from the gathered funded projects and others, laying out ArtPlace’s new direction. He dubbed the grantees “delegates” who would advance the cause of creative placemaking and support its transition from a movement to a field. He affirmed that ArtPlace would commission and support creative placemaking research for the benefit of all practitioners, and that the organization would lead and foster a range of field-building strategies and activities in the creative placemaking community.
Crane also presented at the Summit on “Creative Placemaking: In(tention)s + Out(come)s,” a message designed to root creative placemaking outcomes in the broader notion of intentionality, rather than in a single set of outcomes (such as the Vibrancy Indicators) that would be applied to any community. This concept would eventually lead staff to develop what became known as ArtPlace’s “four points” of creative placemaking: 1 What is the geographic community? — grounding the practice in place-based change
2 What is the desired community change? — establishing a clear intention to address a challenge or opportunity, and making sure that intention is defined by the community
3 How will the arts help achieve that change? — intentionally directing artistic practice and activities toward the desired change
4 How will you know that change is happening? — allowing each project and community to self-define what change (and success) looks like
New Staffers, New Tools
As Bennett settled in, it was clear that the 2013 strategic plan — focused on fostering creative placemaking as a discipline within the complex context of community development — needed a firm scaffolding of research, theory, and practice if it was to move forward with real momentum in the seven years that remained before ArtPlace’s sunset.
As the year progressed, ArtPlace added key staff members to help build out this vision. F. Javier Torres was brought on to help evolve the national grant-making, at this point about to enter its fifth round, to align with the new direction. Jamie Hand was hired to take charge of devising new research strategies and saw her mandate as supporting ArtPlace’s field-building goals by developing resources for creative placemaking practitioners that were “both useful and used.” Prentice Onayemi was hired as Director of Partnerships and Communications to help develop strategies for reaching new audiences.
Together, Hand and Onayemi, working with the newly cast team, developed a tool that would be officially launched in 2015 to help guide the organization for the rest of its existence: the Community Development Matrix.
The matrix highlighted ten areas by which, as an ArtPlace blog post explained at the time, “the community planning and development world self-organizes.” In its final form, the ten sectors were Agriculture and Food, Economic Development, Environment and Energy, Health, Housing, Immigration, Public Safety, Transportation, Workforce Development, and Youth Development. It also included five types of actors who are commonly involved in community change: Civic, Social, and Faith-Based; Commercial; Government; Nonprofit; and Philanthropic.
The purpose of the matrix was for ArtPlace to begin thinking about field-building from an “audience-based” approach. Basically, this meant identifying who and what the people and professions are that embody comprehensive community planning and development, and how ArtPlace might understand how arts and culture can play a role in their practice. This matrix would soon become the basis for much of ArtPlace’s work in research, communications, and grant-making.
A Summing-Up
At a meeting of the Funders Council in October, ArtPlace’s funders approved the implementation plan that Bennett and the new team had developed over the course of 2014. The year ended with the launch of a special issue of the Community Development Innovation Review, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and guest-edited by Laura Callanan, senior deputy chairman of the NEA, with help from many others, including ArtPlace’s Jamie Bennett, Lyz Crane, and Prentice Onayemi. In ten essays, a range of contributors summed up the theoretical and practical progress of creative placemaking to date.
Bennett’s essay in the collection, “Creative Placemaking in Community Planning and Development: An Introduction to ArtPlace America,” not only reintroduced the organization and underlined its commitment to community development (“ArtPlace has adopted the language of community planning and development as the framework and context for understanding the impact of our investments,” Bennett wrote); it also put forward four crucial areas of community betterment that had emerged from projects funded by ArtPlace — economic development, civic engagement, resiliency (recovery after calamity), and quality of life — along with four ways creative placemaking worked: anchoring, activating, “fixing,” and planning. Sixteen write-ups of funded projects followed, illustrating these principles in practice — a mosaic of ArtPlace’s contributions in the organization’s first four years.
The Village of Arts and Humanities
ArtPlace’s shift from an economic-development paradigm centered around the Vibrancy Indicators to a more broadly based community-development model that allowed for a wider range of potential outcomes came as a pleasant surprise for one organization.
When Aviva Kapust and her colleagues at the Village of Arts and Humanities in Philadelphia applied for a National Creative Placemaking Fund (NCPF) grant from ArtPlace in 2014, they were pretty sure they wouldn’t get it. They were skeptical about the creative-placemaking concept as they had seen it discussed and applied previously, and, Kapust says, they weren’t willing to be as specific about what they were going to do as most funders required.
They were proposing to hire artists in residence for a sprawling complex of rehabbed row houses and community art-parks and gardens, whose programming focused on community development through the arts. “But we couldn’t necessarily tell them who the artists were going to be,” Kapust says, “or what the projects were going to be. All we could say was that we had this process for answering those questions, and we had this program that has a certain set of values.”
From African Dance to Community Development
Those values are rooted in the origin of the Village, which lay in the work of a remarkable dancer and choreographer named Arthur Hall. In 1968 he and some friends established the Ile Ife (Yoruba for “House of Love” or ”House of Creation”) Black Humanitarian Center in North Philadelphia. Here Hall taught West African dance and drumming to community members. Ile Ife dancers and drummers toured internationally, and the center became a focal point of the Black Arts Movement in North Philly, a symbol of pride and hope during the 1970s, a time of turmoil and disinvestment in the neighborhood.
When Hall hired public artist Lily Yeh in 1986 to transform a vacant lot adjoining the building into Ile Ife Park, he set in motion the transformation of Ile Ife into the Village of Arts and Humanities. Yeh, stonemason Joseph (JoJo) Williams, mosaicist James “Big Man” Maxton, and many other community members went on to create more than twenty parks, gardens, and sculptures in the neighborhood, with images and motifs from African sacred traditions and local styles of expression. Meanwhile, the Village became a nonprofit under Yeh’s leadership, promoting arts-based neighborhood revitalization in myriad ways.
An Old-School Plan
A previous director of the Village had initiated a plan for a conventional artist residency, with a mid-career professional artist working in a well-equipped studio, and had secured a Knight Foundation grant for it, one that required matching funds.
“That residency plan never really sat well with us,” Kapust says. This was partly because the row houses the organization owned didn’t offer the right kind of studio space, but mostly because the idea of an artist flying in to deliver artworks to the community didn’t jibe with the Village’s convictions.
“I don’t recall asking Knight’s permission to change the residency plan completely,” Kapust says. “But we did! We redesigned it in the image of what we felt the Village itself was, and what Ile Ife before it had been — products of artists working with, alongside, and for community members, using art as a tool. Art-based thinking, art-based doing, to create change in a very tangible, legible, inspirational, and aspirational way.
“Really what that looked like in practice,” she adds, “was art-based community development, or creative placemaking, right?”
To Kapust and her team’s considerable surprise, ArtPlace said yes to their far-from-finalized application, giving the Village a $280,000 grant to augment the Knight funding. “We used the Knight money to rehab some row houses as residences for multiple artists,” Kapust says, “and the ArtPlace grant mainly went towards salaries for the visiting and the neighborhood artists, and towards supporting the events they would create.”
Food, Music, Hope—and Relationship
What emerged was a trio of ambitious projects.
Led by the Philadelphia-based community-arts collective Amber Art and Design, The Village Table was a series of four sit-down four-course public dinners in the Village’s Meditation Park. Community members could score VIP tickets to the events by building tables and other furniture, or by contributing a personal recipe. The cards on which contributors wrote their recipes also had questions to answer about neighborhood needs, which turned out to be a highly efficient way of surveying residents’ opinions, with an 85 percent response rate. Recipe contributors were also invited to help harvest meal ingredients at the Village’s PhillyEarth urban demonstration farm. And the meals served as kickoffs for other dinners in which nutritionists counseled attendees about healthy eating options.
King Britt, a Philadelphia DJ, producer, and composer with an international following, launched a community-based record label called Playback Musik, working with neighborhood artists to produce a full-length album, which debuted on local radio station WKDU and at a live concert and film showing. Another live event was The Stoop, a series of six outdoor listening parties at the artists’ residence. Participants and passersby were invited to share songs and respond musically to social issues.
And the ongoing People’s Paper Co-Op, led by Mark Strandquist, Courtney Bowles, Faith Bartley, and neighborhood artists, connects formerly incarcerated people with artists, lawyers, and others to help them advocate for themselves as they navigate life after incarceration. One notable, and symbolic, element is a papermaking initiative in which formerly incarcerated people turn their printed criminal records into paper pulp, out of which they create new, blank sheets of paper that are sewn together in a huge quilt. The overall Co-Op project involved many other efforts to help the formerly incarcerated and advocate for criminal-justice reform. Today the project focuses solely on female ex-offenders because, as Kapust notes, “It became very, very clear from the Co-Op’s work that there were, like, 150 percent more resources for men who were formerly incarcerated than for women.”
The artist-residency work had many aspects and many impacts. But looking back, Kapust sees their major significance in terms of relationship.
“One of the greatest results was that brand-new and really, really different relationships were forged between people who had never interacted with each other,” she says. “Multigenerational relationships. Relationships between genders. And people who had never experienced learning and creating together.”
What most stands out to me is the utterly unsexy matrix, ushered in under Jamie Bennett’s leadership. It was such a stark contrast from ArtPlace’s slick, colorful rollout and efforts like its Vibrancy Indicators, which garnered media attention but generated controversy with folks working on the ground. ArtPlace thoughtfully parsed the foci (housing, transportation, health, etc.) and sectors of the community development world. This allowed it to strategically orient all its work towards the goal of getting arts and culture strategies to be a core component of community development. It’s made considerable inroads towards that goal.
— Anne Gadwa Nicodemus
Anne Gadwa Nicodemus is a choreographer/arts administrator turned urban planner who founded Metris Arts Consulting and leads its work. She oversees strategic direction and daily operations and frequently serves as lead technical contributor for projects.