ARTPLACE 10 YEARS
If 2014 was the year of new leadership and new theoretical and research directions for ArtPlace, 2015 was a year when many of these developments began to take concrete form, through new ways of grant-making, field-building, and doing research.
At a January gathering at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the creative placemaking issue of the Community Development Innovation Review to which ArtPlace had made major contributions was released, and Jamie Bennett officially unveiled a major new initiative for ArtPlace: the Community Development Investments (CDI) program.
CDI Program Launched
Community Development Investments program is announced at Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco event
The ArtPlace community gathers in Philadelphia
Research Strategies Launched
Research Strategies releases first RFPs for field scans to map sectors of community development
2015 Grants Announced
2015 ArtPlace grants are announced to 38 projects totaling $10 million
CDI Participants Announced
Six CDI organizations receiving $18 million total are announced via Obama briefing
The CDI program was a manifestation of the new focus on community development as a sector that embodies what the program guidelines described as “critical steward[ship] of long-term community vision.” The program was designed to shift the practice of local community development organizations to incorporate arts and culture strategies sustainably into how they did their work. It represented an opportunity to learn from organizations that hadn’t done significant work with arts and culture about what it would take to gain the necessary skills, tools, and relationships to establish arts-based approaches to achieving community outcomes.
After its announcement in San Francisco, the program received 261 applications from around the country. Lyz Crane, as program director, traveled with Jeremy Nowak and New York City–based designer Willy Wong to visit each of twenty-one finalists over six weeks of intensive site visits, and eventually selected six organizations that would become a part of an incredible opportunity. Each organization would receive $3 million, significant technical assistance, and a three-year runway to learn how to work with artists, culture-bearers, and designers to support their missions.
The six organizations were announced in August and chosen explicitly to represent a wide range of regions, communities (urban, rural, tribal), market conditions, and demographics. They included the Fairmount Park Conservancy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi; the Little Tokyo Service Center in Los Angeles, California; the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership in southwestern Minnesota; the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico; and the Cook Inlet Housing Authority in Anchorage, Alaska.
A Mysterious Opportunity
The August announcement came at a high level: from President Barack Obama, during a visit to Anchorage in which he discussed Arctic and Native Alaskan issues with local officials, and congratulated Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA) on the grant it was receiving from ArtPlace.
It was a grant, says Carol Gore, executive director of the Native housing agency, that felt a bit mysterious at first.
“It was the first time ever that we’d applied for funding,” she says, “and we weren’t allowed to say what it was for! It was this nebulous thing that was about transformation through the inclusion of arts and culture, and we kept scratching our heads and saying, hey, we’re in the housing business! We’re used to saying, look at this really cool housing thing that we’ve done. But the grant wasn’t about that.”
The grant was about CIHA and artist allies coming up with ways to incorporate arts and culture, in the broadest sense, into community development. As a Native organization, CIHA was used to embodying Indigenous cultural values in its work. “I’m Alaska Native,” says Gore, “and I’ve always promoted the approach we take, both in our internal communication structure and in how we respond to neighborhoods. I would call it the village approach: everyone is essential and everyone matters.”
And CIHA’s orientation was toward community development too, not just erecting buildings. “We were always focused on creating housing that would respond best to a neighborhood, to what neighborhood people were talking about and concerned about, their community assets,” Gore says. “So we were halfway in, in terms of the CDI goals. But what we were concerned about, to be honest, was that ArtPlace would say, okay, you’re Alaska Native, where are your totem poles?”
Learning Each Other’s Languages
ArtPlace didn’t bring up totem poles. Instead, says Gore, it kept challenging Cook Inlet to come up with out-of-the-box projects in cooperation with artists.
But there was an initial obstacle: CHIA and local artists needed to build trust and work towards a common goal. In addition to the confusion caused by a non-arts organization receiving a $3 million arts grant, there were still some bad memories from a previous community initiative to create an arts center in Anchorage’s Mountain View neighborhood. Local artists had recently felt “burned,” as Gore puts it, by the failure of that effort to build an arts center.
CIHA, with $3 million from ArtPlace, began approaching local artists. “We didn’t intend to build an art center,” says Gore, “and we could not clearly articulate how, or even why, we wanted to work with artists. In the first year, we had to learn to speak each other’s languages.” To that end, CIHA engaged consultants Asia Freeman from the Bunnell Street Arts Center in Homer, Alaska, and Michael Rohd from the Center for Performance and Civic Practice to frame how artists and CIHA could co-design artist interventions to help make an impact in the neighborhoods where CIHA was working.
“Eventually came these ah-has, where they understood where we were coming from, and we understood where they were coming from,” says Gore. “When they realized we wanted to pay them to help us get it right, to help us figure out different ways to engage the community and our residents, it was incredible. Some of the experiments we did with the artists were pretty transformative, not just for us, but for the artist community, too.”
The Church of Love
The focal point of most of these coming-together experiments was an aging, obsolete church building right next to CIHA’s headquarters on Spenard Road. The church had belonged to a Korean-American congregation before the worshippers found a new home elsewhere. CIHA planned to tear it down for parking space. But then the Light Brigade, a local troupe of performers in need of a space to create large-scale art installations for outside exhibits, approached CIHA about the availability of vacant space, which eventually led to a discussion about using the empty church building. CIHA agreed, with trepidation. “We were concerned about insurance, about electricity, about fire, but we said yes,” says Gore. Soon CIHA was letting other artists use the building, redubbed the Church of Love by those artists, and the results showed that there was a need and a role for such a space in Spenard. When the ArtPlace grant came in, the idea of keeping the church and using it to further the grant’s creative-placemaking goals took shape.
Those goals were ambitious. Landscape architects and artists worked to connect and enliven the agency’s multi-building campus, which now centered on the Church of Love, creating a semi-public plaza, adding planters and an interactive “messaging wall” using wooden letters. These efforts were aimed at activating spaces to engage neighbors to increase safety and help build community. “We really want to portray Spenard Road as something with the potential to be very vibrant and alive; something that’s illuminating,” Chad Taylor of Anchorage’s Intrinsic Landscapes told the Anchorage Daily News.
Artists also created a colorful, on-the-ground mural reimagining the area’s dangerous 3-foot-wide sidewalks as ample 5-foot, 8-foot, and 10-foot passageways. Other on-site works recalled the history of Spenard as Dena’ina land as well as its more recent, funkier past as a strip-club and massage-parlor mecca. And when a massive project to repave Spenard Road threatened the continuity of local businesses, performance artists trained scores of people to perform mime routines at the businesses, highlighting and drawing people to them.
Soon the community at large began seeing the church space as a resource. Rock and hip-hop shows, new-circus performances, art installations, plays about homelessness and suicide, and many other events started taking place in this informal community center. For a year during the early experimental phase, the Anchorage Community House — which holds book club meetings, food swaps, classes, cooking lessons, and retreats — occupied the rear portion of the building. Today there are for-rent artist studios in the back of the building with a long waiting list, and the church is undergoing a significant rehabilitation to preserve it as a community and cultural hub that is central to CIHA’s housing and community development investments in Spenard.
A New Place at the Table
The experience inspired CIHA, always concerned in a general way with community development, to create a formal community-development division, Gore points out. At a deeper level, it “moved our community from thinking of culture as a physical thing to seeing it as something we live,” Gore says. “And I think it changed our relationship with the city, too, because now they’re asking us, what would you do? Can you help us find people to help us think through this issue? We’re at tables that we never thought we would be at, because they see us now as bringing some creative thinking and innovative approaches to those tables.”
ArtPlace’s Research Strategies Take Shape
To understand the impact of the CIHA grant and the five others in the CDI program, ArtPlace initiated a new partnership with PolicyLink, an Oakland, California–based research and advocacy organization focused on racial and economic justice and equity. PolicyLink, rooted in the community-development world, would research and document the CDI work all along its three-year run, with an orientation toward sharing the results with practitioners who could learn from the experiences of the grantee organizations.
Establishing the relationship with PolicyLink was a joint effort between Crane, working on the CDI program, and Jamie Hand, who was also busy in 2015 launching the first phases of ArtPlace’s new cross-sector research strategy. The year as a whole represented an opportunity to tie together ArtPlace’s programs with the Community Development Matrix as the backbone: the national grants demonstrating model work across different cells of the matrix, the CDI program developing support structures for stakeholders who work across multiple sectors, and the research strategies identifying and translating outcomes of the work in order to engage new sector-specific audiences.
Reintroducing the National Creative Placemaking Fund
While the CDI program was launching, F. Javier Torres was busy refining the guidelines and procedures for what was the National Grants program and what became the National Creative Placemaking Fund (NCPF). In 2015, Torres brought on Leila Tamari, and the pair together worked through every aspect of the grant guidelines to increase transparency and equity. One of the first things they did was convene a group of practitioners in the field to discuss the process and glean insight on how to make it more responsive to the field.
NCPF had always been designed not just to provide funds to great projects around the country, but to surface the many ways across sectors, artistic disciplines, and contexts that creative placemaking could operate. The grant was competitive, receiving over 1,200 applications annually and only funding about 30 to 50 of those projects, fewer than 5 percent. From the beginning it had a complex review process that included external reviewers and site visits.
Torres and Tamari’s goals were to reduce the administrative burden on applicants; ask more questions around community dynamics and intentions of applicants that would make it easier to identify when projects were truly community-led; and root the applications within the two new tools that were guiding ArtPlace’s approach to creative placemaking: the “four points” and the Community Development Matrix.
To accomplish this, they streamlined the application questions to focus on the “four points,” as developed in 2014; they added questions designed to surface community involvement; they increased the numbers and kinds of reviewers and panelists who were a part of the review process; they overhauled the site visit process; and they asked applicants to think about how their projects related to the various sectors and players of the matrix. The latter would allow them to consider topic areas in which ArtPlace had already significantly invested and gaps where they might focus special attention.
As such, the funded projects were able to be mapped to the matrix in a way that would become very useful in the new research strategies, which focused on articulating and translating “what the arts can do” in language that resonated with each of the ten sectors. While the research work began in 2015, it would be 2016 that saw its more formal debut to the public as “Translating Outcomes.” All together, these three programs (NCPF, CDI, and Translating Outcomes) represented ArtPlace’s signature approach to field-building, with the Community Development Matrix at the heart of it all.
Working with ArtPlace has brought additional and unique opportunities to Cook Inlet Housing, as we began to demonstrate that we are more than a housing entity — different funding opportunities that we would never have had if it weren’t for ArtPlace. It expanded our résumé in a positive way. It also caused us to think differently about our organization. We always talked as though we were in the community development business, but we didn’t have a department that intentionally focused on community development. We do now. The community development department is in charge of making sure our real estate acquisitions are strategic, that they’re done with buy-in from the neighborhood, that we know what the expectation is of the neighborhood, that we’re enhancing their existing community assets — all of those things we thought we were doing — but now it’s a lot more intentional.
— Carol Gore
Carol Gore is president/CEO of Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA). Previously, she was vice president of income-producing real estate for Cook Inlet Region, Inc., where she managed a national and Alaska-based portfolio valued at more than $200 million.