Building Knowledge and Networks

With the Community Development Investment (CDI) program underway and the National Creative Placemaking Fund (NCPF) rolling with its new guidelines, 2016 was the year in which ArtPlace began to ramp up its Translating Outcomes initiative — a five-year, multidisciplinary research strategy designed to establish connections between arts and culture activities and the countless community development goals that were surfacing in the ArtPlace grant portfolios and across the field.

FEB 2016
Working Group: Community Safety
Co-conveners: LISC Safety and Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Activities League (Oakland, CA)

MAR 2016
Working Group: Housing
Co-conveners: Enterprise Community Partners and Kresge Foundation (Detroit, MI)

APR 2016
ArtPlace Summit
The ArtPlace community gathers in Phoenix

DEC 2016
2016 Grants Announced
2016 ArtPlace grants are announced to 29 projects totaling $11 million

Rather than attempting to develop a single approach or system for evaluating creative placemaking project impacts — which vary widely depending on local context, stated goals, and partners — the Translating Outcomes strategy was to conduct deep dives into each of the sectors of the matrix in order to analyze, make legible, and give language to how arts and culture practitioners have long been partners in helping to achieve each sector’s goals. Overall, the initiative served as an incremental, segmented approach to building creative placemaking knowledge for and with a diverse range of community development practitioners interested in taking up creative placemaking work.
Finding the Sweet Spot
The research process designed by Jamie Hand had three steps. The first was to commission a field scan — a written research report, based primarily on interviews with practitioners, that described the arts and culture activity already happening in a given sector, alongside an analysis of key goals or needs in that sector that arts and culture might address. An open RFP went out in 2015 to researchers to create the first three scans — housing, public safety, and health. Danya Sherman, who was selected to lead the housing field scan that year, joined the ArtPlace team in 2016 to support the research strategies work in a broader capacity.
In commissioning the field scans, “we were asking questions like: What are the biggest priorities in, for example, the housing sector?” says Hand. “What do housing practitioners care about? What are the outcomes that the housing sector is already measuring? We were really trying to understand our audience in the housing sector, while also trying to understand how artists are showing up in support of housing issues. The ultimate goal was to bring these two analyses together to find a sweet spot, an alignment of what the housing sector needs help with, and what we know the arts can do to help.”
Another major goal of the field scans was to help artists understand the languages of the different sectors of community development, and to help people working in each of the sectors understand how artists talked about their work. This process of translation, or developing a shared language that could advance creative placemaking work, was seen as critical to support the complex, messy processes that happen in multidisciplinary or comprehensive work.
The next step was to convene a cross-sector working group to vet the field scan research, make field-building recommendations, and build a community of like-minded practitioners. Early 2016 saw the first two of these gatherings — a public safety working group held in Oakland, California, co-convened with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs’ Activities League (DSAL), and a housing working group held in Detroit, Michigan, co-convened with Enterprise Community Partners and The Kresge Foundation — followed by publication of the housing and safety field scans at the ArtPlace Summit in April. Working groups participants were carefully selected to achieve a diverse constellation of voices, highlighting the perspectives of artists, practitioners, community members, and thought leaders who are closest to the work, positioning them as both experts and critical stewards of the creative placemaking field.
After the working group gathering came the third step, where a resource would be developed — a tool, report, or other program that could help guide community development practitioners who wanted to bring arts and culture strategies into their sphere, whether it was youth development, housing, immigration, or any of the other sectors. Through all three steps, ArtPlace explicitly cultivated strategic, non-arts partners to lead the resource development, building alliances and networks that would ensure support for creative placemaking practice beyond the termination of ArtPlace in 2020.
A Water-Based Partnership
Research for the environment and energy sector began in the fall of 2016 and was led by Helicon Collaborative, a California– and New York–based research firm and consultancy committed to sustainability, equity, and the arts. The following year, just after ArtPlace’s 2017 Summit in Seattle, Helicon facilitated the arts, culture, and environment working group, which brought together twenty-six people to examine and deliberate on the initial research findings. Representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Trust for Public Land, and many other prominent environmental organizations joined environmentally concerned artists and thinkers at the table. The resulting field scan, entitled Farther, Faster, Together: How Arts and Culture Can Accelerate Environmental Progress, lifted up a recurring theme across the research and deliberations, and in creative placemaking projects across the country: water.
Among the working group participants was US Water Alliance program manager Danielle Mayorga, attending on behalf of executive director Radhika Fox who had, in an earlier interview, expressed interest in the power and possibilities of arts and culture.
“Danielle immediately got it,” says Jamie Hand. “We had Grist, we had the Sierra Club, we had all of these other potential partners in the environmental sector raising their hand to collaborate in some way. But something about the way Danielle responded was special, and then Radhika too, at the CEO level. Partnering with the US Water Alliance was one of the most immediate and intuitive matches I’ve experienced in all of the ten sectors that we’ve been looking at.”
The US Water Alliance, headquartered in Oakland, California, and Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit membership organization, supported by water utilities, private companies, and water-focused nonprofits, and devoted to public education and policy advocacy about water issues. Under the banner “One Water,” it urges investment in the nation’s water infrastructure, striving to influence lawmakers, businesses, policy organizations, labor groups, and others.
One Water
The One Water concept advanced by the US Water Alliance represents a holistic view that sees all water — drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, gray water, and other states of H2O — as a single resource to be managed sustainably to promote multiple values, including a clean environment, economic growth, and thriving urban and rural communities, with an emphasis on racial and social equity. Given the wide-ranging nature of its work, Fox sees the role of her organization as opening up the field of water management and advocacy to new ideas. “The whole point of the Alliance,” she says, “is to be this collaborative platform that’s pushing the sector to innovate in all kinds of things — equity issues, smart water systems, and so on — so promoting arts and culture was basically another dimension of that role for us.”
“For the most part,” she adds, “the way in which art has shown up in the water sector is, well, you build a treatment plant and you paint a mural on it — that kind of thing, right? But ArtPlace exposed us to all of these very different ways that arts and culture could be meaningfully built into water-management processes and other areas. There was a lot of learning, and finding a common language, of course. Jamie and her team were figuring out how you frame things in a way that’s relevant to this sector of water, and we were learning about how you engage with artists and culture-bearers in ways that are respectful of their approach and their wisdom.”
Collaborative Learning
The partnership with the US Water Alliance had two key elements: creation of a “blueprint” for water managers to better understand arts and culture strategies and opportunities, and integration of the arts (and artists) into the Alliance’s annual One Water Summit. Both efforts were guided by an advisory committee comprised of water and wastewater utility managers, green infrastructure and conservation professionals, and artists and designers deeply engaged in water-related issues.
“Listening to the advisory group wrestle with key concepts, and push each other to better understand the barriers and constraints within both water management and arts-based work,” notes Hand, “was precisely what revealed the important lessons and examples to share.”
The ensuing publication, Advancing One Water Through Arts and Culture: A Blueprint for Action, highlighted eight projects in the water sector, ranging from an exploration of the meaning of water in Native communities via storytelling, dance, and games, led by the National Tribal Water Center in Alaska, to community conversations about climate change and sea-level rise in Miami, New York, and several other major cities, led by artists Eve Mosher and Heidi Quante.
This blueprint also underlined seven ways that artists and arts organizations can advance an integrated and inclusive approach to water management, in keeping with One Water goals. Among the strategies outlined, the report notes that “Artists can be valuable allies as water leaders seek to build bridges between different stakeholder groups who may have different languages, perspectives, and goals.” Similarly, “arts-driven experiences can help people open up in ways that other professional settings do not, allowing them to broaden their perspective and see things from other points of view.”
This stakeholder-facing role for artists resonated with Fox, who says, “I want to push the water sector to think about all the different ways that you can bring artists in on the front end of a process — whether it’s designing the treatment plant, or whether it’s thinking about how you do a kind of community engagement that’s authentic, and not just the same old public meeting.”
To make a real splash, the Water Alliance planned to release the blueprint at its next annual One Water Summit, where several supplemental programs and panels could reinforce the new ideas being put forward. Under Fox’s leadership, One Water Summits have increasingly been showcases for new concepts and approaches to water practice and policy, bringing together delegations of stakeholders from all corners of the water industry. For the first time ever, the 2018 One Water Summit, held in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, included a delegation of over a hundred artists hailing from across the country and from the Minnesota region.
One offsite session was held at the Water Bar & Public Studio, a Minneapolis arts venue for “water tastings” — samplings of water from various municipal water systems — where artist Shanai Matteson, collaborative director of the Water Bar, helped lead discussions and workshops on water issues. Matteson, who was a member of the advisory committee and had originally been introduced to the US Water Alliance at ArtPlace’s working group meeting in Seattle, had this to say about that 2018 gathering: “Together with partners, we served water from cities across the country. We were fortunate to be joined by water utility leaders from Philadelphia, Kansas City, Tucson, and a number of other places. While we served water together, we learned about their plans to utilize arts and culture to more deeply engage the people and communities they serve with the critical water issues that must be addressed together.”
Expanding Partnerships and Practice to Advance the Work
As ArtPlace continued to increase both its participation and partnerships in major conferences across professions, and its own convening to expand its network of allies and ambassadors, the latter part of 2016 was marked with two major events in the burgeoning field.
In October the organization joined the University of Iowa’s Rural Policy Research Institute and Art of the Rural, an arts-based promoter of rural culture and rural-urban dialogue, at the Next Generation Rural Creative Placemaking Summit on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City.
At the time, many folks in rural communities felt like the language of creative placemaking wasn’t yet fully representing the rural experience. This conference represented a significant step toward highlighting that imbalance. Grantees and allies of ArtPlace, including the Santo Domingo project lead, architect Joseph Kunkel; Laura Zabel, director of Springboard for the Arts; and Appalshop staffers, were among those who gave presentations in sessions that ranged from the role of agriculture and of universities in rural placemaking to the growth of ethnic diversity in the countryside and how community health and economic development are fostered by rural placemakers. Jamie Bennett joined a closing keynote panel entitled “Arts and Culture Inclusion in National Placemaking Partnerships — Lessons Learned and Future Guideposts.”
In a video interview during the Summit, Bennett summed up one important rationale for the gathering — one that could apply to the ongoing ArtPlace Summits and to ArtPlace’s burgeoning partnerships as well. “A lot of us here are facing the exact same opportunities and the exact same challenges,” he said. “So it’s really about coming together as a community of practice — a community where we can share with each other our joys, of course — but more usefully, share the challenges and obstacles that we’re confronting in our work.”
This focus on rural creative placemaking wasn’t limited to a one-time-only event. As ArtPlace continued to refine its grant guidelines, the organization sought to ensure that rural projects were receiving as much focus and attention as those in more populous areas. Through its direct grant-making programs (NCPF and CDI), ArtPlace has invested $25 million of its NCPF grant dollars, or 29 percent, to rural and Native organizations.
The second gathering, in December 2016, would also celebrate a landmark moment in the field. ArtPlace partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Partners for Livable Communities to host a launch event for the new NEA publication How to Do Creative Placemaking at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. The event, which was live streamed and recorded, brought together practitioners from across the field with an audience of national policymakers and press to help reset the notion of creative placemaking from being a new concept to one that was rooted in a mature practice. Indeed, many of the practitioners in the room had spent decades developing deep experience and expertise in arts-based community development. The event at the Wilson Center was a valuable opportunity to celebrate that history and validate the work at the federal level and on a national stage.
Right at the outset, ArtPlace and the US Water Alliance just decided to trust each other. We at the Alliance decided to trust that you’ve got a set of wisdom and capacities around arts and culture that we don’t have, and that we have a set of wisdom and capacities around water that you don’t have. I remember, ArtPlace would sometimes offer framing or edits to things, and I’d say, no, that’s just not going to resonate. Or the other way: this is the perspective that artists and culture-bearers have, and you don’t want to come across as extractive, or as tokenizing them. We were really honest with each other, and respectful of what we knew that the other might not.
— Radhika Fox
Radhika Fox is CEO of the US Water Alliance. Previously, she directed the policy and government affairs agenda for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and served as the Federal Policy Director at PolicyLink, where she coordinated the organization’s policy agenda on a wide range of issues, including infrastructure investment, transportation, sustainable communities, economic inclusion, and workforce development.