Creative Placemaking Now: Creative Placemaking in Rural Communities Transcript
July 17, 2012
JS: First, let me introduce our panelists. Brent Leggs is from Boston, Massachusetts. Brent is a field officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He specializes in historic preservation and has nearly ten years of experience working for nonprofit organizations, both as an independent consultant and an employee. He works at the intersection of diversity and place. He also is a Loeb Fellow, serves as an advisor to the 1772 Foundation, and is developing a national vision for the trust to promote underrepresented, diverse historic places in the United States.
Donna Neuwirth is from Reedsburg, Wisconsin. She's the co-founder and executive director, of the Wormfarm Institute, a nonprofit institute in Wisconsin dedicated to integrating culture and agriculture. She has a background in art and theater. Through the institute, Neuwirth implemented and oversees the artist residency program at an organic vegetable farm, curates exhibits of fine arts and other curiosities at their Woolen Mill Gallery in downtown Reedsburg, and initiated an ongoing project called the Roadside Culture Stands, artist designed and built roadside farm stands. The Wormfarm Institute received the 2010 Governor's Award in support of the arts. Wormfarm was also awarded a 2011 Our Town Grant and an ArtPlace grant for creative placemaking for the Annual Farm Art Detour, a ten day, 50 mile, self-guided tour that uses the vision of artists to explore the timeless connections between land and people.
Kennedy Smith, from Arlington, Virginia, is a principal with the Community Land USE + Economics Group, the CLUE Group, and is one of the nation's foremost experts on economic development planning for older and historic districts. Her work focuses on crafting forward-looking, innovative economic development strategies and turning them into practical implementation strategies. She's won numerous accolades for her work, including receiving a Loeb fellowship at Harvard, being included on Planetizan's list of the top 100 thinkers, and being named one of Fast Company Magazine's Fast Champions of Innovation.
So hello, Brent, Donna, and Kennedy. Please say hello to the country!
Brent: Hello, everyone.
JS: We're so pleased you could be with us here today. So we're here to talk about trends, challenges, and policies. Let's start with trends. Kennedy, as a practitioner who's been working in rural communities across the country, I know you log a lot of miles a year, what have you really witnessed that may be inspiring or surprising in creative placemaking work that's occurring in these smaller communities?
Kennedy: Well, I think one of the things that has struck me recently is the diversity of ways that communities are finding to financially support creative placemaking. I think that that inherently implies that communities are seeing greater value in it, and value in several ways. One is that creative placemaking helps create a distinctive sense of identity for a community, which has market value, and also recognizing that creative placemaking is an efficient and exciting, dynamic way to do community planning. But the thing that I think is really exciting area of innovation that I've been noticing is in how communities are choosing to finance it, they're really creating lots of new partnerships, leveraging resources, locally and regionally, even nationally, to make things happen. Getting involved in things like crowd funding, for key creative placemaking projects, and just looking more creatively and innovatively at how to make projects turn into reality.
JS: That's great. So let's get the artist's perspective, I know you're doing the work locally, Donna, but you're also tracking what's going on nationally; what's really interesting to you right now, what are the trends that you're seeing in rural communities who are doing this work with artists?
Donna: Oh, well, I've noticed this in both our work and the work of others, but engagement in communities is really very strong, and not in ways we used to see, you know, people doing murals with community input, or keeping kids out of trouble using art, not that at all. It feels very new and exciting, and much more artist directed, and more contextual. Social engagement itself is the art, and sometimes there's an object, or a sculpture, or a story, or a measurable thing left behind, but the thing of value is the creative engagement itself. In essence, the artists who work in this way say to the community, this place matters. And ironically, it may be spurred by an artist from elsewhere, who can see your town or community with fresh eyes, perhaps shining a light on its hidden assets. That artist might go away, but the spirit of discovery has been rejuvenated and creative responses may follow, and artists closer to home may then reveal themselves. Our work at Wormfarm at its most basic level is very interdisciplinary, in that the arts and farming are intertwined in a variety of ways. In the context of a working farm, art practice, no matter what the medium is, and no matter who the artist is, is in conversation with agriculture. So for our work, we look for ways to engage people in one discipline and they may trip over another. They may come to something because of farming and trip over the arts or maybe come from an arts standpoint and trip over the farming and it's the way we all learn and are introduced to new ideas, because they're in proximity to ideas that we may already hold.
JS: Thank you. Brent, let's get a little bit of your perspective here. I know that you work specifically in a lot of diverse communities; what do you see occurring around creative placemaking in some of those communities, in rural communities across the country? (Pause) Brent are you there?
Brent: Yes, I had it on mute, sorry. The biggest trend that I have seen in rural communities is the development of heritage trails. And I think it's one of the most financially sustainable preservation models in play today. It doesn't take a lot of financial resources to sustain over the long term, a heritage trail, but communities are identifying cultural resources and interpreting the history behind those historic sites, and making that history visible to the public. For example, there's the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, historically, four percent African American community, even today you see that's similar to what the demographic is, but they identify 28 historic sites around their rural community, related to African American history, and it has really become something that has brought more cultural awareness about their history, and about the place, and made the locals more aware of the history of their community. I think that's the trend that I'm seeing in underrepresented communities.
JS: I'm glad that you brought up cultural tourism and heritage tourism, I remember that the panel was very excited about the project in Kinston, North Carolina, which is an African American music heritage trail in that community, and of course Donna, the farm tour that you do is sort of one version of that, let's dig into this issue just a little bit. What excited you about the Kinston project? What was unique, what were the unique aspects of it that made it a great project?
Brent: Well, I for one, I loved supporting the financial sustainability of the model, it was great. It also showcased, again, this kind of underrepresented history, it was a real beautiful story, people can identify with music, I mean, who doesn't love music, and blues, and it had something that the broader community could identify with. But it was also the social aspect, I mean it was really bringing together people within the community that had roots there, but they also had this kind of collaborative partnership that brought together people outside of that community, and again it kind of used place to instill a new kind of cultural mindset about their cultural identity in Kinston. I thought it was a great project.
JS: Donna, why don't you jump in here a little bit and talk about how you've been implementing your tour, and what are some of the ins and outs that were unexpected.
Donna: Well, it's truly an interdisciplinary project, so it's involving farmers, and artists, and landowners, and musicians, and chambers of commerce, and the county, and the land reservation people, so it was a way to kind of take another look at the place where we live and shine a light on its assets and its agricultural heritage is that one, and because of this moment in history, with the local food movement being so exciting and sexy now, it's a way for us to take this moment in time and leverage it with the assets the community already has, so it gets people excited about it, not necessarily from the arts point of view, but from the fact that we are celebrating our own actual authentic history, and the arts are the punctuation that sort of help us tell that story. And so I think it was something that just came together at the right place at the right time, and has generated lots of excitement because everyone can find their place in it. And that's what I really love about the phrase "creative placemaking" because sometimes in rural areas, the "A" word is not necessary helpful, "art" can make people back away because they think maybe it's not for them, but "creative placemaking" is welcoming, and everyone seems to be able to find their place within it.
JS: Kennedy, you've done a lot of work around cultural heritage tourism also, and what are the kinds of policies you see that governments kind of need to have in place in order to make some of this work happen? Are there funding mechanisms, are there zoning mechanisms? What are the tools people are using to do some of this work in communities?
Kennedy: Well, you know, I always look at things beginning with a perspective of a downtown; most of my work has been in downtown economic development, and downtown revitalization. And so many things have happened over the past century or so that have really affected how downtowns functions that I think one of the first things I usually do is to take a look at the policies that are impeding growth, because many of these policies have been put in place in the past half-century. Some of them are zoning policies, for example, if a community downtown has a relatively high vacancy rate, but the zoning code is allowing new commercial development to take place outside the downtown when there's vacancy downtown, that's sort of a poor outcome, that's not what the community probably really intended to have happen in its zoning. The same thing with zoning policies that impede mixed uses in downtown, being able to have ground-floor retail and upper-floor offices or housing, or other kinds of uses. Or have diversity of uses within a town center. We sort of gravitated towards zoning that separates out uses in communities in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and sometimes the zoning codes that we have in place are barriers to making that happen now. So I think one of the first things to do is to sort of just take a scan of what are the policies that are really driving development in the community now, and driving creative placemaking, and are those really consistent with what we're trying to achieve in creative placemaking. So, I think environmental scan is the kind of the first thing to do.
JS: Right, and so that may play out in ways where, you know, can you even have artists working temporarily in a downtown empty storefront, does the law even allow that to happen? So those are maybe some things for communities to look at. All right, let's talk money--everyone's favorite topic. So, Donna you're the real practitioner on the ground actually doing this work; how have you pieced together the money to do the work that Wormfarm has been doing around creative placemaking? Where does it come from?
Donna: Well, we do it probably like every tiny nonprofit, I imagine, you know, with individual and foundation support, and a little earned income, and sponsorships, but we do rely heavily on grant funding, which has been critical in our work over the past ten years. We are incredibly fortunate to live in the only rural county in the state of Wisconsin with an arts and humanities granting program, it's a small one but it's very effective. Though rural and economically challenged, both the arts and sustainable agriculture are valued where we live, and as a result our programs have evolved slowly overtime, and have matured enough to be ready to apply to the NEA, just last year. So the Our Town grant was the our first application to the Endowment, and receiving it has brought an ambitious and multifaceted vision to life, it opened doors for us in ways too numerous to mention, and I can't encourage people enough to kind of take it slow and work your way up to it. Since we've received the Our Town grant, we've also received ArtPlace grants, in fact we were one of only two in the country to receive second year funding from ArtPlace, which is also creative placemaking. So this has been an incredible opportunity for us, and just the structure of the Our Town grants, with a strong, government partner, made it possible for us to be able to pull this off. If we didn't have that it would have been too big for us to manage. So, through the Our Town project we made important connections, in addition to resources, financial resources, we've made important connections with both state and national leaders at USDA, exploring new ways to address rural development, engagement has been broad and deep from individual artists engaging with the landowners along the actual detour to Wormfarm, engaging with federal and state agencies across disciplines. It's just been remarkable, and it continues, and I think part of it is being on this panel today. It's just opened up worlds for us that were not possible before. It's also enabled us to attract other funders who may be able to support us as we try to build capacity to keep these efforts going. I guess anybody, and I think this is probably an important thing to point out, that anyone who gets an Our Town grant, especially if they're a small, rural organization, it is rather a windfall, and we don't want it to be a one-off, so we have to use the partners and the collaborators to help build a sustainable event that can grow over time and really reap the economic development awards that Our Town in intending to do. So, with new friends, and new funders, and new attention, we are working very hard to make that happen.
JS: Great, that's useful, I think, for people who are talking about doing some of the arts programming that you do. Let's talk a little bit about facilities and buildings in some of these smaller communities. I remember Kennedy was very enthusiastic about many of the opportunities for bringing back, or bringing in, new downtown, sort of restoring theaters in downtowns as an opportunity for creative placemaking. How do you see a lot of communities piecing together this funding, and I want Brent and Kennedy to jump in here really, what are the resources for folks to bring these facilities back in communities?
Kennedy: Well, I would say first and foremost the historic rehabilitation tax credits, and in communities where the downtown area, or the area where the theater is, is eligible for federal new market tax credits, coupling those with the historic rehab credits, I've seen, I don't know, over the past five or ten years, probably 20 or 25 downtown theater rehab projects take place that would not have happened if not for the ability to use the tax credits. So that's a big thing. Tax increment finance, even in really tiny communities, has also helped out in some instances with theater rehab. Basically, recognizing that because the property will be more valuable once it's been rehabbed, the local government dedicates the increment of new tax revenue that it will get, property tax revenue, for use to help assist the project, so it can basically bond that tax increment over a period of 20 years, and then invest the funds up front. I think with theater projects in particular, one of the things that is always important, is to recognize that there are always people who really like historic theater buildings, and want to preserve and restore them, and get them in operation again, and then there are people who really like to put on shows. And, they aren't necessarily the same kind of people, and each of those groups, they sort of come together around theater rehab projects, and they each have their own networks of potential funding sources, and their own financing skills, in two completely different worlds. So it's really important to get both of those groups on the same page, at the table together, and thinking about how to piece together the financing. But certainly, historic rehab credits, and new market credits, can really make a project happen by providing, you know, 20, 30, 40 percent of the equity needed for the project, depending on its eligibility and whether there's a state historic rehab credit in place, as well as a federal historic rehab credit.
Brent: Just to add to Kennedy's comment, and Kennedy talks at a kind of, high level, sophisticated, kind of financial approach, but I think that folks should also think about maximizing their local intellectual capital. Think about this as a planning process, because what you want to do is evaluate your vision, whatever the idea is that you're proposing, and so I would suggest that you take the advice of a trained professional, somebody that's in maybe the broader field of the arts, or those that help to kind of shape our cities, so you might want to identify a historic preservation professional, an architect or a planner, you know, their work is to basically help to make communities more vibrant, more lively, and their constantly looking at how the landscape, or historic resources, you know, the buildings, how they help, again, to re-brand or create a new identity for communities. And I would also try to not think too much about creating a brand new model, but try to identify someone that can help you find existing models. You know, these architects and planners and preservationists, we see cutting edge example and models of great placemaking projects that you could mimic, or just build upon. And I think that's probably what I want to offer, try to maximize intellectual capital in communities.
JS: You know, I think that's a great suggestion, and let's talk a little bit about the importance of partnerships. As you saw in my presentation, there's all kinds of partners, everything from religious institutions to aging service organizations, to you name it were really on these grants, which I think was very exciting to us, and I think we had discussions in the panel about that. Donna, how is the need for partnerships played out locally? Who are the kinds of folks who showed up, and how did that build? Who was unexpected, who have you been talking to that you never thought you'd be talking to, and how has that played out? Give us some of how that works, in your community.
Donna: Hmm, well, we started with our partner the county, Sauk County, which has the arts and culture granting program, but they also, within it, have UW Extension, and that has the 4H clubs and HCE, which is Home Community Educators, and so you have the kind of, those service groups involved from the beginning, but they're connected to the county and the county government, so it sort of strengthens that partnership. And then, the arts which were not necessarily cohesive, but because of our work with culture and agriculture, and having an artist residency program on our farm, we had a history of having programs that sort of partnered those things in the public square, so we had a series of public festivals that focused on the Funny Farm, and we had classes and workshops and speakers, so we had made, in roads, and in that in the past, and so then we would get, as I said early, people coming for the farming and tripping over the arts, and people coming for the arts and tripping of the farming, so we thought it was very important to not label what we do as one thing, that we're doing creative activities that people may find interesting, and I think the detours are a great example of that--it's a drive through beautiful country roads, where you will see a variety of things, and we think the power of contemporary artists doing installations in the middle of the field is that it slows people down, and they notice the land itself as a cultural resource. So, I think the fact that people recognize that we really do care deeply about farmers, and farmland, and farmers making a living in cheese factories, and small mom-and-pop operations, and we can bring people, people from nearby cities, through these small towns, where of course they buy lunch, and they go shopping, and they do a variety of things, but it's the excuse of the art installation and the field notes that brings them out on the drive. So what they end up having is this kind of multifaceted experience with arts at its core. So because of that, we have the chamber of commerce, and we have farmers, and we have zoning people, and, in fact, we were actually afraid of the zoning people for reasons that Kennedy mentioned earlier, we thought that sometimes it's better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. But we have people on our team who care deeply about the land, and care deeply about people coming out to see working land, still active and thriving, and so they helped us, instead of presented a barrier to us. And, you know, this is still relatively new so we're still picking up partners, and still surprised at how many people packed on this on a variety of levels.
JS: So, that's great. Kennedy, what about the role of the local political leaders? You know, they are forced partners on the Our Town grants, but, generally, if someone wants to do a creative placemaking project in some of these communities, how do you see the local political leadership engaging, what are good ways to approach them, what are the right ways to engage them? Can you talk a little bit about your experience working with local political leadership across the country?
Kennedy: Well, I think that communities that are engaging in creative placemaking are probably, you know, somewhat ahead of the curve on partnerships in that they've probably already gotten a good working partnership with their local government. Which is a good thing. I think that what local government can bring to the table is the role of convening: they can be the one uses influence to bring people together, and also creative problem-solving. As I said earlier, there are often a lot of barriers to good design in communities, and adaptive use of buildings, and good development, and I think good, enlightened local leadership, government leadership, can play a critical role in helping break through some of those barriers. I think they also have a really important leveraging role to play, I've seen a lot of communities where local government may take the lead, for instance, in a downtown setting for example, and offering to do public improvement, to improve sidewalks, to install better street lighting, you know, to do better way finding systems and things, but not necessarily asking the private sector to respond in kind, and I think that it's better, ultimately, if the local government can use its role as a leverager, and can work with private sector property owners, business owners, community groups, civic organizations, artists and art organizations, to sort of do something in tandem, and offer municipal help in exchange for private sector activity.
JS: That's great. Brent, let's talk a little bit about the public outreach process in these projects. I mean, how do you guarantee that you're getting the right people at the table to accomplish the project in the correct way, I mean, that's something we talked a lot about in the panel, do they have the right outreach plans to actually reach the communities they want to reach and do the work that they want to do. How do you see that work being done successfully locally, and maybe give a couple of examples.
Brent: Well, I would suggest, first, it's always about forming the right chain. And, again, going back to this kind of planning process before you submit your grant proposal, it's about forming a team of intellectual, folks with intellectual capital in your community that can help you brainstorm and consider an outreach plan that can be effective. So, one strategy is, of course, local media. And, again, going back to this Portsmouth black heritage trail, the way that they promoted that they were starting a historic marker program, that they were engaging artists to design this historic marker program, was to get the local paper to run a series of articles about the history. And they started to engage the property owners at the historic site, so the actual article showcased the historic property owner, sometimes they don't give enough credit for helping to save history, but then it interpreted the site as well, and then talked about the artist that was designing the historic marker. So I thought that was a creative, low cost, really innovative way to reach out to the community and gain some support behind the project. And then the same thing happened with the African burial ground there. It was recently discovered through a construction project to improve the streets, and they've been able to, again, use the media to develop an outreach plan that engaged a lot of artists, they ended up developing a design competition that brought more visibility to their project, they had artists from all around the country to then submit proposals, again, that was just a great way for them to gain additional visibility, and for more people to know about their project, and it also helped them to attract artists and other people to the project that they would have never been able to engage.
JS: That's great. I'm going to ask a couple more questions of our panelists, but if you want to go ahead and start typing in some questions into the Q and A box, we can have some of those lined up for when we wrap up with our conversation in the next eight minutes or so. I want to come back to arts activities, and really, festivals, temporary arts engagement activities. Donna, what role have you really seen those playing in improving the livability of your community? How have people reacted to it, what's been the kind of overall effect that you've seen, and what's kind of worked and what hasn't? I know one of the things that we very much emphasize is the role of local assets, that they shouldn't be just someone coming in with a crazy idea, although that sometimes works, but a lot of the time it should be quite reflective of what happens, and is happening, in a community. Talk a little bit about you've used temporary arts events in your work, and what the impacts of that were, how you've worked off your local assets to do that and really what the impacts that you see happening are.
Donna: Well, we have done a variety of public art activities preceding the farm art detour: a puppet festival every year for four years, where we made giant puppets out of recycled materials and got kids engaged in a big parade and weeklong puppet making festival, and that was very well received, and again, it was kind of creative activity but you didn't necessarily have to use the "A Word' it was just this fun festival that was hands-on, and then actually used the recycling theme to sort of teach a lesson. So we knew, and festivals are an ancient and yet eternally new venue for transforming your street, or your park, or your town into a magical place. And it's the very temporary-ness that gives it power. You see the place anew; it comes alive with music or theater, or interactive installations, or fireworks, or interventions, or giant puppets, or acrobatic feats, and the festival packs up and goes away. We think that that's been remarkably effective. It wakes up dormant curiosity, and it has the power to ignite the imagination. It also doesn't kind of permanently alter the town, where you can side step the skeptics, because it's this short burst of creative activity that can leave sort of a fertile space in its wake for more fertile activity. We've truly found that to be true. It can be embraced by a broad audience, and people experience the arts on their own terms, without a cultural gatekeeper. It's also a natural fit for agricultural communities, as festivals are often seasonal celebrations tied to fertility and the harvest, ours certainly are. The earliest know art forms were born of such rituals, and inviting contemporary artists to return for a moment, to explore and celebrate that timeless connection between the land and people, can leave in its wake a kind of permanent value. We're also near Bariboo, Wisconsin, which has the Circus World museum, and like the circus trains that came through here, again, tied to our local history, 100 years ago, the elephants and the trapeze artists pack up for the next town, but they leave in their wake all kinds of possibilities and awaken imaginations. So we have found it to be kind of exhilarating and also allowing for new relationships and collaborations to form in their wake.
JS: Great. Let's talk a little bit about the importance of place, since we're focusing on local assets. I know one thing that came up a lot in the review process was where is the work actually going to take place in the community, a certain site? How important is that, Kennedy? How important is the actual place within these communities where a lot of this work happens?
Kennedy: Wow, well, that's a big question-
JS: It's a big question.
Kennedy: -with a lot of different answers. But I think that one thing is that you--again, it's sort of a question about leverage, you want to be able to do something that may have a catalytic impact on stimulating other sorts of creative activities within the community, other kinds of development. You may want to use creative placemaking as a way to sort of heal places that have physically become dysfunctional overtime and aren't serving as well as they might have; I've seen communities do just amazing things with little parcels of land, or intersections that maybe had some function in the past but now do something else. I came across, a couple of years ago, a music park where, because of the wind direction kind of blowing across this parcel of land, somebody in the community got the idea of putting a couple of blowing logs there and some chimes and making this incredible music park, where you heard these great sounds created by nothing except wind and the natural environment. So I think that taking a look at where you can have a great impact, in terms of catalyzing new activity or taking a look at places that need a little bit of extra attention in order to make them function better is a good way to start. And then of course, the great thing about creative placemaking is that the word "creative" is there, and there are so many different directions that this can take place in. I'm obviously a strong advocate for reusing existing buildings, and I think that, again, taking a look at the great building structure, the great building heritage that we have in place in so many communities, and finding a way to make those existing historic resources work best is always a good place to start.
JS: That's great. Well, we've got some great questions coming in, so I'm going to go ahead and jump to those before--so we have enough time to give you guys sort of a final word. Here's a good one. This is probably directly for Kennedy, "Are there some good models of zoning approaches that restore mix-use zoning with minimal disruption and conflict?
Kennedy: Well, yeah, there are, and you know actually one of the sort of biggest trends out there I would say now in zoning reparations is the adoption of form-based codes, which are, as opposed to use-based codes, which is what many communities have in place now. It's called Euclidean zoning, that separates out uses. Form-based codes, instead, focuses on the physical form of buildings and places, and in essence takes the entire community through a design process with making decisions about how they want the physical environment to look and perform. And so those values become part of the code. And most form-based codes are overlay codes, so in essence, someone who wants to improve a building, build a new building, renovate a new building, can either go with the form-based code, in which case, their development project usually zips through pretty quickly because the community has already hashed out many of these issues, or if they want to do something that doesn't quite conform with that, then they can go to the underlying zoning and go to the regular approval process, but form-based zoning is just a completely different way of looking at how to make these work, because if they're overlays, it really does involve sort of a minimal level of disruption for the community in terms of its processes, and it's a great sort of process for the community because it gets everyone talking about how they want the community to look, and perform, and evolve.
JS: That's great, thanks so much. Here's one for Donna, it says: "You've mentioned several times avoiding the A word,'" of course, we like the "A word" here at the National Endowment for the Arts, but, here they're asking, they have an art gallery in a small town, and they really struggle to get people through the door, "I know you also run an art gallery in a small town, what are certain things you do to both reach out to the community through that gallery, and also get some people through the door?"
Donna: Well, we change it up a lot. We experiment. We consider ourselves more of a laboratory than a gallery, and our most recent incarnation, we call our gallery "Fine Art and Curiosities." So we try to mix things up, if we have a show of a print maker, we'll also have, concurrently, a taxidermist. We will have a collection of hubcaps with some sculpture, we will really mix it up, and again kind of draw in different kinds of people together, because once people are in the room, humans are curious people, and once they feel comfortable they're interested. As I said before, we struggled with this for years, because we get very, very excited about things that we're doing and we want to share that excitement, so we try different avenues to get people excited, or to find out what excites people. So we try very different things, and we found that the word "gallery" is not necessarily helpful either, laboratory is more helpful, because what we're after is people tend to be interested in the output of a creative mind--whether it's somebody who puts together an unusual collection, or someone who makes sculpture or writes poetry. I think people do engage with those activities, it's just sometimes the structures in small towns keep them away. So I would say just experiment with different names, instead of calling it "art" or "gallery" try a few other words.
Brent: Yeah, I can and what I would suggest is probably going to the Small Business Association, they definitely can help with grant writing, or identifying a grant writer, if that is needed. Also, speaking with academic institutions, a lot of times it's a whole entire campus of intellectual capital across many different disciplines, you know, from those based in the arts, that's the school of music, school of theater, school of arts, or design schools, but then also business schools, because a lot of the projects have a real strong business component. History organizations, in their various forms. So preservation organizations are fantastic resources, as well, and, again, it's also about trying to identify, if you're brand new, trying to identify a project, a vision, and being able to evaluate that vision so that your proposal can compete as strongly as you want it to. So you really want to talk to experts, and professionals that can really help, again, sort of assess and evaluate your project.
JS: Great, thank you. Kennedy, let's give this one to you. What are the effective ways to establish partnerships with local government officials who are currently on board? Should you make academic arguments, focus on community development? This person lives in a small town that has a university and other cultural assets, but the government and economic development office is stuck on attracting traditional agriculture industries.
Kennedy: Gosh, you know, I think, I mean there are probably some sort of global tactics but what I think it really comes down to is that every local government leader is probably motivated by something unique to them. For some, it's going to be economic development, they want to create jobs, for others it might be a legacy, for some it might be growing the community, whatever it is I think it's important to figure out what that person's hot button is, and then find a way to shape the argument. The amazing thing about creative placemaking is that there are a gazillion reasons why it's a good approach for communities and community development, and I think it just takes really tailoring it to that perspective. Most local government officials that I've come in contact with are obviously pretty heavily motivated by economic development, particularly in the past five or six years, since the economic downturn. And I think that you can usually find some pretty compelling arguments there. One of the ones that I've seen local government officials respond to recently, is talking to them a little bit about millennials, the people who are between roughly 16 and 35 years of age right now, who really are sort of thinking about communities, and thinking about how they're going to work, and live in very different ways from their parents. They're going up, in essence, in a sort of virtual global community and looking for placemaking, for places that resonate with them, as a sort of corollary to that, and so they're thinking about places in a different way than their parents might have. For their parents, it might have been driven by economic opportunities; this generation knows that they can create their own economic opportunities, online, in many cases. And many of them believe that they will have their own businesses and create their own destinies, professionally, at some point. So I think that just beginning to open government officials' eyes to "here's a generation that has a lot of buying power that's beginning to come down the pike, they're creating a lot of jobs, they're creating a lot of businesses, and the places that they like to live and work, are places that are compact, that have a strong sense of place and identity, that have a lot of creative energy that is going to feed their work," and I found that that is resonating more and more with local government officials that may be thinking in more traditional ways about a market that is now aging, and they're not tapping into the younger one, especially in rural areas, I think, where a lot communities have lost population because younger people graduate from high school and they leave town: they go to college or they move away for a job. Those people are looking to come back to communities, to smaller communities, because the opportunities exist now for them in a different way.
JS: That's great. We also have a great suggestion from online, that there are state arts agencies and local, and county, and regional arts agencies that can also be helpful to you, or to arts and arts groups looking to get started in creative placemaking, so those are also great places to reach out to. You should be able to find that pretty easily, just by typing in your state or local or regional area and just saying "arts agency." And you should be able to do that through Google, and if you can't, you can always contact the Endowment and we'll guide you right to them. Donna, here's somewhat of a proactive one for you. What is really the role of an individual artist in helping their communities really confront and strategize about change or revitalization, especially in some of the smaller communities? What has your role as an artist really been? Where have you found yourself in that conversation?
Donna: That's a tricky one, it's been a very long and gradual process, and I think sometimes the artist, or an artist in an irritant in a community, not necessarily welcomed, but maybe tolerated, and then overtime accretions can form that may turn that irritant into a pearl, as it does with an oyster, but I think it takes a long, long time, and it's only looking back on what it has done for a community that that irritant might be embraced. So I think that we have overtime kind of plugged away and been persistent and fed our need to have other artists around and create exciting activity at the intersection of culture and agriculture, we've been persistent and it has finally paid off in a way that people can see that it has wonderful things that can attach themselves to it. It brings bodies, bodies go to restaurants, and go to bars, and drop money. So I think the economic development in the creative placemaking concept fits very, very well. I think in a small town it's harder, because the arts community is more spread out. What we've come to realize is the percentage is probably the same in a rural community as it is in an urban, but we have to get in a car to drive three miles to get together, perhaps. Where as in the city, it's a subway stop, it's a subway ride. So I think we try to find ways to talk to each other and pull people in to create interdisciplinary partnerships and I think it's only now that we have had a couple of successful events, that people who did not pay much attention before are saying "hmm." The arts are an important piece of the strategy. And so I think we're there now, I don't think we were there a few years ago, so I think it's persistence, and I think it's timing, and I think the creative placemaking concept just works very, very well for rural communities that are looking to sort of piece things together. In our case, the local food movement has sort of revitalized some of these efforts, and I think that it's also important to point out, at least for us, we are rural and isolated, but we are also in the middle of three major metropolitan areas, and we provide food for them all, and so this new interest by urban people and where their food comes from has enabled us to tap that curiosity and do some really interesting things.
JS: That's great. Well, we're going to go with last words here. Kennedy, I'm going to call on you first. Any last bits of advice or overall impressions you had being on the Our Town panel about how to do this work well in rural communities, or what things or trends you saw that were very interesting to you and may be very interesting to the American public?
Kennedy: Oh gosh, I think that, again, it goes back to partnerships. I think that we saw some pretty unique and innovative partnerships in the applications that we reviewed, and in general, I think the more people who were involved and on board for a project, the more likely it is to succeed and the stronger it's going to be. I noticed that there seems to be sort of an innate preference, or leaning, towards creative placemaking in sort of compact, mixed-use town centers and neighborhoods and communities, sort of an awareness that that's where there's a lot of energy and activity, where historically a lot of creative placemaking is taking place, and that really represents, when you think about it, a pretty fundamental shift from where we were as a nation thirty of forty years ago, and a really good step in the right direction. I think there's also sort of an awareness that came through in the applications that resources are more limited now, at least traditional resources that might have been there for doing community development work ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. And communities are becoming more resourceful. I think that small, rural communities have always had to be very resourceful, and in that way I think that we saw some extraordinarily creative applications emerge from this round of communities sort of using that experience they've had trying to make things work in innovative ways at a new level now for creative placemaking.
JS: Great, thank you. Brent?
Brent: Yeah, I think the power of the arts, to help create a new identity, and to re-brand communities, a lot of rural communities struggle with being relevant in some kind of way, and also trying to attract heritage tourism dollars and become economic--thrive economically again. So I saw in the proposals, this consistent theme of how history intersects with the arts, and combined they can make places relevant and vibrant, and really, really cool. And that's either saving a historic building and using it as an arts venue, or having some kind of public art component that, again, kind of brings a new identity to a place. I also would inspire and encourage that a lot of proposals were trying to engage young adults and the youth in the arts. So a lot of the programming, again, tried to engage that audience. So overall, I felt that there were so many fantastic proposals, I can't reiterate enough what was said earlier, partnerships were really strong, we saw some collaborations and almost mergers of organizations working together, they've been within close proximity of one another for years, and never even had conversations about how they can maximize their economy to scale, and collaborate, and I thought that was something that you all should keep in mind.
JS: Donna, last word?
Donna: Oh, what was the question? Sorry!
JS: Just any impressions, or takeaways about how to do the work effectively that you haven't spoken about yet, or any sort of big trends that you got excited about within the applications themselves that you thought might be kind of worth pointing out to folks on the webinar.
Donna: From the applications, again, yeah, to repeat what everyone else has said, there were some remarkable and quite a diverse group of applications. There were some that excited me personally, that really did a lot with science and the arts, or agriculture and the arts, and really mixed it up, and I see that a couple of those--in our particular group we reviewed them all, so we got the ones that were restoring the theaters, as well as the arts engagement ones, so it was tricky to compare apples to oranges. It was a remarkable process to go through. And I would also encourage anyone who would like to learn more about this process to engage in the panel process, it was quite enlightening for me, and I'm very grateful for the NEA for their support of our work and for teaching me so much about how this happens around the country.
JS: Well, thanks so much. Thank you to our panelists, we're giving you a round of applause, a silent round of applause, here. It really is an exciting time for the evolution and exploration in the creative placemaking field. We're pretty certain that these investments we're making will bear fruit in their communities, and lessons for the field as a whole. Again, I want to thank our panelists, I want to thank all of you for joining us on this webinar. We will absolutely continue to follow up on these issues, continue to investigate these issues in many different ways. The next thing we're going to be doing is actually having another webinar next week. That will be focuses on metropolitan communities, talking about specifically about design and cultural planning. Then the following Tuesday, we'll be talking about creative placemaking and arts engagement, those public art and temporary arts programming activities. So please join us for those two, tell your friends, tell your parents, and thanks so much. This is the NEA signing off.
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