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Mae Saul

Arts and Business Research Symposium: A Student’s Perspective on Arts Administration and Creative Placemaking

by Mae Saul Friday, May 6, 2016

Last week, the Bolz Center, in collaboration with Arizona State University’s Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship, hosted the 2016 Arts Business Research Symposium. The symposium focused on the role of higher education in the creative placemaking movement.  Creative placemaking is a tricky concept to define, but just for reference, The National Endowment for the Arts defines creative placemaking as “[when] partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.”  I think this does a good job of broadly defining creative placemaking and gets at the core idea of the practice - shaping, or bettering, the character of a neighborhood through the arts and cultural activities.  With representatives from creative placemaking initiatives across the country, our conversations attempted to more precisely define what creative placemaking is and what we think it should be.  We addressed best practices in creative placemaking projects, scholarly research and teaching and practicing creative placemaking in our communities.  Essentially, we asked each other how and if universities should have a place in the movement and if so, what that role should look like. 

As a student it was an opportunity to hear from leaders in the field and to develop my own opinion about creative placemaking and the role of arts administrators like myself.  Presenting different ideas and approaches to the field of arts administration and allowing students to form their own opinions is one of the Bolz Center’s greatest strengths and I think the Arts Business Research Symposium really allowed us to do just that.  I was able to engage with professionals from around the country and learn what they are doing in their communities and what is working and not working.  I was also able to ask questions and start to form my own opinion of creative placemaking and form an understanding of how it can be valuable to the arts in general. 

What struck me most during the symposium was the absence of traditional arts organizations in the creative placemaking framework.  A lot of the work being done in creative placemaking sounded very familiar to me from my own experience working in the arts and I was surprised that we didn’t hear more about the intersection of creative placemaking and the traditional arts organization.  Many traditional arts organizations are doing very similar work and the opportunities for collaboration seem abundant for both arts organizations and organizations focused on creative placemaking.  In my experience, I have seen renewed emphasis at arts organizations to connect more with their community and to create programming that matters to the communities they serve and the communities they wish to serve.  It is exciting to think of different ways in which arts organizations and creative placemakers can collaborate, but I think the first step to fruitful collaboration is recognizing the value that each party brings to the table.  For arts organizations, creative placemaking professionals have a lot of experience in community outreach work and are often well-versed in working with city departments and municipalities.  For creative placemakers, traditional arts organizations have experience presenting art and often already have deep roots in the communities they serve.  This thought also reminded me of a very salient point from the MBA Business Strategy Class: you should stick to what you do really well.  To me, this suggests that there is room for both arts organizations and creative placemakers to learn from each other and teach each other what they already do well.  It will be interesting to see what happens between these two fields as the community placemaking movement evolves.