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Sarah Bluvas

Reflections on the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit

by Sarah Bluvas Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Later this week, the Bolz Center will host Arts Business Research Symposium 2018. As we prepare to welcome researchers and practitioners from around the country to discuss the future of creative placemaking in higher education, I thought I’d share some of my experiences at another recent conference focused on how we use arts and culture to transform community spaces.

What is Creative Placemaking?

Creative placemaking brings public and private partners together to engage the arts and local culture to shape, revitalize, and rejuvenate the places in which we live, work, and thrive. Anne Markusen and Anne Gadwa produced a seminal white paper about creative placemaking for the National Endowment for the Arts in 2010, and this growing field has continued to gain momentum, national recognition, and grantmaking support over the past decade. Now the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking (NCCP) reports at least 1,400 communities around the country are participating in creative placemaking efforts, with support from more than a dozen grantmakers and government agencies.

Since 2014, NCCP has presented Creative Placemaking Leadership Summits and Knowledge Exchanges in New Jersey, and this year they partnered with Artplace America, a major funder of placemaking work, to take the CPL Summits on the road. I had the opportunity to attend the first convening, Beyond Big Cities: Placemaking in Southern Small Towns and Rural Communities. For two days, I connected with city planners, community developers, arts committee members, artists, and more from diverse southern communities while exploring the vibrant arts and culture scene of Chattanooga, TN.

Why rural communities?

Of all the CPL Summits planned for 2018, the Southeast Region conference appealed to me the most. While I definitely enjoy city living, my time spent in southern towns as a consultant for the U.S. National Park Service and my more recent work with the Village of Waunakee in Wisconsin have guided my interests toward collaborating with and building movements in smaller communities.

In Chattanooga, I talked with an executive director rethinking the typical role of an arts center in an Atlanta suburb; an arts council leader working to attract young residents while preserving the cultural heritage of her Tennessee mountain town; and a mayor who wears the hats of economic developer, city planner, public affairs officer, and more for a tiny town in central Georgia.

These and other summit participants attended, in part, because they see value in using arts and culture to stop small-town America from disappearing. As an emerging arts administrator, I am most interested in and skilled at helping these small communities transform and grow in smart and sustainable ways, and creative placemaking can be a useful tool to accomplish that.

Whose story are you telling?

Many of the sessions I attended centered on storytelling, exploring questions like what makes your community unique, and how can arts and culture help you tell that story to the world? The topic of gentrification and the role that arts and culture play, then, often hovered on the surface of many of these discussions. In one Knowledge Exchange, a participant reflected on the somewhat contradictory nature of the conference: on the one hand, we all talked about creating a sense of place, but, on the other, we desired artists to move into our communities and create that sense of place.

Her comments shed light on two other critical questions: what identity are we trying to cultivate, and who is doing the storytelling? Community members must ultimately be part of the placemaking process; artists bring a specific toolset to development and redevelopment, but their work must suit the needs of the community (both current and future) who lives there.

The Bolz Center has trained us well.

The last two years in the Bolz Center have provided me a strong foundation and training in creative placemaking approaches, and I realized this even more during my time in Chattanooga. While I walked away with many learnings to apply to my own practice, I also had valuable insights from my work in Waunakee and practical guidance that I could share with my fellow conference goers, many of whom are relatively new to the field of creative placemaking.

There are still a few CPL Summits left this year, and I encourage you to attend if you’re interested in learning more about creative placemaking efforts happening across the country. You can find more information on the CPL Summit website.