Creative Life in the Gateway Arts District

Creative Placemaking: a Movement, a Method, or a Field?

As Art Lives Here Project Coordinator I had an incredible opportunity to join Joe’s Movement Emporium Executive Director, Brooke Kidd as well as many other ArtPlace America grantees and funders, past and present, for the 2014 ArtPlace America Grantee Summit in Los Angeles, California.

View from the Omni Hotel

View from the Omni Hotel

Discussions included the new ArtPlace strategic vision, the making and creative of a placemaking commons, what makes a strong field, artist-led vs organization-led projects, the intentions and outcomes of placemaking, and a frank and interesting discussion about people and place and people in place. The conference ended with a town hall discussion where issues and ideas were addressed and discussed.

Outside the MOCA at night

Outside the MOCA at night

Creative Placemaking is a very real thing that has been happening for a very long time. Having read all the proposals that came in through both the 2013 and 2014 Request for Proposals process, I have often regurgitated ArtPlace America‘s or the National Endowment for the Arts definitions of creative placemaking. These definitions were hefty, verbose, cumbersome and open to interpretation. So I was relieved when the conference opened with a the new ArtPlace America Executive Director, Jamie Bennett, leading us in a discussion of where the term came from (celebrating Carol Coletta for removing the air quotes that used to accompany the work and Rocco Landesman for giving it policy credibility), what it has gone through, and what the future could hold.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Now Albert Einstein was attributed with saying, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” With this in mind I will throw away my thesaurus and and esoteric phrasing and attempt to unpack creative placemaking:

The act of creative placemaking seeks to put the arts & culture at the center of the issues of our times. The arts have been, and can continue to be, empowered as an integrated sector in community development working with health and transit etc to enact a positive change within a community and add to a sense of place. A place is where people feel an emotional connection to, an attachment to it’s history and culture.

LA street art

LA street art

Now the question is, how do creative placemakers share their experience, their knowledge, and their failures in a way that helps build and grow the concept. Throughout the conference the same question continued to arise: As creative placemakers are we creating a field or are we part of a movement? A field connotes academia, a school of thought, a field of knowledge, while a movement is transient, gains momentum, encourages many self-declared followers, but may not be permanent. Tell us what you think in the comments!

Walking through the MOCA

Walking through the MOCA

Brooke Kidd shares her reflections here:

  • We are part of a movement (as creative placemakers) and have to advocate for the value of our service to facilitate change.
  • Creative placemakers use arts and culture at the center of solving  problems and re-imaging space. Artists are finally at the table for these discussions locally and nationally.
  • Our work is critical to talent attraction and retention that deeply influences economic opportunity and evens out access.
  • More regional funders are picking up creative placemaking and there will be new opportunities for individual organizations as well as partnering organizations.
  • We need tools to address displacement before it happens.
  • We need to track our tangible and intangible (qualitative and quantitative) results in a creative method that reflects our community and project.

We’ll be writing more about our conference reflections and how Art Lives Here fits in later this week for our ArtPlace America blog post later this month!


About neenajoe

Joe’s Movement Emporium is a cultural arts hub that acts as a catalyst for creativity and economic opportunity for all through productions and programs in education, artist services and work readiness. Located in the town center of Mount Rainier, Maryland within the Prince George’s County Gateway Arts District, the organization supports and promotes creative projects of local artists and community groups. For additional information on programs and events, please visit

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