Creative Life in the Gateway Arts District

What’s in a brand? How do we measure it?

Today Joe’s Movement Emporium hosted the  Arts and Entertainment Districts Annual Meeting. Representatives from Art Lives Here partners, Gateway CDC, Hyattsville CDC, and of course Joe’s Movement Emporium were all spotted enjoying networking and cupcakes with some incredible individuals.

Still fresh from the 2014 ArtPlace America Grantee Summit, this Art Lives Here Coordinator especially enjoyed hearing from Steven Shewfelt of the National Endowment for the Arts on exploring indicators, and Ben Muldrow of Arnett Muldrow & Associates on community branding

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Shewfelt started out by defining indicators as a measure of a metric to show a characteristic within a context of a project. Essentially indicators are tools of measurement that can be used to talk about change of a metric that occurs over time and/or space. An indicator itself does not implicate change, but can be used to understand if it’s happening and what the relationships are between what is being measured, and what the measurement means.

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He made an important distinction between “Outputs” and “Outcomes.” An output is an indicator of what was done whereas an outcome is an indicator of what was achieved. An outcome starts to speak to what the output sought to do, and if it did it. So in terms of Art Lives Here, an output would be the 19 planned projects by artists and artist groups while an outcome would be the awareness of community members of the fact that they live in an Arts District.

Outputs relate to “what we do.” Outcomes refer to “what difference is there.” via University of Wisconsin-Extension

Shewfelt encouraged us to “be thoughtful” about what one can and cannot get out of an indicator. National and local indicators each have their strengths and weaknesses. He used the example of parking tickets. A festival-hosting city was using parking tickets as a measurement of success which may have made sense on a local level, but nationally did not speak to the same outcomes.

Shewfelt attempted to unpack for our benefit the Validating Arts and Livability Indicators in Selected Communities and Developing a User’s Guide with Case Examples and Local Data Sources (charmingly acronym-ed: VALI) project. Essentially the NEA sought to understand good vs bad indicators (does the measurement reflect the reality?) and where and when these indicators were more and less useful though site visits and focus groups as well as collect information from communities on what their chosen local data sources were; what indicators they were collecting (from the few projects profiled a whopping 1,300 indicators were being measured).

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So what’s next for VALI? Shewfelt gave us a sneak peek as some snazzy webpages (yet to go live) that will give NEA constituents (that’s you, America) a user-friendly way to access and understand this information when developing, measuring, and improving their own projects. Contributing to that Creative Placemaking Field (Movement/Method/etc) talked about in Los Angeles at the beginning of this month with information about how different communities do such work, what resources are out there to consider, and how to begin measuring both outputs and outcomes.

Shewfelt left us with this last thought: measurement often in the arts can feel oppressive, limiting, and imposed upon by funders and other powers-that-be, however as communities, measurement ensures that we can continue and improve upon the “excellent work” we’re doing by learning from what was done and what can be done better.

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Next up was Ben Muldrow who delivered a dynamite presentation on the art of community branding. Muldrow won our hearts by stating a few things that live at the very root of what this Gateway Arts District individual thinks creative placemaking is about:

  • Community branding is ultimately about tapping in to people’s passion for a place
  • There is a magical, intimate relationship people have with the place they call “home”
  • Artists get used as “disposable revitalizers”, they “invest their heart and soul” into places no one wants to be, turn it over into something better, and then get turned out as rent and cost of living prices soar

Muldrow started off his presentation by asking us “why are people now talking about branding?” To illustrate the why he took us through the example of a birthday party. In the 1920s you’d go to our local general store and buy some flower, sugar and eggs and make a cake for about 60 cents (Raw Material Economy). In the 1940s you would go to your local grocery story and buy a cake mix to make your cake for about $2 (Product Economy). In the 1980s you’d go to your local grocery store and purchase an enormous sheet cake emboldened with the words “Happy Birthday” and probably some frosting balloons for about $12 (Service Economy). Where as in 2010, you’d go out and spend $2,000 to rent an enormous bouncy castle to prove your kid is more awesome than all the other kids on the playground (Experience Economy).

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So in this “experience economy” (a term coined in 1998 by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore) customers are not looking for raw materials, products, or services, they are choosing which experiences to splurge on. This is where branding comes in.

According to Muldrow, community branding is the definition, creation and implementations of a system to share your community’s personality. We are not to create a brand for our communities, we are to read our community’s flavor, and invest in the stories that are true, not the ones we want to be true. The organizational identity of a community (think city seals) and the destination identity of a community are different. Organizational bands all the different parts together, while destination is shareable and supported by your community’s individual members. Remember when you try to say everything, you end up saying nothing.

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So what are the basics of a brand? Font, color, graphic, and message. Once these major decisions are made, the overall brand can teach people and sects of the community (or “fiefdoms” as Muldrow calls it) to play together and create community loyalty.

Though visually stunning examples Muldrow talked through his process of developing a community brand. Starting with the “connective tissue”of the name and the kind of shape it creates, connecting into community pride with tag lines, using community connectors to share stories, defining colors based on a community’s products, creating downtown and organizational variants, and ending with massive amounts of collateral (everything from street signs, to banners to advertising in magazines).

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Overall Muldrow encouraged all of us to “dig deeper” and “keep it simple.” A simple idea can excite local individuals and businesses to use it, spread and share it, making the brand last, and create an overall buy-in. Don’t stop at “preserving the past and investing in the future”, keep looking inwards at what makes your community unique. History means nothing, he says, if it can’t be felt. Keep your eyes and ears open, your community has its own unique flavor, what is it?


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

2 comments on “What’s in a brand? How do we measure it?

  1. holtina
    March 18, 2014

    Nicely written, Neena! I feel like I was at this meeting. Very interesting stuff.

    Sent from my iPhone


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