ArtPlace America (ArtPlace) was a ten-year collaboration among a number of foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions that supported and strengthened the field of creative placemaking – the intentional integration of arts, culture, and community-engaged design strategies into the process of equitable community planning and development. ArtPlace worked to enlist artists as allies in creating equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities in which everyone has a voice and agency.
To this end, ArtPlace invested over $150 million to grow the field of creative placemaking through demonstration projects, in-depth investments in organizational change, research, and convenings – embedding knowledge and resources within existing networks and supporting local ecosystems to own and evolve the practice.
Within this mandate, ArtPlace conducted the Translating Outcomes research initiative from 2015 to 2020 – an incremental, segmented approach to building creative placemaking knowledge for and with a diverse range of community development practitioners. The concepts and publications found throughout this website are the results of that research initiative, and they are based upon the insights and lived experience of hundreds of visionary individuals and institutions leading creative placemaking work across the United States.
Recognizing that the comprehensive community development field is made up of many professional disciplines, ArtPlace developed a diagram to illustrate ten segments of the field that are commonly understood as discrete sectors. These sectors are often separated out as distinct municipal agencies, university departments, or funding streams. The ten sectors are Agriculture & Food, Economic Development, Environment & Energy, Health, Housing, Immigration, Public Safety, Transportation, Workforce Development, and Youth Development. While ArtPlace used this diagram in multiple ways over the course of its grantmaking and other work, the Translating Outcomes effort took it as its road map and set out to analyze, make legible, and give language to how arts and cultural practitioners have long been partners in helping to achieve each of these sectors’ goals.
For each of the ten sectors, ArtPlace engaged countless partners to conduct participatory research, convene cross-sector working groups, and create resources specific to each sector. The segmentation served as a methodological tool that allowed ArtPlace, in the tradition of interdisciplinary research, to build understanding, capacity, and nuance in each of the sectors. Taking a page from strategic communications research as well, the segmentation allowed us to treat each sector as a distinct audience or stakeholder, building discipline- or industry-specific frameworks and resources in language that resonated for each. One of the outputs in each sector was a published Field Scan, available for download individually or as a complete set.
This research strategy served ArtPlace’s field building goals by inviting diverse disciplines into the conversation, while also laying the foundation for the cross-cutting analysis you see here. Time and time again, we saw that creative placemaking best practices were comprehensive, touching on not one or two sectors but inhabiting the holistic intersection of them all. Key themes emerged across all ten sectors as well; the arts’ ability to reflect community identity, for example, showed up as anti-displacement work in the housing sector, and as part of welcoming initiatives in the immigration sector.
This website, then, is the result of a comprehensive meta-analysis of all of ArtPlace’s sector-specific findings, presented as an interactive graphic that highlights thirteen ways that arts and culture can support equitable community development. Arts and culture does of course shape our lives and impact society in countless other ways that were outside the scope of this research. Precedents and references that informed this analysis included the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town Theory of Change, Animating Democracy’s Aesthetic Perspectives Framework, the Socio-Ecological Model in Public Health, the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing, and more.
The Translating Outcomes initiative was explicitly participatory, designed to elevate the knowledge and expertise of community residents, artists, and community development practitioners through interviews, convenings, and research review.
As ArtPlace listened and learned from the field we sought to support, it became increasingly critical to acknowledge both the positive and negative legacies within community development practice in order to situate creative placemaking in a values-driven, equitable way. We engaged with the histories of systemic racism, exclusion, and injustice that have shaped each sector – from redlining and displacement in the housing sector, to longstanding discrimination against black farmers in the agriculture and food sector; from the measurable public health impacts of racism, to a growing consensus among environmental advocates that the effects of climate change impact low-income communities first and worst. It is precisely these inequities that community development practitioners seek new solutions to, and that artists, designers, and culture bearers are drawn to solving in their own communities.
That said, the risk of doing harm – and the very real history in the field of creative placemaking – remains if arts and cultural approaches do not include an explicit stance against racism and oppression in all forms. We thus tried to layer this commitment to equitable approaches into each of the thirteen themes, and include a level of transparency about how and when creative placemaking work has the potential to do harm. As two white, female lead authors, working within predominantly white organizations and steeped in white supremacy culture, we know that our own awareness and analysis is still evolving and we acknowledge its impact on both the process and the conclusions of our work. For more about ArtPlace’s reflection on racial justice, see We Write to Reflect, We Write to Acknowledge authored by ArtPlace team members Maura Cuffie and Leila Tamari.
We share this analysis with both excitement and humility. For over six years we have been immersed in cross-sector thinking, listening for patterns and ideas that transcend any one sector. It has been a privilege to bring the sector-specific findings, at long last, into a comprehensive whole, and we hope it helps to further cement an understanding of artists as allies for equitable community development.
Yet, we hesitate to frame this analysis as any sort of conclusion. As ArtPlace closes its ten year chapter, we leave it behind as a provocation for arts and community development research, practice, and policy moving forward. We have invited responses from colleagues across the field of creative placemaking throughout 2021, and we are eager for others to conduct their own analyses with the data provided. Ultimately we hope that this can be a useful resource for those doing the critical work of building more creative and just futures in our communities, and we look forward to the continued evolution of these ideas in the coming years.
— Jamie Hand and Danya Sherman, December 2020
For more information about ArtPlace America, visit ArtPlace: Ten Years.
For more information about the Translating Outcomes initiative, visit Multiple Ways of Knowing: Translating Outcomes Between the Arts and Community Development.