Thursday, October 6, 2011

ArtPlace: Creative Solutions through Creative Placemaking

ArtPlace grantee Swarm Street by Acconci Studio. Indianapolis, IN. Image via ArtPlace
On September 14, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, Mellon, & other foundations, in conjunction with a host of government agencies and corporate partners, announced a groundbreaking partnership with the aim of "accelerating creative placemaking across the US": ArtPlace. Throughout the month of October I’ll be writing about different projects funded through this new consortium and their potential to revitalize and transform communities through the arts. But first, the basics--what's the deal with ArtPlace? Read on to find out.

All about the local
     According to the consortium's “About Us” page,  ArtPlace believes that art and culture can revitalize cities and towns by "increasing the desire and the economic opportunity for people to thrive in place.” But this isn't a one size fits all, cookie cutter approach. There will be no generic starchitecture anchor institutions or developer-funded imitations of 1970's SoHo--ArtPlace is “all about the local.” According to the New York Times, ArtPlace seeks to fund projects that already have preliminary infrastructure in place as well as strong support in their respective communities. An ArtSpace grant (on average around $350K) is then intended to help build an even more robust program and, hopefully, attract more public and private dollars.
     The annoncement of ArtPlace made waves in the arts community because of the unprecedented collaboration--ten private foundations (Ford, Mellon, Bloomberg, Rockefeller, and other heavy hitters in the philanthropic sphere) and six banks (Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, Citi, Chase, MetLife, and Morgan Stanley) will provide funding and loans. In addition, eight federal partners, from the NEA to Housing and Human Development to Education will provide oversight and leadership support (but no funds). “We felt if we worked together and coordinated our efforts, it would have a multiplier effect,” NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman, who spearheaded ArtPlace, told the New York Times.
"In this time of need, the arts can give"
     As I learned in one of my favorite graduate school classes, Public Policy and the Arts, America's idiosyncratic arts funding system is built on the public/private partnership. ArtsPlace fits squarely in that tradition of matching grants, CIGs, and the like. But it's more unusual for foundations to join forces in this way. Why start now? “It seemed too important not to do,” stated Don Michael Randel, president of the Mellon Foundation. Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas wrote on the NEA's blog that "The arts can heal, and the arts can build. In this time of need, the arts can give.” Ubinas also told the New York Times that “art is a precondition to success in a world increasingly driven by creativity and innovation.” (Sound familiar? See: STEAM.)
     So, who got the money ($11.5 million in total)? Projects span the breadth of the country, both culturally and geographically- from Massachusetts to Hawaii, from New York City to South Dakota. Projects vary contentwise, too--from Los Angeles’ Watts House Project, an artist-based neighborhood revitalization effort, to a public sculpture park in Wilson, NC, comprised of the whimsical whirligigs of local outsider artist Vollis Simpson.

Maximizing bang for buck - and speed
    Last week, I wrote about the enormous potential of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ART! and Mathematics education) to help America compete in the global economy. But what about the short term? STEAM has more to do with our long-term potential--making sure today and tomorrow's students are prepared to solve problems ten, twenty, and fifty years down the line. Many places can’t wait that long. (Just ask Detroit, home of several ArtPlace grants. More on that next week.)
     ArtPlace's economic development strategies will help provide localized economic development in less time. By investing in creative economy projects, art festivals, and institutions (among many other projects) ArtPlace will help kick-start local economies across the country through the arts. Combining resources across sectors and funding projects that area already underway--not starting from scratch--will help get things going more quickly too.

You can check out all the funded projects--and learn how to apply for the next round of ArtPlace grants, at ArtPlace's website. What do you think of ArtPlace? Any grantees in your community or particular projects you are excited about? Stay tuned for a whole month of ArtPlace at Art Advocado!


  1. Thanks for this. I really enjoy reading your posts.

  2. Many thanks Beth, I am so glad you enjoy it :)


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