As a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in February 2014, I had the opportunity to share my ongoing research. I introduced them to the work of Theaster Gates—an artist turned community development catalyst on Chicago’s South Side—and the concept of “creative placemaking.” The idea for this journal evolved from those initial conversations.1
My case study on Gates was one of three focused on artists who are also social innovators. I also wrote in-depth about James Houghton, founding artistic director of Signature Theatre in New York and San Francisco’s Deborah Cullinan, executive director of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. While I had selected these three as successful arts leaders, I quickly recognized that they were all highly focused on making a difference in their communities.
Gates renovates and activates long-abandoned buildings in neighborhoods with high need and few resources. Houghton built and leads a three-theater performing arts center designed to encourage “orchestrated collisions” bringing audience, artists and staff in continuous contact; he expands who is the audience by selling affordable $25 tickets. Cullinan reimagines what it means to be a community arts center by moving out of the building and into the community, demonstrating the relevance of art to the lives of everyday people.
These three leaders were my introduction to the many ways artists and arts organizations are changing the use of public space, knitting social fabric across difference, contributing to community resiliency, and improving the economies of cities across America. This work is concrete and measurable–and, increasingly, mayors, investors and philanthropists are partners to these efforts.
This journal looks at what creative placemaking does and how it does it. We are fortunate to have perspectives from 16 organizations on the frontlines of this work, the funders and financiers supporting them, and the researchers and evaluators who are interpreting progress. We hear what this means to the broader community development field, from economists focused on communities becoming and remaining competitive, and from the mayor of San Francisco, who leads a city at the epicenter of creativity and innovation. If we are successful, this journal will reach a new audience of lenders and investors, civic leaders, and community organizations who haven’t yet heard of “creative placemaking” but will understand its potential to help their work.
As Deborah Cullinan has said, “Creativity exists in the community to solve problems. Artists don’t just solve specific problems. Artists represent our ability as a society to solve all our problems.” See if you don’t agree.
1. This journal would not have been possible without the generous help of Jamie Bennett and his team at ArtPlace America, in particular Lyz Crane and Prentice Onayemi. I am also grateful for the insights and advice shared by Jane Chu, Joan Shigekawa, and Jason Schupbach at the National Endowment for the Arts. My thanks, also, to the community development team at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, in particular Scott Turner, David Erickson, and Ian Galloway