Community Development Innovation Review

November 13, 2019

Creative Placemaking in Government: Past and Future


In 2020, the National Endowment for the Arts (Arts Endowment) will celebrate 10 years of investing in creative placemaking via its signature Our Town grant program. Creative placemaking seeks to use the arts to unite and strengthen communities socially, physically, and economically, by forging collaborations among entities from the public, private, philanthropic, arts, and cultural sectors.

To date, the Arts Endowment has supported over 585 creative placemaking projects and invested over $45.7 million in rural, tribal, suburban, and urban communities throughout the nation. Via project-based grants, the agency incentivizes local governments to play a new role in partnering directly with artists in deep and authentic ways. The arts have played a role in improving everything from public safety to health, while also offering innovative solutions to challenges that have too often divided communities. These investments are transforming places, as well as how governments at all levels fundamentally think about how to approach community development and how they cultivate new partnerships in their communities.

Although the creative placemaking field was primarily founded with the goal of driving economic development and rebounding from the Great Recession, it has also proven to be an effective tool for driving social change by increasing civic engagement and bridging community divides. For example, in Granite Falls, MN (population 3,525), the city is establishing an artist residency program within local government, which will place an artist in direct collaboration with city employees to explore how they, as public servants, can better serve local residents. This type of program is unique in a small, rural setting and has the potential to serve as a national example for other small communities that are interested in implementing a similar, locally tailored approach.

Beyond investing in local creative placemaking projects via Our Town, the Arts Endowment has also focused its grantmaking to support key network organizations. One example is a recent grant to the National Association of Counties to elevate creative placemaking strategies among a network of local county leaders. This award is focused on equipping county leaders with best-practice protocols in creative placemaking so that they may better connect with local artists and carry out their own successful projects. Investments in local creative placemaking projects and network organizations are paving the way for long-term, sustained support and recognition of arts and culture as integral to every phase of community development.

Today, the Arts Endowment has expanded the goals of its Our Town program beyond local economic, physical, and social change to also include “systems change”—defined as improved capacity for a community to sustain and advance the integration of the arts, culture, and design into everyday civil society.

The National Endowment for the Arts believes that the future success of creative placemaking throughout America is inextricably bound to the continued collaboration with committed partners who share a belief in the power of the arts to unify local communities.

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Other articles in this issue




How Organizations Evolve When Community Development Embraces Arts and Culture

Arts and Culture from the Inside, Not Just on the Outside

“The Way We Work”: Integrating Arts and Culture into an Organization

Dialogue on Organizational Growth and Change

Building Capacity for Creative Community Development

Lessons on Collaborative Practice between Artists and Community Developers

The Connection between Public Space and Cultural Resources: Reflections on our work in Strawberry Mansion

Mimes and Road Construction: An Unlikely Partnership for Community Investment

Dialogue on Working with Artists

Culture and Creativity Are Fundamental to Resilient Communities

Outcomes in Communities of Arts and Cultural Strategies: The Role of Organizing and Engagement

Ibasho: A Place of Belonging1

From Zuni Art to The Sky is the Limit!

Dialogue on Organizing and Strengthening Social Fabric

Integrating Arts and Culture into Community Development to Improve Outcomes

Creating Process for Change

Leading Change: Reflections from Chief Executives of CDI Organizations

Community History, Identity, and Social Change: Reflections from Researchers on the Potential of Arts & Culture

Multiple Ways of Knowing: Translating Outcomes Between the Arts and Community Development

State Policy Innovations to Support Creative Placemaking

Do I Need Special Glasses? Seeing Arts and Culture as Part of Community Development for Financial Institutions

CultureBank: A Vision for a New Investment System

Widening the Lens: Arts, Culture, and an Equitable Future for All Communities