For the past five years, “creative placemaking” has increasingly been used to describe
projects in which art plays an intentional and integrated role in place-based community
planning and development. The phrase simply adds creative interventions alongside the
other “placemaking” strategies pioneered by Jane Jacobs and her colleagues who believed
that community planning and development should be human-centered, local, and holistic.
A growing interest in creative placemaking led to the creation of ArtPlace America,
which is a 10-year project supported by a partnership of 14 foundations, eight federal agencies,
and six financial institutions that is working to position art and culture as a core sector
of community planning and development. To date, ArtPlace has invested $56.8 million in
189 creative placemaking projects in 122 communities of all sizes across the United States.
Each of these projects has done four things: (1) defined a community based in geography,
such as a block, neighborhood, city, or even a county; (2) articulated a change the
group of people living and working in that community want; (3) proposed an arts-based
intervention to help achieve that change; and (4) developed a way to know whether the
In each project, arts and culture are working to help achieve a place-based change, which
means that it is the interventions that are creative, not necessarily the outcomes. In creative
placemaking, “creative” is an adverb describing the making, not an adjective describing the
place. Successful creative placemaking is not quantified by how many new arts centers,
galleries, or cultural districts are built. Rather, its success is measured in the ways artists,
formal and informal arts spaces, and creative interventions contribute toward community
As a result, ArtPlace has adopted the language of community planning and development
as the framework and context for understanding the impact of our investments.
The Functions of Creative Placemaking
In examining the projects in which ArtPlace has invested, we found four ways that creative
placemaking has regularly functioned in communities—ways that are both of interest to
those involved in community planning and development, and those that are grounded in
existing research. Communities consistently employ creative placemaking interventions to strengthen economic development, encourage civic engagement, build resiliency, and/or
contribute to quality of life.
Strengthens Economic Development
Creative placemaking supports economic diversity and place-based prosperity in the
community, creating more opportunity for all. At the end of 2013, the US Department of
Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis published their first Arts and Cultural Production
Satellite Account. It estimated 3.2 percent of the 2011 gross domestic product (GDP), or
$504 billion, was uniquely attributable to arts and cultural production. For comparison, this
figure is only slightly less than the construction industry’s contribution to GDP—and slightly
more than the travel and tourism sector’s contribution.
Arts and culture are often consumed in person, which means they also increase foot
traffic and its associated benefits. Different types of arts spaces attract different patterns of
foot traffic. Performing arts venues, for example, attract many people who arrive and depart
at set times in the course of a week. Museums and other visual arts venues attract a steady
stream of people in the course of a day. And rehearsal and studio spaces for artists tend to
attract individuals on an hourly basis, throughout the day, seven days per week.
By clustering together different types of arts spaces along underused streets, communities
are able to create consistent patterns of foot traffic, which provides a positive presence on the
street to improve public safety and to drive a neighborhood’s economy, as these members
of the public dine and shop. Perhaps not surprising, social scientists at the University of
Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project have said their signature finding is that “high
levels of cultural engagement are a leading indicator of a neighborhood’s revitalization.”1
Encourages Civic Engagement
Creative placemaking provides a sense of community identity and agency, which
connects community members with one another as stewards of shared space. In “Informal
Arts: Finding Cohesion, Capacity and Other Cultural Benefits in Unexpected Places,” Alaka
Wali, an anthropologist commissioned by the Chicago Center for Arts Policy, examined
participation in the informal arts—the types of art participation that are more likely to be a
part of daily life, such as singing in a church choir, participating in a drumming circle, writing
poetry at the local library, painting at home, or acting in a community theater.2 She found
that individuals with higher rates of participation in the informal arts also vote and volunteer
at higher rates.
James Catterall, a University of California, Los Angeles professor emeritus, looked at
patterns of participation in arts among students with low socioeconomic status in “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies.”3 According to
Catterall, young people who are at risk, but who actively participate in arts, have “comparatively
high levels of volunteering, voting, and engagement with local or school politics.”
People who participate in the arts are also more likely to engage civically beyond the arts.
Creative placemaking contributes to long-term investment in a community. It helps reestablish
normalcy and provides psycho-social relief following a natural disaster or community
tragedy. Thanks to the leadership of the Rockefeller Foundation (an ArtPlace partner),
for example, communities are increasingly focused on building resiliency: the prevention of,
preparation for, and recovery after major disruptions. The foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities
project uses a framework that gives 12 attributes of a resilient city.4 Two of their key ingredients
for resiliency are “social stability and security” and “collective identity and mutual support.”
The Knight Foundation (another ArtPlace partner) worked with Gallup to investigate
the drivers of “community attachment” (their term for Rockefeller’s “social stability”). They
conducted the “Soul of the Community” poll in 26 different communities and discovered
that the top three drivers of community attachment were consistently “social offerings,
(such as entertainment venues and places to meet), openness (how welcoming a place is),
and the area’s aesthetics (its physical beauty and green spaces).” Arts and arts organizations
regularly provide all three, also providing one of the key ingredients for resiliency.
Turning to Rockefeller’s “collective identity,” the same Chicago Center for Arts Policy paper
that delineated the role of the informal arts in encouraging civic engagement also found that
these same informal arts “build both individual identity and group solidarity,” which means
that the informal arts play an important role in helping heterogeneous communities create
the stable and shared sense of collective identity that is a second key ingredient for resiliency.5
Contributes to Quality of Life
Creative placemaking creates more vibrant and livable places by offering social activities
and improving an area’s aesthetics. During her tenure as the founding director of ArtPlace—
building on the work she did in her previous role with CEOs for Cities, and work which
she continues in her current role at the Knight Foundation—Carol Coletta worked with Joe
Cortright of Impresa Consulting to investigate and understand the quality of life offerings that
today’s increasingly mobile workforce seek in the places they choose to live. Their research
reveals that arts and cultural leisure activities are regularly among the quality of life offerings
that are present in the “vibrant, close-in neighborhoods” that are seeing population growth.6
How Creative Placemaking Works
For these outcomes to be useful in community planning and development, we should look
beyond the functions of creative placemaking and examine how creative placemaking works.
Looking again at the projects in which ArtPlace has invested, we found communities use
creative placemaking to anchor, activate, “fix,” and plan.
Creative placemaking leverages arts and culture organizations as stable community institutions,
contributing to neighborhood identity, bringing jobs, and attracting patrons who
support area businesses.
Community developers have long understood how hospitals and universities serve as
community anchor institutions: employing community members, purchasing goods and
services, having a stake in communities, and drawing diverse foot traffic to the area. Museums,
performing arts centers, and other arts organizations can serve the same functions while
bringing the added benefits of social offerings, aesthetics, social cohesion, and quality of life.
Creative placemaking brings performance and participatory activities to public spaces
(including plazas and alleyways) to make them more attractive, exciting, and safe.
In her groundbreaking 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs
recognized that public spaces regularly inhabited by diverse people are safer, more prosperous,
more enjoyable for residents, and more attractive to visitors.7 Planned public performances,
flash mobs, and temporary and permanent works of public art have attracted residents
and visitors to previously abandoned and underused spaces.
Creative placemaking ameliorates structural design problems. It encourages beautification,
engagement, and reimagining use—and it connects people with opportunities and one
another. The quotation marks around “fixing” are intentional. It can be too easy to talk about
a broken home or struggling neighborhood. We are not using “fixing” to describe a problem
that needs to be fixed from an outside perspective. Instead, we are talking about challenges
that communities have identified and the changes they want to see.
Artists and arts organizations can use their creative processes and the imagination they
inspire to help communities invent new solutions to historic challenges. From using lighting
to increase safety and help pedestrians navigate a city, to the more aspirational use of beauty
to help change a community’s narrative, creative placemaking projects can help communities
address their most pressing concerns.
Creative placemaking engages residents in the neighborhood development process. It
solicits input and suggestions through rapid prototyping and iterative design so that residents
may determine the future of their community. Some community planning and development
is done to communities. Most successful community planning and development is done
by and with communities. Designers, planners, and community developers have seen the
benefits of allowing people to use public spaces before making permanent infrastructure
investments in them. Engaging with a community at the beginning of a project promotes
understanding of how people currently use space and how they are likely to use space in the
future. Proper planning often negates the need for “fixing” later. The arts, by bringing people
together in a way that fosters both individual identity and group solidarity, can facilitate
community-engaged and community-led planning efforts.
Creative Placemaking in Action
The following profiles describe 16 projects that ArtPlace has supported. Creative placemaking
is at work in communities of all sizes and in all areas of the country—from Anchorage,
Alaska, across to Charlotte, North Carolina—because artists are an asset that exists in every
community. Not every community has waterfront access, a strong public transportation
system, or a major hospital or university. However, every community has people who sing,
dance, and tell stories. These sixteen projects represent some of the functions of creative
placemaking and how it is at work.
1. Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert, “The Arts, Civic Engagement, and the ‘Tragedy of the Commons.’”
(Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Social Impact of the Arts Project, June 2008), http://impact.sp2.upenn.edu/siap/docs/civic_engagement/4d-Civic-Tragedy%20of%20the%20commons%20PDF.pdf.
2. Alaka Wali et al., “Informal Arts: Finding Cohesion, Capacity and Other Cultural Benefits in Unexpected Places,”
(Chicago, IL: Chicago Center for Arts Policy, June 2002), http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/ccuc/ccuc_sites/Arts_Study/pdf/Informal_Arts_Full_Report.pdf.
3. James S. Catterall et al, “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings From Four Longitudinal
Studies,” (Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts, March 2012), http://arts.gov/sites/default/files/Arts-At-Risk-Youth.pdf.
4. The Rockefeller Foundation, “City Resilience Framework,” (New York: The Rockefeller Foundation, April
5. Alaka Wali et al, “Informal Arts.”
6. Joseph Cortright, “The Young and Restless in a Knowledge Economy.” (Chicago, IL: CEOs for Cities,
December 2005). http://www.ceosforcities.org/pagefiles/CEOs_YNR_FINAL.pdf
7. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, (New York City, NY: Random House, 1961).
Jamie Bennett is the executive director of ArtPlace America, a partnership among 14 foundations,
8 federal agencies, and 6 financial institutions working to position art and culture as a core sector
of community planning and development in order to help shape a community’s social, physical, and
economic. To date, ArtPlace has invested $56.8 million through 189 grants to creative placemaking
projects in communities of all sizes across the United States. Until December 2013, Jamie served as chief
of staff at the National Endowment for the Arts. Previously, he served in similar roles at the New York
City Department of Cultural Affairs and to the president of Columbia University; provided strategic
counsel at the Agnes Gund Foundation for 8 years; and worked in fundraising at The Museum of
Modern Art, the New York Philharmonic, and Columbia College.