This Salon sought answers to a very big question: what will it take to move and sustain arts and culture in community development, civic engagement, and social change?
The 21st century is all about intersections, networks, and hybridity. Our goal should be to ingrain arts in community development through cross-cutting projects that seek to anchor people to place. Caron Atlas nailed it by highlighting Arts & Democracy’s new book: Bridge Conversations, People Who Live and Work in Multiple Worlds.
The Stockholm metro is not only informally known as “the world’s longest art gallery” but it’s also a leader in energy conservation — harvesting body heat from passengers to help ease heating requirements.
This is a creative solution that puts people (literally) at the heart of the work. Erik Takeshita said it best, “the importance of culture – not just art – is critical.” To Takeshita’s point, the Stockholm metro isn’t art specifically, its culture; a way of expressing the values of a society.
The Stockholm metro also borrows a tech industry idea by focusing on a human-centered approach to creative placemaking. Sara Bateman highlighted this concept through Julie Keefe’s Hello Neighbor Project. Keefe understood that neighborhoods are about people, infrastructure and the space in between. Often, it’s the space in between where the arts and creativity can play the biggest role.
In the past, the arts were perceived as an embellishment to the community development process.
In the midst of the Great Depression, the U.S. government created the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), through which participating artists produced pieces that adorned government buildings. A Smithsonian Magazine article on the 2009 PWAP art exhibit ends with the question, “What abandoned subdivision, its streets choked with weeds, would convey the ‘American scene’ to artists today?”
Thankfully, artists are being asked to move beyond the depiction the “American scene” to the co-creation of it.
Today we have opportunities like ArtPlace insisting that creativity be central to the neighborhood development process, not simply a vehicle for adornment. In that context, we are moving the needle in the right direction.
I reference the Stockholm example to show how creativity is currently being embedded in placemaking. What I see as the key to others successes is the concept of hybridity.
We must look at artists as agents of social change, city planners as visionary futurists, and transit commissioners as curators. Our societal challenges are interwoven, yet solutions thus far been narrowly focused. We will have the greatest impact when we work as a coalition, of people, from broad fields of expertise towards the common good.
(Side Note: Thanks to Bill Roper for the Knight Foundation shout out!)