The Intersection of Public Art and City Planning

Posted by Meredith Frazier Britt On September - 4 - 2014
Meredith Frazier Britt

Meredith Frazier Britt

I am a city planner who can’t stay away from public art. I just finished my capstone project for my master’s in city and regional planning at Georgia Tech, and true to form, I studied commonalities between public art and planning goals in the Atlanta region.

My interest in public art began with art history in college. I trace it to a flashbulb memory of a beloved professor snapping to a slide of Claes Oldenburg’s imagined (but never constructed) intersection-blocking monument in New York City. I loved that this piece would so fully obstruct the activity of city life, interrupting our regular routes of walking and driving, imposing its message on our thoughts. Read the rest of this entry »

3 Ways that Open Source Can Radically Transform the Arts

Posted by Vijay Mathew On May - 16 - 2014
Vijay Matthew

Vijay Mathew

Open sourcing—otherwise known as “commons-based peer production”—is a model for the production of cultural and material products and activity. It is most well known outside of the arts as a successful collaborative model for producing software since the advent of the web more than twenty years ago. The goods that result from an open source endeavor belong to “a commons” and are accessible to all.

A key characteristic of an open source product is that it cannot be privatized. Privatization defines value through artificially induced scarcity and then derives money from barriers to access. Value in an open source project, however, is defined by how successful the needs of a community are being met and by the project’s ability to enable continuous innovation and evolution due to its openness and accessibility. Open sourcing is a civic good and a process for re-organizing communities and social dynamics. In many economic and cultural contexts in which we inhabit, open sourcing is counter-cultural. In terms of its value system and world-view, it’s a perfect match for what many people feel the not-for-profit sector should aspire to. Read the rest of this entry »

Bruce Whitacre

Bruce Whitacre

As corporate giving for the arts turns a corner post-recession, arts organizations like ours, the National Corporate Theatre Fund (NCTF), view the development with cautious optimism. Every three years, Business Committee for the Arts (BCA), part of Americans for the Arts, publishes a survey of corporate support for the arts. The report – a fascinating quick read, conducted by theatre patron and research guru Mark Shugoll, reports the first positive trends in corporate support for the arts in six years, although giving is still below pre-recession levels.

This year, the survey goes deep into why companies do and do not support the arts, and what could make them give more, or get engaged in the first place. Two observations stand out to me as ah-ha moments: Arts organizations have lost contact with the CEO’s who drive these decisions, and the arts community is not sufficiently connecting and communicating its education and social engagement activity to broader community engagement and development.

A recent experience underscores my first key observation in the report – that only 10 percent of companies surveyed make supporting the arts a top priority in their contributions. While this is higher than three years ago, when it was only 2 percent (I wonder what accounts for the change), this was a bracing reminder of where we are on the corporate priority list. To celebrate the founding of several regional theatres 50 years ago, an NCTF board member connected us to a media consultant to craft profiles of CEOs in various communities talking about why regional theatres are key to their philanthropy and partnership policies. Our consultants found that media outlets wanted proven research, or at least anecdotal experiences, of employee creativity, engagement, business objectives realized through theatre, and so on. Read the rest of this entry »

Envisioning a City of Artists with “Soulful Stakes”

Posted by Kyle Bostian On May - 31 - 2013
Kyle Bostian

Kyle Bostian

Pittsburgh is widely – and deservedly – touted for its transformation from declining industrial center to post-industrial success story, with much attention devoted to the role played by the arts in that (ongoing) process. The site of the 2013 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, downtown’s Cultural District, represents a shining example of how artistic activity can help drive an economic recovery.

But in many neighborhoods the transition isn’t quite as far along; in some, it’s barely begun. And, for me and plenty of other Pittsburgh residents, that raises questions about how artists – often among the “avant-garde” (regardless of the style of their work) in terms of moving into and restoring “blighted” areas – might strive to make the most of the opportunities presented to them there. In my case (and I’m by no means alone in this respect), these questions go beyond the relationship between artistic activity and economic revitalization to encompass broader aspects of community building, accessibility, and social justice.

As a citizen-artist-activist, I appreciate the feeling of community that the arts often generate among participants. I’m particularly interested in and devote some of my own creative energy to projects that address issues (social, economic, political) with direct relevance to local populations. I’m passionate about the work I do along those lines. At the same time, I wonder if there are ways I could use my creativity to engage more deeply with my communities and have a greater impact. That’s why I was struck so powerfully by the words of one panelist at a recent Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network forum on “Arts as Urban Renewal.” Read the rest of this entry »

Start Your Own Workshop

Posted by Drew Cameron On May - 14 - 2013
Drew Cameron, photo by

Drew Cameron, photo by Kari Ovik

Like many recently separated veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan era of wars, I enrolled into community college as soon as I left active duty. The war I had been a part of was just two years old and I remained uncertain about identifying as having been in the military. I was a diligent student and kept to myself but enjoyed the classroom dialogue. Occasionally related material about the wars would surface and I would share my perspective with the class. There was always a sudden quiet when I chose to speak about the war as a veteran, as if I had a just trumped the other’s ability to have a contribution any further in fear of offending or denigrating mine. “I can’t imagine what it was like over there,” was the collective sentiment much to my dismay.

Workshop in progress, photo courtesy of Combat Paper

Workshop in progress, photo courtesy of Combat Paper

Fast-forward a few more years of deployments, a growing population of young veterans filtering back into towns across America, the demanding fervor of war fighting and the inevitable growth of arts groups, workshops and collections of activists seeking to illuminate the complexity of it all. Yet still, our common greeting of the day for those who have returned from war is, “Thank you, welcome home, I don’t know if I have the framework to understand your experience.” There it is, but if you honestly asked yourself, don’t you want to know?

Since beginning to facilitate workshops with veteran and civilian communities in 2006 with the group Warrior Writers and then Combat Paper Project, I have noticed a growing trend in others seeking to do the same thing. Historically there is a strong tradition of individuals, groups, and organizations turning to the arts to investigate and connect affected communities in warfare. Today, whether it intuition or mandate, I am encouraged at how the arts are once again connecting not only the veteran population but civilians as well through a massive growth in workshop based practice.

Read the rest of this entry »

Collective Impact and the Wisdom of Slow Culture

Posted by Bill Cleveland On December - 7 - 2012

Pomegranate Center works with communities to imagine, plan, and create shared public spaces designed to encourage social integration and build local identity.

In the world of commerce scaling up has a long history. In the eighteenth and ninetieth centuries, mass production spawned the industrial revolution. In the twentieth century, scaling applied to retail businesses like fast food and electronics manifested as chain stores and franchising.

The intention with these enterprises is to maximize profit by providing reliable and affordable products and services through economies of scale. In terms of profitability, mass production, chains, and franchising have been stupendously successful.

On the nonprofit side, given the significant gap between community needs and resources it is understandable that policymakers and funders are going to eager to find ways to extend the benefits of what they see as effective ideas and practice. Slow Food USA, Link TV, and KIPP charter schools are good examples of how innovative nonprofits have shared and spread the wealth.

The downside, of course is that one-size-fits-all predictability and sameness can have a sterilizing effect on the delicate strains of quirk and diversity upon which vital culture depends to multiply and thrive. For people like me who are concerned with community cultural development, or in the current vernacular, creative placemaking, this is no small thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Local Arts Classroom: Stepping Outside of Your Bubble

Posted by Jenna Hartzell On October - 9 - 2012

Jenna Hartzell

When the call for applicants went out for the first ever Local Arts Classroom (LAC) program with Americans for the Arts I didn’t hesitate to apply.

I had attended the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in 2011 and returned to work thinking, “I need more.”

I felt the need to stay connected to what’s happening on a national level, but had a desire to learn more about what I should be doing as a Program Director of a local arts agency. I read blogs, followed @Americans4Arts on Twitter, and was connected on a surface level, but missed the sense of camaraderie the convention facilitated.

Enter the LAC and a chance to learn about cultural planning, making space for art, advocacy, board and staff development, fundraising, and making the case for the arts; a chance to learn with arts administrators from all over the country; a chance to absorb different perspectives and experiences of those who know what it’s like to be an arts administrator.

I say “absorb” because that was how I approached the class: to be a sponge, and absorb every concept, idea, and piece of advice I could possibly take in.

One concept that I’ve applied frequently since I graduated from LAC is one about fundraising, planning, and community:

When planning for an event or fundraiser, organizations typically take this approach:

  • Name the activity/goal/event
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Evaluate
  • Ask: What is a success for the organization?
  • Ask: Was it a success for the community? Read the rest of this entry »

How Art Can Strengthen Evaluation

Posted by Renan Snowden On May - 4 - 2012

Renan Snowden

Let’s be honest: sometimes evaluation can feel like taking medicine. What’s more, the results of evaluation often take the form of dry reports that are unwelcoming and, at worst, hard to penetrate. But evaluation doesn’t have to be this way.

Evaluation can be a useful and engaging process that incorporates creativity and participation to help an organization learn how it can more effectively reach its goals. Evaluation presents an opportunity for arts organizations to demonstrate the impact they are making in their communities. Incorporating artistic practice and a combination of narrative documentation and compelling graphics can make evaluation interesting and build off of an arts organization’s existing skill set.

Artists and arts organizations have an advantage with evaluation: you want it to be a creative process. Right now, some arts organizations are taking the lead in including drawing, storytelling, and graphic design as part of their evaluation process and reporting.

By making evaluation a creative and dynamic process, these organizations are helping make assessment more attractive to practitioners by showing that evaluation can build off the work your organization already has expertise in.

As a graduate student in urban planning, I’m interested in ways that the arts can help create shared spaces for community development. Writing short summaries of the in-depth resources available on the Animating Democracy website as the spring IMPACT intern, I began to notice that some of the best case studies of measuring the impact of social change incorporated the arts as part of the evaluation process. These innovative approaches to evaluation are facilitating new ways of evaluation that emphasize experience and engagement as key components of evaluation. Read the rest of this entry »

The Early Bird Finds Opportunities in the Current Arts Landscape

Posted by Graham Dunstan On April - 27 - 2012

The plug first—Today is the early bird registration deadline for the 2012 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention.

Register today to save up to $175 and join us in San Antonio from June 8-10.

As if the video wasn’t enough, here are some more reasons why you should attend:

This year’s Americans for the Arts Annual Convention focuses squarely on how arts organizations can change and thrive in The New Normal—a landscape of economic uncertainty and shifting demographics. And for me, the key word is “change.”

There are so many opportunities for nonprofit organizations of all shapes and sizes to rethink how they do what they do, how they could do it all better, and what needs they are really interested in serving.

It’s the new ideas and innovations coupled with best practices that always makes the Annual Convention exciting for me, whether it’s attending as a staff member of Americans for the Arts or as an Emerging Leader 13 years ago for the first time in Atlanta.

Sessions on arts in healing, programming for culturally specific populations, and serving veterans through the arts will present what the discoveries of arts groups on the cutting edge. And speakers such as Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation, and Naomi Shihab Nye, inspiring poet, will remind all of us why we chose the nonprofit arts field in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

At the Crossroads of the Rustbelt and the Artist Belt

Posted by Roseann Weiss On April - 24 - 2012

Roseann Weiss

In the second week of April, when St. Louis was blooming with an early spring, 292 people came for Rustbelt to Artist Belt: At the Crossroads—an arts-based community development convening—to be part of the discussion about the arts and social change.

This conference combined the three Rustbelt to Artist Belt meetings that took place in Cleveland and Detroit with the At the Crossroads convening that took place in St. Louis in 2010.

I proposed this combination when attending the conference in Detroit and the idea stuck with Seth Beattie from Cleveland’s Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC), the organizer of Rustbelt. With phone calls and emails back and forth and with a grant from the Kresge Foundation, we did it!

I wondered whether our gamble—combining the people who talk about creative regeneration of neighborhoods in the Rustbelt with people who practice community arts and social engagement—would pay off.

Would we all be able to significantly connect these threads that make up the fabric of positive social change? Read the rest of this entry »

Rising to Community Leader through a Collaborative Lens

Posted by Sara Bateman On April - 5 - 2012

Sara Bateman

For the past year, I have been captivated by the concept of how tomorrow’s arts leaders must also serve as community leaders. Hailing temporarily from Oregon, where I have been pursuing a master’s degree in arts management that focuses on community arts, the line between arts leader and community leader is one that is quickly blurring for me.

As an emerging leader who is continually drawn to work that falls at the intersection of arts and social change, my eyes are most often focused on projects that look to address civic engagement, social justice, and community development needs.

In order to produce and promote effective programming at this intersection, I have delved into graduate courses, practicums, internships, research, and beyond to inform myself in the areas of not only arts management, but also community cultural development, arts learning policy, community arts theory, and social art practice.

Leaving Oregon with my degree in hand in just a few short months, my view on the art world has widened.

I entered the degree looking for solid skills in what I defined as arts management—the programmatic, financial, and administrative aspects—and left with much more. Becoming informed in the areas of community cultural development, community organizing, activism, and beyond have opened my eyes and abilities to effectively straddle the line between arts leader and community leader.

In being both a great arts leader and community leader, there is much knowledge needed of an individual. And sometimes, as we often feel in the nonprofit world, we can’t do it all, even though we are asked to. Read the rest of this entry »

A “New Kind of Future” for the Bronx

Posted by Nancy Biberman On April - 3 - 2012

Nancy Biberman

Last month, The New York Times documented an incredible group of local artists coming together to turn a rundown (but not forgotten) Bronx building into a work of art.

The canvas was the Andrew Freedman Home, which originally opened in 1924 as a home for New York’s high society elders who had fallen on tough times in their senior years.

Decades later, when the building itself was in economic turmoil, it was saved by a community group and used for services, but “much of the rest of the vast building has been kept sealed off like a tomb, a time capsule monument to the Bronx’s grand past, awaiting a new kind of future.”

Much of the Bronx is on the threshold of this “new kind of future.”

In spite of being dealt a nearly impossible hand when the city systematically disinvested in the borough in the 1970s, the Bronx survived, and in many ways, flourished.

A haven for new immigrant populations since the early 1900s, the Bronx became a melting pot where music and culture were shared. Its diverse neighborhoods fostered both the passing on of traditions and musical mash-ups. Read the rest of this entry »

Robb Hankins

In downtown Canton, OH, through an ongoing partnership with the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce (and its Special Improvement District), we’ve spent the last five years creating the Canton Arts District.

The results have been totally amazing and changed everyone’s thinking about this downtown coming back.

In 2005, we started with three strategies: live music, galleries/artist studios, and public art. We had only one art gallery—-and not a single artist studio.

Today, the Canton Arts District has 26 galleries and studios.

The first art studios opened when local developer Mike King bought an old building down on 4th Street NW, deciding to convert it into Studio 5. It would have five artist studios downstairs and five independent artist apartments upstairs. ArtsinStark partnered with King on spreading the word and providing a small rent subsidy for the first year.

By the time Studio 5 opened every unit was rented out and there were eight artists on the list hoping for another building. Here’s a video of how Studio 5 looked when it was just opening

As the Canton Arts District began to take shape we needed a way to let people know, so we decided to host a monthly party—-First Friday. Read the rest of this entry »

Sara VanLanduyt

Sara VanLanduyt

As I mentioned in a previous post, The Arts Council of Johnson County (ACJC) held a series of forums in 2010 for arts educators, organizations, and artists to gain a better understanding of how to support their work in the community. These ended up being the impetus for ACJC’s new website and solidified our role as a connector; a hub for the arts in our community.

The forums also introduced us to Nicole Emanuel, an artist and community developer, and inspired a partnership between Nicole, ACJC, and the Arts and Recreation Foundation of Overland Park that would become the InterUrban ArtHouse.

The brainchild of Nicole, the ArtHouse project’s initial inspiration came from her need for studio space close to home.

Through her research we confirmed that many artists living in suburban Johnson County felt disconnected from each other and from the Crossroads Arts District in downtown Kansas City. Armed with this information Nicole’s vision for the project grew exponentially; the ArtHouse would be a gathering place for artists, a catalyst for small business developmen,t and a critical link to the greater regional arts community. Read the rest of this entry »

The WOO WAY

Posted by Erin Williams On December - 5 - 2011
Erin Williams

Erin Williams (Photo by Paul Kapteyn)

Worcester, MA, is a New England industrial city busy reinventing itself.

Worcester is the heart of the Commonwealth; home to 180,000+ residents and 32,000 college students.

In the late 1990s a group of cultural organizations came together to create a unique coalition, in partnership with the City of Worcester, which shines a spotlight on the creative activity taking place in the region.

The Worcester Cultural Coalition is the unified voice of the cultural community. Today 72 cultural organizations (from the stately Worcester Art Museum to the feisty arts collective Fireworks) work together with creative entrepreneurs to incite a panoply of creative activity, encouraging residents and visitors alike to get engaged.

Inspired by the work of Charles Landry, an international authority on city futures and the use of culture in city revitalization, the Worcester Cultural Coalition organized a series of forums in 2005 to encourage a civic dialogue about our great city.

More than four hundred people – artists, entrepreneurs, business and civic leaders, students, and neighborhood activists – took part in many conversations led by Landry over the course of four days, which opened up a dialogue and encouraged people to express their unique vision of the city and its future direction. Read the rest of this entry »