Creative placemaking is a process where community members, artists, arts and culture organizations, community developers, and other stakeholders use arts and cultural strategies to implement community-led change. This approach aims to increase vibrancy, improve economic conditions, and build capacity among residents to take ownership of their communities.
There are varying definitions for creative placemaking related to how different organizations interpret the term. According to Gadwa and Markusen, creative placemaking is when “partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.” Several APA publications have provided slightly different versions of the meaning of creative placemaking, including a PAS Memo on creative placemaking which states that “[c]reative placemaking is a new way of engaging creative people and activities to address social and economic issues in communities.” Additionally, PAS Report 590 describes creative placemaking as the use of “arts and cultural activities to rejuvenate public places.”
Successful creative placemaking highlights unique community characteristics. Projects can focus on connecting local history with the present, bringing cultural influences into the spotlight and creating new traditions. It builds connections between people and places by encouraging collaboration and visualization. The length of the project will often shape what is implemented: oftentimes, creative placemaking will activate public spaces or create a short-term opportunity to connect residents around arts and culture.
While the creative placemaking process results in changes to physical spaces, it is also an opportunity to build relationships between diverse partners and to build positive change. A key element in the creative placemaking process is to have stakeholders, including artists, engaged early in the process. This provides opportunities to look at community challenges in an inclusive manner, gathering and deciding on creative placemaking actions based on a variety of community perspectives.
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Measuring Outcomes of Creative Placemaking
Measuring outcomes is a challenge that has been identified by creative placemaking practitioners. Creative placemaking strategies can have a wide range of spatial and social impacts, which can have different impacts on different communities. In some instances, there is a need to be able to compare the impact of creative placemaking strategies on a wide scale, however, a standard approach to evaluating projects may not be appropriate to document the unique impacts of creative placemaking initiatives.
Creative Placemaking and Equity
Creative placemaking can be used as an approach to economic development and community revitalization, processes which require safeguards to prevent displacement of current businesses and residents. Communities that have successfully increased community vibrancy can experience an increased demand from residents outside of the community, leading to gentrification.
Additionally, it is important to understand who will benefit from the creative placemaking process. In changing communities, getting input from current residents can help ground creative placemaking projects on issues that have long term impacts on the community.
Creative placemaking can use community engagement strategies to encourage participation of a variety of community residents. The process of creative placemaking brings together facilitators (like artists) and community members to address community issues using arts and culture. This approach can help identify community-based solutions and build capacity among residents to implement them.
Creative Placemaking and Community Goals
Because creative placemaking easily lends itself to collaborative action, it can be used to meet a wide range of community goals. Communities facing a variety of challenges (e.g., vacant properties, environmental degradation, or declining economic conditions) have worked with artists to identify solutions like allowing temporary uses for arts and culture, water use demonstrations, and skill development opportunities for community members. Applying creative placemaking strategies to address existing community challenges can spark interest to address longstanding challenges, provide fresh perspectives, and encourage innovative solutions that move communities closer to their vision for a better future.