Creative placemaking breathes new life into northeast Ohio neighborhoods
Over the past year, the Cleveland neighborhood of North Collinwood has hosted pop-up art exhibits, opened a new art gallery, created a practice studio for bands, funded a large portion of the popular Lottery League
, and filmed a documentary
about its efforts to improve the community through arts programming.
All of that was made possible thanks to a $500,000 grant from ArtPlace America
, a collaboration of national and regional funders that recently awarded $15.2 million in grants to creative placemaking projects across the U.S.
"The ArtPlace funding takes creative placemaking ideas that are being considered and gives them the cash injection they need to go from concept to reality and, hopefully, exit velocity," explains Brian Friedman, Executive Director of Northeast Shores Development Corporation
, a nonprofit that serves North Collinwood.
The competition for the grant was fierce. North Collinwood's application was selected along with just 46 other grantees from over 2,000 applicants across the country. Friedman says the selection committee was impressed with the "Collinwood Rising" strategy of looking at vacant property as an asset instead of a liability.
"How do we engage the community around considering vacancy as an opportunity rather than a threat?" he poses. "We intended to use interventions that leveraged the arts to do that."
Friedman says the efforts are working.
"What we're trying to do is increase people's satisfaction with the direction of the neighborhood," he says. "Based on our annual survey of residents, all of the indicators are moving in the direction we hoped they would."
Collinwood's endeavors are part of a larger movement known as creative placemaking: the use of arts- and culture-based projects to revitalize neighborhoods and boost local economies. At its core, creative placemaking is about transforming vacant and underused properties into hubs of activity and prosperity by engaging artists and residents.
In neighboring Pittsburgh, for instance, the City of Asylum
, an organization that offers residencies to writers seeking asylum from countries around the world, hopes to increase foot traffic in a soon-to-be redeveloped part of town. To that end, a $300,000 ArtPlace grant will help expand its opportunities with temporary and permanent public artworks. Other examples include Washington D.C., where officials used an ArtPlace grant to create temporary pop-up artist showcases in empty storefronts and lots; and Baltimore, where the Transit Initiative was awarded a $200,000 ArtPlace grant to transform transit environments in three of the city’s arts and entertainment districts.
ArtPlace, along with organizations such as Project for Public Spaces (PPS
), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA
) and Artspace
, have been working with cities, planning groups, developers, arts organizations and other stakeholders on placemaking initiatives for several years. Their collective impact is beginning to show.
According to a report
issued by the NEA, artists account for three percent of the nation's workforce, and the cultural industries support close to five million jobs.
Origins of Placemaking
The term "creative placemaking" was coined north of the border in Toronto, Ontario, where the nonprofit Artscape
has been turning old buildings into affordable artist housing and studios for more than a quarter century. In 2012, Artscape's tenants conducted over 2,000 performances, exhibitions, and events across the city. In fall of this year, the organization will open a 75,000-square-foot cultural institute, Artscape Youngplace
“There's an incredible impact on community vitality and activity, which of course attracts more activity to the neighborhood as a whole," says Pru Robey, Artscape's creative placemaking lab director, who has worked with American organizations to instigate placemaking best practices, and wrote Canada’s only placemaking course
“You then see that multiplier effect start to happen… our projects having a role in the wider regeneration and revitalization of neighborhoods. The economic impacts play out at multiple levels -- from the individual artist, to the local community vitality and economic activity, to that wider impact on the transformation of our city.”
This is exactly what ArtPlace America looks for when awarding grants, emphasizing projects that strive for diversity and vibrancy. This year, ArtPlace received more than 1,200 grant applications. It was competitive, but always boils down to the same thing.
"It is really about how arts and culture can play a role in changing and advancing places," says Bridget Marquis, ArtPlace America's program director.
Collinwood isn't the only northeast Ohio community to score an ArtPlace grant. This spring, the St. Clair Superior
neighborhood was awarded $375,000 that will help create artist studios and galleries, establish fellowships for upcycling artists, rehab artist live/work houses, create affordable incubator space for retail pioneers, and establish a marketplace for upcycled products.
"This is a methodology for neighborhood revitalization," says Nicole McGee of Plenty Underfoot
, an arts-based business that repurposes discarded materials into artwork, jewelry and home decor. "The goal is to create more of an economy around upcycling. We will open a creative reuse center, offer classes for residents, and have retail opportunities for small businesses."
McGee already has identified a space for the creative reuse center in the urban neighborhood. She envisions a "creative thrift shop," where crafters can shop bins full of discarded wine corks, vinyl flooring samples and other trash-to-treasure items. "We're taking materials that others haven’t assigned value to, looking at them and deciding what could be done differently," says McGee. "Then we're transforming them into something bigger and better. We want to do that whole process on a neighborhood level."
The intention of the upcycle initiative is not merely to attract new businesses, but rather to lift up the residents of this low-income community.
"We'll be revitalizing the downtown strip of this neighborhood in ways that create new learning and skills in residents," says McGee. "We’ll be inviting them in."