The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts supports embedded arts research through critical exchange

ARTIST CALL: NEA Createquity Quality of Place + Quality of Opportunity = ArtPlace

by Carol Coletta, Director, ArtPlace

Deadline: November 15, 2011

Yesterday, I was honored to announce the establishment of ArtPlace, a consortium of foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions to drive the revitalization of cities and towns with a new investment model that puts the arts at the center of economic development.

What drives revitalization? People. After all, cities and towns are fundamentally collections of people, so it makes sense that the success of communities is most closely tied to the presence of human capital.

And what attracts people to places? Quality of place and quality of opportunity, two qualities that are as necessary as they are sometimes hard to pin down and difficult to measure.

But there is an intriguing piece of research that the Gallup company and the Knight Foundation have conducted over the past three years in cities across the U.S.  They’ve talked to thousands of people, and they found that the top three attributes that matter most when it comes to forming attachments to their community are these:

  • Social offerings—You can call that Quality of Place
  • Openness—That’s all about Quality of Opportunity
  • Aesthetics—Again, that’s all about Quality of Place.

And, I should add, all three of those attributes are also hallmarks of the arts.

Reinforcing the Gallup findings is research that CEOs for Cities commissioned from the firm Yankelovich that found that 68 percent of college-educated 25-34 year olds first choose the city they want to live in, then they look for a job.

In other words, place matters.

Recognizing this, in late 2010 NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman invited the leaders of the nation’s top foundations to explore the possibility of creating a fund to accelerate creative placemaking across the nation. The central idea was to repeat the success of cities all over the world that have put art and culture at the heart of a portfolio of strategies to transform communities.

The result of that meeting was the creation of ArtPlace.

Signing on to participate are Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Ford Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, The Robina Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation and an anonymous donor.

In addition to the NEA, federal partners are the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, and Transportation, along with leadership from the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Domestic Policy Council. Federal partners do not provide funding to ArtPlace but participate in the ArtPlace Presidents Council and Operating Committee meetings, ensuring alignment between high-priority federal investments and policy development and ArtPlace grants.

In record time, ArtPlace announced its first round of grants, investing $11.5 million in 34 locally initiated projects in cities from Honolulu to Miami.

ArtPlace will also be supported by a $12 million loan fund capitalized by six major financial institutions and managed by the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Participating institutions are Bank of America, Chase, Citi, Deutsche Bank, MetLife and Morgan Stanley.

To some, the timing of ArtPlace may seem counterintuitive. More money for art and design in a challenged economy?

Well, yes. That’s the point.

If you think about it, every community has artists and designers. They are an asset, usually a grossly undervalued asset, for kickstarting momentum in our communities. And in this economy, it’s hard to imagine why any community wouldn’t deploy every asset it has for success.

Distinguished Harvard economist Ed Glaeser published a book earlier this year titled Triumph of the City. In it, he explains the economy this way: “Cities (or dense collections of people) enable connections and creativity. Connections and creativity enable innovation.”

And innovation enables jobs growth.

The old approach to economic development was to send the team out to bag the buffalo and drag it back home. It was all about relocation. But that game has just about played itself out. Do enough of it and there are no buffaloes left to bag—or they are all headed to Vietnam.

What we know now is that economic development emerges from local assets. From the conditions that develop, attract and retain talent. From conditions that encourage creativity and connections. From conditions that encourage diversity of people and ideas and the mash-up of those ideas.

That’s what creative placemaking is really about. It’s about putting your local assets to work fully and in new ways and celebrating how they make you different instead of fearing that you may be straying from the latest and greatest so-called best practices.

Although ArtPlace has just announced its first grants, we are moving immediately to find additional local partners to accelerate creative placemaking across the nation. A Letter of Inquiry has been posted on the ArtPlace website inviting the submission of ideas through November 15, 2011.

Picture information: Carol Coletta

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