Creative Placemaking: Putting Austin’s artists and art at the center of community planning.

Aug 25, 2014 - 3:46 pm

Austin is full of iconic places, spaces, and people. As we continue to grow, what would happen if we shaped our community around places, inviting people to create and improve the public places they inhabit? Incorporating artists and their art into the planning process, we create spaces that are unique and reflective of Austin’s spirit and culture. 

Austin is a creative town. We have a vibrant arts culture that has built Austin’s long held reputation for being among the most unique places to live, yet some residents, new and old alike, are disconnected from that creative energy in their daily lives.  Three upcoming creative placemaking projects around town aim to provide residents with an opportunity to change that for the better.

The Drawing Lines project will place one artist (or artist team) in each of the 10 new Austin Council Districts to directly engage in the historic and political transformation currently taking place in Austin through its new citizen-driven council districting process by:

     • helping citizens discover the cultural assets in their district;
     • creating an artwork as an artistic expression of the character and diversity found in each of the 10 Districts;
     • mirroring the larger political processes by bringing the artists together to create a collaborative artwork using their unique voices to represent Austin. 

The thinkEAST Living Charrette unites Austin’s creative communities, city planners, developers, and local residents, through Austin’s preeminent hybrid arts festival, Fusebox Festival, to envision and prototype a creative district of affordable living, working, learning, and exhibition and performance activity on a 24-acre former industrial site in a diverse, economically disadvantaged urban neighborhood in East Austin.

The Creative Action Chestnut Neighborhood Activation Project will implement programs and projects as the non-profit settles into their new home in East Austin where they serve low-income youth and families in the Chestnut and surrounding neighborhoods.

Supporting these projects and a partner in the Drawing Lines Project, Austin’s Cultural Asset Mapping project will create Community Resource Maps with various layers of information that will integrate Austin’s cultural resources across all facets of Austin planning to become a tool for creative economy and social well-being strategy implementation and a guide for investment in the City of Austin’s specific Planning Areas/Initiatives.

Placemaking is defined by how we collectively shape our public realm to maximize shared value. Rooted in community-based participation, placemaking involves the planning, design, management, and programming of public spaces. More than just creating better urban design of public spaces, placemaking facilitates creative patterns of activities and connections (cultural, economic, social, and ecological) that define a place and support its ongoing evolution. Placemaking is about how people collectively and intentionally shape our world and our future on this planet.

If we take placemaking and put artists and arts at the center of planning efforts, what happens? In a recent paper published by the National Endowment for the Arts, Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa describe creative placemaking as a situation in which "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. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired."

While a very good, academic description of creative placemaking, perhaps a more approachable and easily digestable description comes from Maria Rosario Jackson, another expert in the field of creative placemaking. In a 2011 paper entitled Building Community: Making Space for Art, Dr. Jackson describes building communities in which the arts are incorporated on a planning level as vital to creating great places to live, which is something we all strive for.  “Good places to live have more to offer than adequate housing, transportation, jobs, schools, and commercial amenities. They have spaces in which residents can express themselves creatively, connect with one another, and engage in experiences that expand their intellect, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and even their capacity for compassion and empathy—spaces in which art happens.”

Dr. Jackson is an expert in community revitalization, the roles and measurement of arts and culture in communities, and the dynamics of race and ethnicity in cities. Her work, based on more than 20 years of research, appears in a wide range of publications and presentations she’s made at scores of national and international conferences. She serves on the board of, or is an advisor to, numerous initiatives, programs, governmental agencies, and foundations. In her role as the director of the Culture, Creativity, and Communities Program at the Urban Institute for eighteen years she led research on measuring cultural vitality and the role of arts and culture in community revitalization, the development of art spaces, and support systems for artists.

Dr. Jackson will share her thoughts on creative placemaking, and discuss how using arts and cutlural activities can create more equitable and diverse communities, on Wednesday August 27th at the Asian American Resource Center 6:30-8:30 pm as part of the Creative Placemaking Speaker Series.  RSVP is available here.  For more information on upcoming speakers visit the Creative Placemaking Series website, or call Janet Seibert at 512-974-7860.