Photo Credit: Sue Mark

Photo Credit: Sue Mark

Creative Work Fund invites performing and media artists to address themes of creative placemaking throughout the Bay Area.

With ArtPlace support, in late 2011 The Creative Work Fund will invite performing or media artists and nonprofits to apply for grants of up to $40,000 to create new works. The Fund, which is available to artists and nonprofits in Contra Costa, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma and Stanislaus counties in California, will post updated guidelines by the end of August. The Creative Work Fund’s established process and emphasis will not change, but ArtPlace enables it to provide four more grants than its usual 17. The four additional projects will address themes of creative placemaking. Of particular interest will be projects in counties that receive limited philanthropic support.

A number of previously supported Creative Work Fund projects have brought together artists and community members to re-envision and improve places. In the coming months, this blog will focus on examples of these previously supported projects and lessons learned. We begin with 10,000 Steps, a collaboration between Sue Mark and Bruce Douglas of marksearch and Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation.

Downtown Oakland, California’s first 1853 downtown plan included a “necklace” of small parks, meant to improve city life. 10,000 Steps focuses on four of those historic parks—Jefferson, Lafayette, Lincoln, and Madison Square. When marksearch began the project, some of the parks were well used; but, in some of the neighborhoods, people had no idea that the parks existed. The artists wanted to engage neighbors in stewardship activities that would build a sense of pride and ownership. They recognized the importance of starting slowly and building trust and relationships.

Their vehicle for relationship building was a literal vehicle—a wonderful pushcart with gardening supplies (see picture) that they drove through the neighborhoods and took to local festivals, collecting volunteers, stories, and ideas. At the same time, they worked with local scholars, guides, and nonprofits to delve into the parks’ histories. Their initial focus was on collaborating with neighbors on stewardship efforts, which created good will and belief in the parks’ potential.

Along the way, they created a film documenting the project, an exhibit, historical markers—now being installed—and an audio tour that pedestrians can follow to find their way among the parks, learning the historical significance of locations along the way.

Some lessons learned from this project are:

- When partnering with an organization or government agency, build relationships with more than one person. Otherwise, if the one person who knows about and is passionate about your project leaves, it can derail your project.

- Don’t be aloof. The cart drew people in, fostering conversations about what was being done and how everyone could be involved. It playful quality made it easier for the artists to break the ice and meet people.

- Invest significant time on the street. The artists spent more than a year in the “getting to know you” phase of the project, digging, and hoeing, and weeding alongside community members. They came to be recognized as friendly, approachable members of the community. That attitude and their tenacity have created a multi-faceted project that will last.

Photo Credit: Sue Mark
Photo Credit: Pamela Palma

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