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CultureBlocks is a partnership between The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), the City of Philadelphia, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP). The purpose of this project is to further research into the relationship between cultural engagement and economic development and foster investment in the arts and creative sector. As part of this effort, we will develop a free, publicly accessible geospatial web tool that will provide access to cultural data (cultural organizations, resident artists and arts participants, etc.), socio-economic data (real estate, education, income, ethnic diversity, etc.) and other data (geographic boundaries, designated incentive and funding zones, transportation lines, etc.) that can inform planning, marketing, policy development and investment strategies in the Philadelphia arts sector.

ArtPlace asked Moira Baylson, Deputy Cultural Officer of the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy about the development of the CultureBlocks web tool. Here are her thoughts:

In preparing to build the web tool, our team has spent the last few months securing private, community and municipal data. In addition to pursuing datasets that optimize the utility of the project, we have also been making decisions about the kinds of functionality the tool should have. All of this important information comes to life and takes on its own persona with the design of the web-tool and the visual identity displayed through the website and logo, two very important elements of the project that have been our primary focus over the past few weeks.

Recognizing that the sheer number of different sets of data, data layers, and functionalities that we are planning to bring together in one resource could quickly become overwhelming for potential users, we are taking steps to make sure that CultureBlocks is accessible and fun for all of our constituents. We are working with experts in mapping software and visual identity to help us make this tool appealing to researchers, artists and the general public alike.

We are working with Philadelphia-based Azavea to design the user interface of the CultureBlocks tool. Azavea specializes in the creation of geographic web and mobile software, as well as geospatial analysis services to enhance decision-making. Utilizing TRF’s PolicyMap platform, we are working together to create something truly impactful for the creative sector in Philadelphia. Ideally our user interface will be simple enough for anyone to pick up and explore, but will allow for the fullest range of exploration and deepest engagement with the data possible.

We are also working with Anthony Smyrski of Smyrski Creative to develop a visual identity that will contribute to the interest and adoption of CultureBlocks as a vital resource for cultural planning and creative placemaking. Many of us working in the arts and creative sectors are fortunate to love the work that we do. This shouldn’t change when we are researching, analyzing and building reports to support this important work. Additionally, the professionals we surveyed who regularly use map and data- based tools seem to really enjoy this aspect of their jobs and genuinely view these tools as fun. We are trying to match our functionality and visual identity with the smart, fun and creative people that will ultimately be using the web tool.

In our first meeting, Anthony asked us to develop a persona for three typical users, including their age, sex, occupation, personality traits and computer literacy. It was a challenging but fun exercise – you may be wondering if you are one of our user types (we’ll keep you posted!). A lot of work is going into making sure that our users can get the most out of the data and analytic tools we are creating, whether it is their first time using a tool of this kind or if they are seasoned researchers. We firmly believe that a project like ours, which is ultimately about the recognition of the importance of arts and culture in our City and fostering a creative and vibrant community, needs to have a compelling and appealing visual identity and design aesthetic.

PHOTO: Philly Youth Poetry Movement kicked off City Hall Presents, a performing arts series hosted by the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy at City Hall. Photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for the City of Philadelphia.

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