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The Creative Work Fund, which supports artists creating new works through collaborations with nonprofits, was among the inaugural ArtPlace grantees. Our ArtPlace funding has enabled us to support five innovative San Francisco Bay Area projects that are dedicated to creative placemaking.

Because these grants were awarded in June 2012, the projects are just now beginning.  Over the last year, this blog has focused on creative placemaking lessons learned by previously supported Creative Work Fund projects. In this final blog, Frances Phillips of Creative Work Fund summarizes some of the questions and themes that emerged.

Q: Do you need to be local?

PHILLIPS: Not necessarily, though many found it to be beneficial. For example, Kate Connell and Oscar Melara gathered community stories that became handmade books for a new public library.  Connell admits that sometimes it was hard to live in the neighborhood where they were working—feeling they could never take a break. But, it also helped them build trust and relationships and has led to further projects in that community.

Q: Whom do you need to know?

PHILLIPS: Choosing a highly regarded nonprofit partner gave artists access to information, sites, and materials; but, it is important to look beyond institutions and reach out to the individuals whose voices are known and trusted in a community. Composer Daniel Valdez, who is creating a work on the history of San Juan Bautista, insists on learning from local families: “that’s where the real stories lie.”

Q: How do you start a conversation?

PHILLIPS: Photographer Lisa Hamilton didn’t originally imagine traveling through California with her new baby, but the baby turned out to be a great icebreaker as she gathered stories for her “Real Rural” public poster and Website campaign.  Sue Mark and Bruce Douglas of marksearch, working to revitalize four small parks in downtown Oakland, pushed a gardening cart through the streets, striking up conversations about clearing litter, weeding, and planting with people who were curious about the cart.

Q: How do you change minds?

PHILLIPS: An unexpected format can draw people to the ideas you want to convey. Rob Keller’s Honeybee Ecology Trailer is a transformed Airstream. The observation beehive it contains mesmerizes anyone who steps inside, enabling Keller to spread his message about cultivating healthy bee colonies in Napa Valley.

Q: Does the product matter?

PHILLIPS: Much of the labor of creative placemaking lies in the process of meetings and planning, but that process has lasting meaning if the ultimate artwork is good. It matters that Hugh Livingston’s sound sculptures responding to the Russian River are surprising and engaging and that Lisa Hamilton’s photographs are excellent. Good artworks cause people to change their pace, observe, discuss, and understand a place anew.

Q: How long does it take?

PHILLIPS: Earning community trust takes time.  Good listening takes time. Permits and planning take time. While slow progress can be frustrating, according to Darryl Smith of the 509 Cultural Center, their Tenderloin National Forest Project (which has taken 20 years) was more meaningful because of its gradual, organic development.

PHOTO:  Among those recently receiving Creative Work Fund/ArtPlace support is the Hand to Mouth project, a collaboration among performer John Duykers (pictured), other artists, organic farmers, and Occidental Arts and Ecology in Sonoma County. In following the course of locally-grown food from seed to table, these partners will benefit from lessons learned by previous place-based Creative Work Fund projects.

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