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Alaska Arts Southeast is transforming a closed National Historic Landmark college into a multidimensional arts campus, bringing new life to rural Southeast Alaska. In January Roger Schmidt, director of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, traveled to the Creative Placemaking Summit 2013. ArtPlace spoke with Roger about his key take-aways:

ARTPLACE: Where does this movement go next?  

Roger: For so many years, we as a nation have articulated city building as an economic problem. But research is indicating the need for a broader perspective. Communities are demonstrating the importance of developing arts and cultural resources to add value to cities of all sizes. This not only leads to more vibrant neighborhoods. It strengthens the economy in ways that an agenda of job creation alone cannot. Having identified this additional dimension to community building, the next step for the Creative Placemaking Movement is to make sure this is actually incorporated into city planning. The movement must get the message out about this new strategy. This can be done by sharing the findings of case studies with civic leaders to better inform development action.

ARTPLACE: What ideas did you gain or lessons did you learn that you plan to apply to your initiative?  

Roger: The Creative Placemaking Summit reminded me of the need for our organization to lift our heads up from our day-to-day work and reengage the community on the long term vision of the campus. When plans to revitalize the historic campus began, we often discussed what a great asset it would be to the future of Sitka. However, as we live and breathe the urgent problems of building and repair, we talk less frequently of the longer term vision of the campus. But I have learned these conversations need to continue. We need to reach out to the community, include the community, and find more ways to make the campus relevant and important to the community. We need to let people know that the original inspiration is still the driving force in what we do, and that even as we work to replace roofs and install heating, we invite others to join discussions of the longer term social and economic vision.

ARTPLACE: What did you share about your initiative that was surprising to you or to other participants?  

Roger: Perhaps the most surprising part of our initiative is the sheer scope of it. We have taken on an entire college campus. This is of course both impressive and daunting. Similarly, there is a necessary tabula rasa nature to our project. The campus has had an extremely rich history, but to continue to be valuable and sustainable, the abandoned campus needed to be put to a radically different use. Although the buildings and grounds are a concrete legacy to campus history, partnerships and visions are being written without inherited historical constraints.

ARTPLACE: What new opportunities for your initiative did you identify from conversations with other creative placemakers?

Roger: Listening to the stories of other projects, I felt challenged to make a greater effort toward civic engagement. It is not enough for arts organizations or other nonprofits to believe we are really valuable to the economic and social sectors of the community. If we want to be part of the civic solution, then we need to be part of the forums in place for that. We need to make discussions with mayors and councilmen an established part of our business and organizational practices.

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