ArtPlace Alaskans

This January Anchorage Museum Chief Curator Julie Decker attended the Creative Placemaking Summit in Miami. ArtPlace caught up with her to find out what her impressions from the summit and where the Northern Initiative goes next.

ARTPLACE: What did you learn from the summit and how will you apply those lessons to your project?

Decker:  The Summit was helpful in pushing the thinking about making the programs more active.  Museums are careful planners.  At the Summit I thought about the need to create more connections in between the planned events – to sustain the relationships, the audience, and the interest of the community and the participants.   To do this, we are now planning more performances that will engage community and that will provide the link between other more orchestrated events and programs.  It keeps the message current and less disparate.

One thing that struck me in talking with other participants in the Summit was that there are more similarities to the efforts than differences.  The projects may have different players and forms, but the challenges are repetitious ­­– the struggle for long-term sustainability, the realities of capital, the need for private and public development and buy-in, the shared language between arts groups, the need for dynamic leaders who can speak beyond the choir, the methodical steps for internal and then external momentum, the efforts to overcome the daily demands to free up resources for the big-thinking big picture.

Alaska has a small population and an observation from the Summit is that it makes sense for the ArtPlace recipients (past, current and future as these grants develop and become more widespread), throughout the life of the projects and beyond in Alaska, meet during the project period and work together on some more broad-reaching strategies, particularly the politics of creative placemaking, in a common message about ArtPlace investment in Alaska, in linking to each others’ programs to make the whole stronger, in approaching advocacy efforts and engaging with government.  That would pool resources, but also encourage a less competitive approach to funding and programs – it would push for bigger thinking that are about the goals of community and not just the goals of one organization.  Such collaboration is not easy and takes more than one meeting to build knowledge-sharing and to understand and trust the mutual benefits.  But just as with the Summit, where many organizations were coming together to share one vision for creative placemaking, this could happen on smaller scales in one city and one state – it would be a more deliberate way to reach the larger goals of what ArtPlace has set out and would be more effective in terms of marketing those ideas.

The prevalent theme at the Summit became not just engaging policymakers, but art and infrastructure—urban development and other capital projects that provided a physical environment in which art can grow – revitalization.  Our challenge is less about space when creating vibrancy – ours is creating an environment that allows for spontaneity, risk-taking, continual programming, sustaining relevance, and stimulating new audiences.  It is an interesting challenge that I think is the next step after infrastructure is developed – how to make spaces vibrant once they are established.  An “edge” is one of the hardest things to maintain.  Staying “new” is an age-old problem.  It takes a tremendous amount of resources—particularly staff resources, but also marketing and other get-the-word-out efforts.  In Alaska, it also takes travel funds, which are the drain of any project budget in our remote geographical location.

In terms of next steps, it becomes how to leverage the ArtPlace investment to sustain the kind of programming and energy it inspires – and how to supplement the funding so that programs can be strong, rather than simply frequent.

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