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The flagship project of the Arts and Public Life Initiative at the University of Chicago will be the Washington Park Arts Incubator—a new arts facility located just west of Washington Park slated to open in early 2013.  Inspired by Theaster Gates’ innovative work with the Rebuild Foundation and Dorchester Projects, the University has appointed Gates to spearhead the reactivation of an abandoned Washington Park property as a creativity hub that will engage local artists, students, and residents in creating a nexus for cultural programming and artistic production.

ArtPlace recently spoke with Emily Hooper Lansana, Associate Director of Community Arts Engagement, Arts and Public Life.  She had the opportunity to attend the recent Creative Place-making Summit hosted in Miami this past January.

ARTPLACE:  Where does this movement [creative place-making] go next?

EMILY: The next phase centers on how we tell the story of this work. “The movement,” involves a small community of like-minded thinkers who are constructing a new language and framework for making artistic and cultural innovation tangible and concrete in places where it has been difficult to grasp. I am excited to see how this work evolves as we begin to engage a broader community by sharing these stories of transformation.

I found it both inspiring and challenging to hear the stories of others who are exploring the same challenges. The movement will need to include opportunities for internal and broader exchange. How do we support one another and continue to expand our reach?

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

EMILY:  As both an arts administrator and an artist I find that I am often focused on outcomes. The lesson that impacted me most significantly was the importance of focusing on our process. If we begin to more deeply involve stakeholders at various levels in each phase of our growth-sharing our questions, discussion, development, they will be invested in our work.

As we prepare for the “Grand Opening” of the Arts Incubator in Washington Park. I am keenly aware that our success is intimately tied to our willingness to be transparent and open to watching how our audience responds. The programs that draw people in to our space should also be opportunities for us to learn about what is working and what is missing. How does the space become a meaningful resource as it transitions from design to empty building to active space?

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

EMILY:  It was important to share that as an initiative of the University of Chicago we are challenged with how the Arts Incubator will not only engage our neighbors on the South Side of Chicago but students, faculty and artists as well. As a new space the steps that we take now to be thoughtful and deliberate about drawing in each of these audiences are critical to our growth and success.

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

EMILY:  The question of sustainability is an important one. As a new space, it was helpful to hear models of how others have engaged artists and community members over time. As our program develops we will think critically about the nature of our partnerships, about questions of capacity, and about how we define success.

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