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Research Field Scans Update

October 14, 2015

By: Jamie Hand

Over the last month, ArtPlace’s research efforts have quietly transitioned from being a conceptual framework to being a nuts and bolts reality. With three new research consultants on board, we are undertaking the first of several “field scans” that explore the relationship between the arts and other sectors of community development.

Of the ten sectors that ArtPlace has identified in our Community Development Matrix, we chose to begin our research work by looking at the Housing, Public Health, and Public Safety sectors.

What is a field scan?
The field scans are conceived as an exploratory first step in a longer process by which we aim to better understand the outcomes of creative placemaking work, and to translate the impacts of creative placemaking into the various languages used by community development practitioners. Over the course of 12 weeks, each field scan researcher has been tasked with pulling together three primary buckets of information:

  • The state of one of the community development sectors
  • Activities (projects, practices, policies) happening at the intersection of arts and culture and that community development sector
  • An analysis of the trends and opportunities for arts and cultural practice within that community development sector

Each field scan will be followed by a working group that will be tasked with taking the analysis and findings one step further, helping ArtPlace to identify best practices that warrant formal case studies, key methods for evaluating success, and strategic framing of the material in a way that resonates with those most likely to take up creative placemaking practice in other sectors. The field scans are thus not an end product in and of themselves, but rather an information-gathering effort that will inform several aspects of ArtPlace’s work.

Selecting the Field Scan Researchers
Finding the right type of researchers for this task was a fascinating process. We posted an open call for researchers earlier this summer, hoping to surface individuals who were comfortable working and thinking at the intersection of the arts and another sector. Frans Johansson’s book The Medici Effect: What Elephants & Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation was a great resource in helping us think about this notion of intersections, and about the potential that lies in an unlikely convergence or association across disciplines.

We joked internally about the challenge of finding such “unicorns” to conduct the field scans, but the selection process surfaced a critical mass of exactly such candidates. It also revealed a few insights about the work ahead: we received 35 housing proposals (due in large part to a number of designers and architects working across two fields), followed by 24 public health proposals and 7 public safety proposals. These numbers, combined with initial literature and project reviews, suggest that housing and public health may make for particularly fertile intersections – there are really smart people out there already thinking about this! – while the relationship between the arts and public safety is seen as pressing and urgent by many, but has perhaps been less explored to date from a formal research and evaluation standpoint. 

Quantity of responses aside, we had an amazing pool of researchers to choose from for all three topics – ranging from academic faculty and independent consultants to nonprofit advocates, urban planners, artists, and curators working at these intersections.

We are thrilled to have selected Sarah Kavage for the public health field scan, Caroline Ross for the public safety field scan, and Danya Sherman for the housing field scan. Their respective passions for working across disciplines and their collective capacity to bring a nuanced analysis to ArtPlace’s research agenda is clear; full bios for each are included below.

To Silo or Not To Silo
At a moment when the line between public health and public safety is increasingly and necessarily grey, and when more and more evidence mounts about the correlation between a neighborhood’s housing stock and the life expectancy rate of its residents, we certainly realize that community development sectors do not exist in silos. Similarly, creative placemaking projects rarely have a single community outcome that fits neatly into one sector as opposed to another.

We are approaching each field scan independently in order to get more precise about creative placemaking impacts, but we will also keep an explicit eye out for the cross-cutting themes that pop up across multiple sectors. Stay tuned for more on this front, and be sure to check out the resesarch consultants' bios below.

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Caroline Ross
Caroline Ross, MPA, is an expert in the intersection of art, communities, and public safety. She is an artist and researcher at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center in Washington, DC. As a theatre arts educator in Washington, DC, she became interested in the connection between art and social change in urban areas. She began her professional career pursuing this work, building trust and understanding between teenagers and Boston police officers through forum theatre with Boston Youth and Police in Partnership.

In 2007, Caroline began working with youth incarcerated on Rikers Island, facilitating spoken word and poetry workshops with New York University’s Lyrics on Lockdown program. Since then, she has been actively involved in justice policy research, evaluation, and advocacy. Her work currently focuses on community relationships with law enforcement, as well as the evaluation of diversion, treatment, and reentry programs for justice-involved people. She works on a variety of research projects at the Urban Institute, including the Evaluation of the Chicago Arts Infusion Initiative, as well as the Evaluation of Restorative Justice Programs in Rhode Island Schools. Additionally, Caroline is a board member of Meso Creso, a Washington, DC-based-but-borderless trans-cultural artistic collective that promotes social consciousness and creativity without boundaries. Caroline holds a BA and an MPA from New York University, where she was a Catherine B. Reynolds Scholar in Social Entrepreneurship for her track record of conducting multi-disciplinary research and contributing to innovative program design in the justice system.

Danya Sherman
Danya Sherman is an urban planner specializing in cultural programming, community development, education, and organizational strategy. She was the founding Director of Public Programs, Education, and Community Engagement Department at Friends of the High Line (New York, NY), where she conceived, produced, and grew community engagement initiatives, cultural events, and educational programs to become a cornerstone of the organization. Currently, Danya is focusing her work and research on how assets like parks and cultural facilities can be considered in concert with housing, transportation, workforce development, and more to be effective in supporting neighborhood and regional development that is driven by local leaders and recognizes prior unfair burdens placed on particular populations.

Danya has consulted and managed projects with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, PolicyLink, Project Row Houses (Houston, TX), the MIT Community Innovators Lab, the CREATE program (Durban, South Africa), and the MIT Sam Tak Lee Lab for Real Estate Entrepreneurship.  She wrote her master’s thesis about long distance train travel in the United States, detailed in a Next City article. Danya has a Bachelor of Arts in Science in Society from Wesleyan University and a Master’s in City Planning from MIT.

Sarah Kavage
Sarah Kavage is a Seattle-based urban planner and practicing artist whose work over the last decade has focused on large scale socially-engaged and creative placemaking projects, including one, Duwamish Revealed, that is an ArtPlace grantee. She currently serves as Co-Artistic Director for this ambitious program that features over 40 temporary art installations, performances and community events along and about the Duwamish River in Seattle - an EPA Superfund site and the city’s only river.

Prior to Duwamish Revealed, Sarah worked as Special Projects Manager for Urban Design 4 Health (UD4H), an applied research firm that explores the connections between urban planning, public health and the environment. She managed research projects for the San Diego Association of Governments, King County, Washington, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and others. She also served as the firm’s staff writer, authoring multiple journal articles, popular articles, and policy reports for clients such as the American Public Health Association, the Canadian Medical Association, and the American Planning Association. She holds a Masters’ Degree in Urban Planning from the University of Washington and has over 15 years of urban planning experience. Sarah will bring a holistic viewpoint to the field scan, drawing on her broad, multidisciplinary experience to identify points of synergy and collaboration between the creative placemaking and public health fields.