ArtPlace America Staff Reflections

December 19, 2019

By: ArtPlace America

As we look ahead to 2020, we asked the ArtPlace staff to take a moment to reflect on 2019 and share some of the highlights of their work this year. Here’s our last blog of 2019 ... See you in the new year!


Sarah Calderon, Managing Director

Over the past year, we have been focusing on higher education as an important field within which to embed creative placemaking scholarship, knowledge creation, and communities of practice.

A highlight of the work has been the awarding of grants to two universities to guest edit peer-reviewed journals – one in the health field and one in the urban planning field – for special editions on creative placemaking. Another is the work that we are partnering with a2ru - the Alliance for Arts in Research Universities at the University of Michigan – to complete a repository of creative placemaking resources for academics, practitioners and funders, or anyone who counts themselves as needing case studies, white papers, journal papers, or syllabi to better teach or learn about creative placemaking.

Finally, ArtPlace has partnered with four universities – Arizona State University, Maryland Institute College of Art, The New School, and University of New Mexico – to support their work in embedding majors, minors, certificates and other learning pathways for students who want to pursue creative placemaking work on their path to becoming the next generation of changemakers.


Lyz Crane, Deputy Director

Sometimes you don’t know everything you have learned until you have a chance to look back and reflect!  Prior to 2019, I spent 3 years working with an incredible group of community development organizations around the country to figure out the challenges, joys, and opportunities of making arts and cultural strategies a part of their regular practice.  Over the course of 2019, we’ve been documenting and sharing this work with our colleagues at PolicyLink over at and in places like the new Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Community Development Innovation Review journal on Transforming Community Development through Arts & Culture

Processing the results of this program has made me double down on the idea that institutional change will be foundational to ensuring the long-term uptake of this practice and to achieving a more equitable society.  We need to look at the ways that artists can help us ask different questions, arrive at different answers, and create the kind of spaces where we can enact our best, most complete selves – and that the further upstream in decision-making this happens, the better.  That is why I’ve also been excited in 2019 to lay the groundwork for a more concerted focus on local government, and how we can take the lessons the creative placemaking field has learned and think about our governance structures, processes, and services.  I can’t wait to share more in 2020!


Maura Cuffie, Senior Program Officer

The story of the year is less about the initiative and all about the people who make the place. In May, we convened the first gatherings of the Local Control, Local Fields initiative in Philadelphia, in Massachusetts, and in Central Appalachia – 3 groups of approximately 30 individuals, each of whom represent the fullness and complexity of creative placemaking: people who are artists, who are activists, who are planners, who are under 30, who are over 70, who are queer, who are cis, who are gender non-conforming, who are black, who are native, who care about equity and have strong opinions on how to operationalize it, all who have more dimensions than can be listed, and ALL who do this work.

Through a series of gatherings, the deep wisdom of these folks and the magic of facilitation, these groups became Assemblies – organized bodies who have built vision, shared commitment, and motivation to act.

Definitively, each Assembly has stated that democratic and networked organizing are necessary for a strong field and dollars spent on sustaining livelihood is just as critical as dollars towards generating projects. Now with solid ground, each Assembly will conduct their blooming – launch their strategies and tell the story.


Adam Erickson, Director of Communications
Marirosa García, Social Media Manager
Sarah Westlake, Editorial Director

This was a year of many stories and many gatherings.

From New Mexico to South Carolina, from Mississippi to California to Ohio to Arizona, over a thousand leaders—from sectors as diverse as health, agriculture, philanthropy, government, transportation, safety, and arts—gathered to exchange ideas, share stories, and deepen their work in the field of creative placemaking. Be sure to join us for more regional gatherings in 2020 at the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summits, and mark your calendar for the ArtPlace 2020 Annual Summit in the Twin Cities, Minnesota (October 26-29, 2020).

Also, join us online by sharing your story in the Creativity Lives Here social media campaign—a year-long digital storytelling project to showcase the people and places behind creative community development. #CreativityLivesHere is a collection of grassroots video stories from amazing artists, community planners, local leaders, and allies, who are sharing the ideas, challenges, and inspirations that drive their work every day. The videos have been viewed over 30,000 times across our social media and counting! Add yours today.


Jamie Hand, Director of Research Strategies
Danya Sherman, Senior Consultant

And then there were ten! Anyone who has been following our cross-sector research strategies over the past few years knows that we’ve been plugging away slowly but surely at all ten sectors on the community development matrix, immersing ourselves in the language, priorities, and cultures of each those sectors in order to connect the dots between creative placemaking project outcomes and the community impacts that those sectors care most about.

The majority of our time and energy in 2019 was focused on Agriculture and Food Systems, Immigration, and Public Health in collaboration with some amazing research and field building partners. From our food/ag working group at Resora in southwest Georgia in collaboration with DAISA Enterprises, Farm Credit Council, and Rural Coalition; to our immigration working group in Pittsburgh, PA with Welcoming America, City of Asylum Pittsburgh, and Kelly Strayhorn Theater; to the release of the highly anticipated public health white paper led by the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine... we’ve been logging a lot of miles on the road and meeting some amazing allies all across the spectrum of community development practice.

Meanwhile, research that we began in 2016 and 2017 has led to increasingly nuanced field building efforts by our partners in the Community Safety, Housing, Transportation, and Environmental sectors.  They have been deepening their commitment to creative placemaking through initiatives ranging from professional development courses and artist residencies to increasingly popular conference delegations and scholarships, addressing needs and filling gaps that surfaced through our research process.  

Work in the final three sectors – Youth & Education, Workforce Development, and Economic Development – is underway, and we will be using 2020 to do a meta-analysis across all ten sectors, bringing everything we’ve been learning to date into a comprehensive whole. There have been some consistent themes and learnings over the past five years that will be exciting to pull together as a capstone to this work, and we will continue to center practitioners’ perspectives and needs as this final leave-behind resource for the field takes shape.  


Erik Takeshita, Senior Fellow

In the words of Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and the Legacy Museum, I have been “proximate” to ArtPlace for many years. First a board member of an early ArtPlace funded project, Springboard for the Arts. Later, as the Director of Creative Placemaking at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), ArtPlace was a peer and partner. For the past four years I was a funder of ArtPlace in my capacity as Portfolio Director for Community Creativity at the Bush Foundation in St. Paul. And now, I have joined ArtPlace as a full-fledged member of the ArtPlace team – HOORAY!!

I am so honored and excited to be a Senior Fellow at ArtPlace for the next year. I look forward to being able to leverage my nearly three decades working at the intersection of art, culture and community development to advance the work of ArtPlace. I am particularly interested in supporting long-term, on-going mechanisms to make creative placemaking/creative placekeeping work for communities that have historically experienced disinvestment and inequity.


Leila Tamari, Senior Program Officer

When I think about the work I embarked on this year, the words “try” and “acknowledge” come to mind. Over the past five years that I’ve been at ArtPlace, I’ve observed that philanthropy is in the game of “trying.” On the one hand, having the privilege to try enables grantmakers to take risks, to embrace change, and to adapt. The flip side is these risks, changes, and adaptations affect those we work with; sometimes positively, other times with unintended negative consequences. Walking this fine line requires us to actively acknowledge how our decisions impact those we are intending to serve, and how we can continue to do better.

In 2019, we tried a lot of new things. One of which was giving artists direct support for their creative placemaking projects. In the early years of ArtPlace, we made a lot of noise about creative placemaking – making the case for why it was a practice all sectors should take up. What we acknowledge is that artists are a key part of all creative placemaking initiatives, yet they have not always been recognized or supported as key leaders of those initiatives. In our Artists Lead! partnership with ioby we are trying to flip the status-quo around who normally gets chosen to steward these projects.

This year we also acknowledged the role State Arts Agencies have played and are continuing to step into when it comes to supporting creative placemaking. Our partnership with NASAA focuses on highlighting and encouraging the field to plug into existing opportunities State Arts Agencies already provide for creative placemaking. This work is also about getting key players at State Arts Agencies to learn from each other, hopefully identifying new pathways for partnerships with these key state-level players both inside and outside of their respective networks.

We are trying some things, and acknowledging key players in the complex web of creative placemaking that we haven’t worked with as much before. It remains true that ArtPlace staff want to hear from our extended network about if what we try ends up better serving you, or falls short. We hope you’ll continue to take us up on this invitation. 


And last but not least, to wrap up this post and put a bow on the year …


Jamie Bennett, Executive Director

One of the highlights of my past year was being asked to serve on the jury for The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize which is annually awarded to someone who has “made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.”

This year, the $250,000 check (and the substantial medal) went to Walter Hood and it was the first time in the twenty-five-year history that a landscape architect was honored.  In my remarks that evening, I tried to describe what it was a landscape architect did, saying that, “under Walter’s hand, land becomes place.” 

Not a bad line (I thought), but it paled in comparison to the lines spoken that night by Blu Bailey. Blu is a poet living and working in central Florida, who also founded The Write. She was at the ceremony and shared “If Faith” in honor of Walter. Her line, calling Walter an architectural pastor who left his prayers in plain sight, won the evening.

And with Blu’s permission, I wanted to share all of her lines here, which not only honor Walter, but also serve as an ode to all of us who work in place.     


If Faith

Faith is the substance of the things we hope for
and the evidence of the things we cannot see
It is perception
It’s interpretation
It’s who we’re sometimes scared to be

Faith is a journey
Where the destination is resolute but still a mountain to climb
It’s the want for others to see the world the way you see thru your eyes

Cause what you see is this grand design
A redemption for a landmine to earn its stripes and be great
It’s a Gadsden’s Warf and hush harbor
transformed into landscape
rededicated hallow space
reverence for those who once walked this place and left their story to be told
so if faith is this concept of the United States,
then the design is a rested soul.

A quick google search will tell you that landscape architects
develop landscapes for public spaces and areas....
and much of the work occurs in the environment of urban redevelopment projects.
I say you’re architectural pastors that leave your prayers in plain sight
I say your abstract evangelism bridges generations,
transcends the night
it time capsules yesterdays to pass on to our tomorrows
like family recipes perfectly furled
cause we all know that great things happen
when we exist in each other’s world

So faith is cultural futurism and inclusive creation
Mohammad Ali say a man who has no imagination
he has no wings
but you are the manifestation of your ancestor’s dreams
and we take our dreams so serious that we will them into existence
like your ancestors built pyramids
and drew you in their hieroglyphics
You! A modern day Daedalus whit a hope for humanity

More ambiguity,
Less vanity,
More family,
More of this
More art

Lets create places where people create evidence that they existed
And we’ll call it a park
A congregation even
A birthplace and a burial ground
Where the rhythm of the landscape makes the loudest visual sounds

Cause there’s faith outside with beams of light the shine back at you
Thoughtful creations that say the things you shouldn’t have to
Black lives matter
A distribution dot map to

First kisses and milestones that entertain the wind and the trees
A dialysis of your expectations when you need it to be
a ceasefire

somewhere honest and vulnerable for the times that we are not
When the Baisley community garden is the only piece of heaven we got
It’s the only solace we know
It is the matrimony of the parks and the neighborhoods
to the buildings and the roads
It’s where tradition holds

Where gentrification meets griots
Where we honor our veterans, ancestors and hometown heroes

Faith is a landscape architect that loves some earth wind and fire
Through devotion bless the children
Bless the people you inspire

Push the weary souls forward, give them something else to see
Build monuments for our awe, give us somewhere else to be
Where we can pray
To be the best version of ourselves as the sun brings the day

Cause we don’t want to just survive
we want to thrive
be good for nothing
we want to outlaw conventionalism so we can live in these skies
and learn the stories behind the concepts and designs and lines
and duality of this world the way you see it through your eyes.


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Next year, ArtPlace celebrates 10 years of investing in artists as allies in helping to build equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities. To date, ArtPlace has invested over $100 million in 285 projects and organizations across communities of all sizes, including 45 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. ArtPlace is also investing in artistscross-sector initiativeshigher educationlocal assemblieslocal governments, and state arts agencies. A number of the foundations in the ArtPlace partnership have started a conversation about what they might like to do next, to build upon and extend these efforts.