CDI: Advice, Lessons, and Inspiration for Creative Placemaking Novices (and Veterans!)

July 28, 2016

By: Lyz Crane, Deputy Director

We are now just over nine months into ArtPlace America’s three year Community Development Investments (CDI) program, which provides funding and technical assistance to community development organizations who haven’t previously had a significant history of working with arts and culture. 

The first nine months of the program have been focused on learning core concepts of creative placemaking, undertaking cultural asset mapping activities, and beginning to plan projects with local communities.

As program manager, I’ve had the incredible privilege of watching each organization grow, learn, and evolve and I’m thrilled to see some of the far-ranging ambitions from the beginning of the program slowly forming into concrete new relationships and project ideas.

During this process, I’ve frequently found myself giving the same advice to many of the organizations, despite how diverse they are in size, scope, and mission.  For example, here are three things I often encourage organizations to consider:


Be focused about goals but allow room for creative process and unexpected outcomes. It is easy for community development organizations to cede too little – or too much – freedom and control to artistic, cultural, and creative partners in joint projects.  It can be uncomfortable for community development organizations to be unsure about what will result from a partnership with artists, and similarly for artists to feel like they are being squeezed into too narrow of a goal-set. And yet, when there isn’t enough freedom for artists, culture-bearers, and creative partners to co-design projects and bring in their imagination, the community development side may be missing opportunities for true innovation.  Conversely, the community development organizations frequently bring important experience and knowledge that can help focus creative forces to actually move the needle on community goals in ways they wouldn’t be able to on their own. 


Be opportunistic about layering projects and activities.  Having a festival? Use it as an opportunity to ask your community about what it wants. Having a community meeting? Turn it into a festival. Building a housing development? Think about how to create programming that brings people together. Creating an arts program? Locate it strategically in a critical housing development. Etc etc etc...


ABL: Always Be Learning.  The CDI program is as much about organizational learning around new concepts as it is about the projects the organizations execute.  One of our learning webinars featured EMCArts’ Richard Evans, who talked about the importance of “small experiments with radical intent.” For organizations taking on new work, it’s important to have clear learning goals that will help continually iterate and improve relationships and project design. No one should expect to get everything right on the first try, particularly when dealing with the highly contextual nature of place-based, community-led work. 

But don’t take it just from me.  We have also asked each participating organization to reflect on three things they’ve learned at the recent ArtPlace Summit and technical assistance visits, three challenges and opportunities they are currently facing, and three things they’re looking forward to in the future.

The resulting blogs are LOADED with additional advice, lessons, and inspiration that is useful for any organization, whether just starting out on a creative placemaking journey or whether grappling with organizational change, sustainability, and long-term strategy.


Wondering where to start in learning from our six organizations’ journeys?  Below is some guidance on what you might find in each blog!


Are you…

  • Interested in the relationship of cultural identity and health?
  • Thinking about the role of artists in a design process?
  • Looking for inspiration on parks and open space projects?

Check out the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project’s blog!


Are you…

  • Trying to figure out where to begin with creative placemaking?
  • Struggling with feeling like you’re not fitting in to a one-size fits all approach?
  • Thinking about the ways artists contribute to in community planning processes?

Check out the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership’s blog!


Are you…

  • Thinking about creative engagement strategies?
  • Wondering whether you should phase your projects?
  • Looking for inspiration on Back-to-School and health events?

Check out the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation’s blog!


Are you…

  • Interested in the intersection of neighborhoods and parks?
  • Thinking about how to learn as an organization?
  • Looking for inspiration on how organizations can deepen their relationship with communities?

Check out the Fairmount Park Conservancy’s blog!


Are you…

  • Trying to figure out how to incorporate creative placemaking into your organizational structure?
  • Interested in engaging market-rate residents in fast-changing neighborhoods?
  • Looking for inspiration on highlighting senior populations?

Check out the Little Tokyo Service Center’s blog!


Are you…

  • Wondering how to build local capacity for creative placemaking?
  • Struggling with managing communications about expectations around projects?
  • Looking for inspiration on moving the dial around code requirements and streetscaping?

Check out the Cook Inlet Housing Authority’s blog!