Community Engagement & A Whole Lot of Kentucky

July 27, 2015

By: Prentice Onayemi, Director of Partnerships & Communications

Veasna and I just returned from Kentucky and, in short, it lived up to its would-be tagline: Kentucky Kicks Ass.  We had a chance to connect with grantees in Lexington, Hazard, Whitesburg, and Cumberland; and I was able to say a few words at the Community Development Society’s annual conference. 

First and foremost, thanks for the hospitality from everyone who showed us around the Commonwealth.  You guys made the trip awesome, and helped update our wardrobes to boot!

When talking with community development practitioners about the role of the arts in their work, the conversation often goes straight to murals.  But as Jamie Bennett said, “artists are not just the interior decorators of the community development world,” so we took the opportunity to tackle one of the next tiers of low-hanging fruit on the artist-working-in-community-development tree: community engagement. 

We broke artists’ work with community engagement down into three categories: pre-development, implementation, and remediation.



Pre-development focuses on the research and planning portion of a project.  This involves artists helping to engage a community in advance of an upcoming project.

Hidden Gems of the Tenderloin maps the formal infrastructure of the arts community in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district as well as the informal networks that knit the artists together.



ThinkEAST features the leaders of Austin’s Fusebox Festival driving the master plan and business plan of 24 acres of former brownfield.






Implementation involves artists getting their hands dirty and functioning as a conduit for a community’s desires of a community.  Instead of “interior decorators,” artists function as general contractors.

The University of Chicago Arts Incubator engages the adjacent Washington Park neighborhood, a new start to historically tenuous relationships between the University and neighborhood residents. 





Nuestro Lugar showcases how artists can help rally a community around addressing a host of desires through the thoughtful creation of a new public amenity.






Remediation refers to engaging communities in response to a major event or unexpected change.  No community is static, and most could do a better job of intentionally facing new challenges. 

Irrigate connected artists and business owners to mitigate disruption caused by the construction of a new rail line. 



Artes Pa’lante is one of the 2015 National Grants Program grantees, and it will help tackle shifting residential demographics in Boston’s Latin Quarter.  The performing arts will help connect business owners to their new clientele, while also bringing old and new residents together.



Huge thanks to CDS for the chance to share this with their “pracademics” (practitioner + academic), shout out to the Kentucky Creative Commonwealth Network for solidly representing KY’s creative placemaking scene, and I’d be remiss if I ended without giving a little plug for It’s Good 2 Be Young in The Mountains – an upcoming conference created by and for Appalachia’s Youth (and featuring Higher Ground, Roots & Wings, and Appalshop!). 

Happy soon-to-be-sweltering August!