Creating Change Through Arts

May 10, 2018

By: Kayla Goggin for ArtPlace America

In 2015, ArtPlace began a partnership with PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity, to lead the research and documentation components of our Community Development Investments (CDI) program. Since then, PolicyLink has worked closely with ArtPlace staff, partners, and participating organizations in the CDI cohort to learn more about what happens when community development organizations incorporate arts and culture into their core work.

ArtPlace also invited PolicyLink team members to join us at our annual ArtPlace Summit to share the broader work of their Arts, Culture and Equitable Development team, and get feedback from community developers, organizers, and artists who are committed to achieving similar outcomes in their own communities.

At last year’s ArtPlace Summit, our attendees got a closer look at the work PolicyLink is doing thanks to a breakout session on the final day of the summit titled “Creating Change Through Arts, Culture and Equitable Development: A Policy and Practice Primer.” Jeremy Liu, senior fellow for arts, culture and equitable development at PolicyLink, was joined by Milly Hawk Daniel, vice president for communications at PolicyLink, for a discussion of the recently-released report the breakout took its name from.

Creating Change Through Arts, Culture and Equitable Development: A Policy and Practice Primer was written by Milly and Jeremy in partnership with Kalima Rose, vice president for strategic initiatives at PolicyLink. The report deals specifically with combining the arts with equitable policy changes to improve communities.

“When an equitable development lens is brought to creative placemaking… the power of arts and culture can be leveraged to further advance equity by connecting and deepening the cultural and social fabric of community life,” the report states in its introduction. “Creating Change highlights approaches that can be brought to scale through policy change, addressing communities of color, low-income communities, and immigrant and rural White communities, drawing on their cultural roots, lifting up creative expression, and steering public resources to the transformations of their neighborhoods, cities and regions.”

During the breakout session, attendees got a chance to learn more about the ideas set forth by Milly, Jeremy and Kalima in the report. Later on in the session, they had an opportunity to ask questions about equitable development before sharing their own experiences and concerns.

One attendee got the discussion going with a question about the difficult journey communities can face when they begin to consciously build equity. “In regards to the arc going from no equity to equity, are there any recommendations for organizations that want to understand why some communities may not be experiencing equity?” she asked.

Giving people the tools to understand a lack of equity and how to rebuild it through arts and culture (as well as via elements like land use) is one of the things PolicyLink does best. Jeremy pointed to the National Equity Atlas as an instrument that allows you to look at your region and see how different communities and populations in your community measure up against the national benchmarks. Milly suggested the Government Alliance on Race and Equity’s Center for Social Inclusion as another potential resource.

But the best resources available during this breakout session were the attendees themselves. Most of the session was devoted to conversation, questions and collective reflection on the topic of equity. Together, attendees were able to parse their experiences outside of the summit and connect the challenges they’re facing with tools they’d gathered throughout the summit’s breakout sessions, plenaries and activities.

“We’re actively looking for stories that illustrate the way arts and culture are benefitting equity. We invite you to share your stories. We’d like to build an archive that would go on our website that we could share with all of you,” Milly said.

PolicyLink released their groundbreaking Creating Change Through Arts report last year, and they are eager to begin incorporating more information sourced from leaders in the creative placemaking field into their work. Their upcoming Equity Summit in Chicago on April 11-13 is totally sold out due to unprecedented demand, but keep your eye on the blog for reports from that convening.