I announced to members and colleagues last month that NASAA is partnering with ArtPlace America on a new initiative, Strengthening the State Arts Agency Support System for Creative Placemaking. This initiative is designed to empower state arts agency community development staff in their varied roles as facilitators and bridge builders. My column this month offers reflections from both me and ArtPlace America Senior Program Officer Leila Tamari about this exciting partnership.
Why are NASAA and ArtPlace America collaborating on this initiative?
Pam: NASAA’s mission is to strengthen state arts agencies, and one of our members’ key roles is to cultivate community arts development, helping to ensure all communities have access to the benefits, resiliency and prosperity sparked by the arts. It is no surprise then, that state arts agencies have always been allies in the development of the creative placemaking field, which is neatly aligned with ArtPlace’s mission “to position arts and culture as a core sector of community planning and development.” Our collaboration with ArtPlace will support our members by providing new research, networking and professional development opportunities, which will further deepen and expand the resources available to states seeking to advance their community development and creative placemaking endeavors.
Leila: State arts agencies have the benefit of working at both the micro and macro levels. Their work is grass-roots oriented when supporting organizations and initiatives in communities, and simultaneously focused on trends and innovations statewide. We think a great opportunity exists for state arts agencies to learn from each other and build connections nationwide at the macro level, so that their work on the micro level is that much more impactful. Now is the time to support and extend this work, and we believe that state arts agencies, along with their communities of artists, arts organizations and local arts agencies, have tremendous influence and power that will fundamentally shape the future of the arts and culture field.
What are place based strategies, and why are they important for cultural, community and economic development?
Leila: A place based strategy is one that is focused on tangible outcomes in a geographic community. Over time, we’ve observed that when community planning and development are driven in a solely top-down way it can lead to negative outcomes. At ArtPlace, we believe the most successful place based strategies forefront community desires and connect them with thoughtful approaches from artists and creative practitioners working in the public’s interest.
Pam: Place based strategies for cultural, community and economic development are critically important. When the focus is on place and the people who live in that place, addressing community challenges can occur through cohesive approaches to those challenges. Community challenges are interconnected, and meeting those challenges takes interconnected work. Place based strategies provide opportunities to address community issues in tandem with partners, and the smartest place based strategies are centered around the people in their communities. Community members know better than anyone their assets and their challenges, and they should be central to charting their own courses forward.
State arts agency community development managers engage in authentic and essential work with communities across the country. These staff members are essential to creative placemaking efforts because they connect the arts to communities, contributing to improved civic life. Our project, Strengthening the State Arts Agency Support System for Creative Placemaking, is designed to help boost the knowledge, resources and capacity of these industrious staffers, which in turn will advance their roles in fostering equitable, healthy and sustainable communities.
What does this new initiative entail?
Pam: First and most basic is an assessment of the needs of state arts agency community development staff; we will evaluate current practices, obstacles and aspirations. At NASAA we always begin with our members; their insights are critical because they’re doing the work in partnership with communities. The results of the first component will guide the direction of the remainder of the project. There are four public facing components. The first is a field inventory report which will highlight state arts agencies’ roles as they relate to creative placemaking and where they currently, or can, fit into the ecosystem. Second, we will produce a wayfinding tool for accessing federal resources that can support creative placemaking initiatives at the state level.
Leila: The third component is a skills-building convening for state arts agency community development staff, in conjunction with NASAA’s Assembly 2020 conference. This convening will cover elements of creative placemaking practice based on what community development coordinators have expressed they want to learn more about. Finally, this partnership will allow for state arts agencies to build peer-to-peer connections with counterparts at community and economic development agencies and organizations, including attendance at each other’s convenings. Creative placemaking work crosses sectors, so cross-sector collaborations are essential to its success.
How can this project strengthen efforts toward diversity, equity and inclusion?
Leila: Across government, philanthropy and nonprofits, there have been more conversations and steps toward diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). We think this work is central and must become the norm, especially in relation to the creative placemaking field. We’re excited to learn from our partners across the 56 U.S. states and territories about the work they are currently doing and aspiring to accomplish.
Pam: State arts agencies spread their support far and wide, including to populations affected by geographic isolation, income inequality, racism, disability and other factors. State arts agency community development managers already have deep connections within their communities; they build bridges between the arts and community each day. I expect our project with ArtPlace will fortify states with resources, knowledge and a more extensive network. NASAA, ArtPlace and state arts agencies all share a commitment to fostering DEI. The DEI lens will be integral to this project, just as it has become integral to all our work at NASAA. I believe that the professional development offered to community development managers through this project will strengthen their capacity to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in their work with communities across the country.
When does Strengthening the State Arts Agency Support System for Creative Placemaking begin?
Pam: It already has! We launched the initiative by conducting a focus group of community development managers this summer, and we have surveyed them to inventory the variety of programs and services they offer. Results will be synthesized later this fall and shared with the community development network and with ArtPlace.
Leila: Efforts are already under way, and we are excited! We are curious to hear about your interest in this project along with any feedback you have as this partnership and work evolves; please write to kelly.barsdate [at] nasaa-arts.org.