I can’t watch theater anymore. After about eight years of directing musicals, plays, and devised theater, all I do when seeing a play is think about who’s calling it, how the lights were set up, and for the love of God why did they pick chartreuse for her dress? I can’t enjoy the entertainment as it was meant to be consumed. Instead, I focus on what I find to be the most beautiful art form of all: teamwork.
When artists and designers work together towards a common goal, their energy is electric. After a show I’ve directed opens, I always feel an overwhelming sense of pride. The hundreds of hours, the relationships formed, the dreams manifested all culminate into a gift for our community. And that’s who it’s all about in the end: the audience. The process is what keeps me moving, but the reaction and impact a story has on an audience member is what drives me to push and fail and try harder and make better.
In the fall of 2017, the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking (NCCP) and ArtPlace America began their partnership in producing regional and national Creative Placemaking Leadership Summits. With help from an NEA Knowledge Building Grant, I was able to join the NCCP team to help curate and program the content for these summits. In 2018, we produced five convenings: in Chattanooga, TN; Denver, CO; Madison, NJ; Charleston, WV; and finally, our National Summit in College Park, MD.
I had the privilege of delivering housekeeping notes at the National Summit in October. I remember experiencing a moment of pride when I saw the auditorium filled with energized and motivated artists, designers, students, executives, funders, and government officials, all enjoying intense conversation about overcoming challenges and dreaming bigger. Relationships were being forged before my eyes, and I could feel that tangible, electric energy of teamwork forming. Just as I began my first housekeeping note, I thought
“Together, we can change the world.”
I breathed deeply, took it all in, and began.
“Welcome to the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit…”
Just like great theater, CPL Summits are dynamic and faceted. They contribute to growing and professionalizing our field by offering all creative placemakers—from those with a lifetime of experience to those just starting out—the opportunity to learn from one another, share their experiences, and broaden their networks. Since 2014, More than 1,600 people have participated in these NCCP events, which have featured more than 200 sessions on a wide range of issues involving creative placemaking.
Our Summits offer many types of learning activities, from traditional seminars for awareness building, to interactive workshops for synthesis and application, to peer exchanges for evaluation and creation. Some sessions, such as field workshops, provide concrete experiences, while others, like peer exchanges, offer opportunities for abstract conceptualization.
The CPL Summits strive to model the behaviors we want to see in our field. For example, we collaborate with a wide variety of people and organizations to identify themes, issues, and key audiences for each Summit. We also reach out to and recruit partners from under represented communities in the field—whether those are ethnic, cultural, or sectoral communities. To date, we have worked with more than 100 partners around the United States.
We also know that creative placemakers love to have fun and explore, so we take care to plan engaging social events at interesting spaces in all our host communities. We’ve gone to happy hour at MilkBoy ArtHouse in College Park, which was designed by University of Maryland students and their community neighbors through a series of public “think-a-thons.” We heard a local band at the Laundromat, a downtown Morristown, New Jersey speakeasy where patrons enter what appears to be a common laundromat, then walk through a secret door to a cozy basement bar. We spent a Friday evening at the Denver nonprofit contemporary art center RedLine, where we sampled the produce of some local breweries.
At every CPL Summit I’ve attended, the conversations I’ve overheard between sessions and at social events often contain phrases like, “this wonderful person I just met,” “a great idea I can’t wait to tell you about,” and “this incredible story I just heard.” Our convenings don’t just offer participants tools they can use to grow professionally, they’re also beloved for the inspiring camaraderie they engender—and the stage they set for great acts of teamwork to come.
The connections we make, the skills we learn, and the stories we share at CPL Summits have the power to grow into impactful projects that can benefit our communities around the country. When I remember this, I feel that sense of pride all over again, and I look forward to our ensemble’s next performance.
Join me at the CPL Summits in 2019. Together, we will change the world.
As creative director for the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, Thomas Young focuses on curating content for a variety of workshops, summits, and events in order to further build the capacity and connections of fellow creative placemakers around the country. With his background in theatrical productions and landscape design, Thomas continues to collaborate with other local artists to produce accessible art with, for, and by local communities. Read more about Thomas on the NCCP Team page.
For details about 2019 CPL Summits, see the NCCP Summits page.