Cook Inlet Housing Authority

Funding Received: 2015
Anchorage, AK
July 21, 2016

ArtPlace America’s Community Development Investments (CDI) program 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.

We 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. 

For more information about Cook Inlet Housing Authority, visit their homepage on our website!


Focus group talking about Spenard at the Church of LoveReflections on lessons learned:

(1) Not sure what session it was during the ArtPlace Summit, but in big bold writing in my Summit notebook I have: BUILD A COALITION OF THE WILLING. HARNESS THE ENERGY OF THE ARTISTS WHO WANT TO BE INVOLVED.  Get the right artists in the room to be able to address the needs of the residents. Social practice artists bring out conversation; what they produce is secondary.  This seems to be ringing louder and truer in our recent experiences.

By my quick calculation we have had conversations with twenty artists. Some we knew, some we had heard of or seen their work and many we had never heard of or seen. There is great capacity in our community. There is great passion. How can CIHA harness that in the framework of what we do to make incredible things happen?

(2) We think that perhaps the vehicle to use to measure “how will we know we are successful?” in our creative placemaking work was discussed during our TA visit with Brian Friedman from Northeast Shores Development Corporation. Northeast Shores uses a survey to see trends and measure movement. We think an annual survey could work well in Spenard.

For example, are people feeling better about the neighborhood? Safer? More engaged? Positive?

We are working to develop our own survey, borrowing from Brian’s, to help us find the right measurements for our neighborhood. We are then hoping to get engagement on the survey in the fall through some outreach activities occurring in our converted church space.

(3) HAVE DINNER INSTEAD OF A MEETING. The idea that we need to meet people where they are for our engagement efforts resonated with us. We are intrigued by how to apply this concept into our engagement efforts in an authentic and meaningful way. We are nearing the part of our cultural asset mapping that will include greater engagement opportunities and we need to remember to use this tool.

Challenges, opportunities and process:

(1)The Church of Love is both an asset and a hindrance in our process

(Ed. note: The Church of Love is a formerly vacant Church on a site under consideration for development that has been a hub of temporary artistic activity)

We want the community (and ourselves) to benefit from the use of the Church’s ample space to explore things, create things, have a place to meet and use for interesting projects – but some people in the community are hung up on the ArtPlace CDI work being “about the Church.” We need to SHIFT this dynamic and get beyond that hurdle to start really moving conversations to bigger topics…

“How can artists/creatives help solve __(fill in the blank)__ as it relates to CIHA’s work?”

It would be a missed opportunity to not use the Church interior and exterior on an interim basis before its final fate is determined. 

Beginning in July we’ll be working with a local landscape design company to test how buildings/businesses on the Spenard Rd corridor can better interface with the street and allow for better mixed modality users and a better aesthetic overall.  Using the street-facing frontage of the Church, the designers will create a platform for a variety of ideas to be tested. This platform will act as a “sandbox” with a toolkit for different creatives or stakeholders, to try things out in a non-permanent fashion.  This project will be a tangible, 3D demonstration for multiple stakeholders including CIHA, the Municipality of Anchorage and the neighborhood.

(2) Capacity for Creative Placemaking

We see a tremendous opportunity in our community to increase our collective capacity for creative placemaking. We have already started to explore outside partnerships to bring training and education to our community to “up” our collective game. We’ve seen such great examples at the ArtPlace Summit and through some of the webinars but we’re not sure that we know the next steps to make things happen here. We feel the best way to push that envelope will be to bring capacity to our organization and our arts and culture sector at the same time through some strategic partnerships with national leaders in the field. We also hope that this will allow for sustainability by creating a stronger network of partnerships along with increased “know how” and confidence to get projects planned and executed.

We were fortunate to be given the opportunity to help increase our community’s capacity for murals by sponsoring a two-day, three-part mural workshop for artists in June.  Together with the Municipality of Anchorage, The Anchorage Art Co-Op and Cook Inlet Housing, artists learned about public art, how to translate their art into murals and how to identify project sites. Artists who attended the sessions at the Church of Love in Spenard were given the opportunity to go outside and paint a collective mural on the church. Putting their new knowledge to action! We think more of these kinds of opportunities would be helpful.

(3) Communication and Managing Expectations

Everything is moving in all directions at a fast pace. It's challenging to keep our entire organization fully informed on what activities we have going on with CDI, let alone keeping the community up to date and managing everyone's expectations. We have created an ArtPlace CIHA CDI Facebook page to try to keep up with communications both internally and externally. We also used it as a platform to launch our first call for artists for our "Design a Bike Rack for Spenard" project!

Three exciting things that are coming up:

(1) The opportunity to work with culture-bearers on a story for Chester Creek, which has cultural significance to the Dena’ina people who lived (and still live) in what is now Anchorage and is the site of some of our most recent housing developments; along with a chance to develop and design an artistic representation symbolizing the importance of the Creek to be used within our development campus and adjacent trail.

(2) The transformation of asphalt in front of the Church of Love to show something more interesting, atheistically pleasing and out of the box for streetscape and demonstrate how a building can better relate to a busy street and to the community, especially pedestrians trying to navigate through the neighborhood.

(3) Engaging artists and creatives to solve a design dilemma at our newest development where our local building code calls for specific landscaping, but the local traffic code is at odds with the building code requirements resulting in something potentially not satisfactory to our organization. Instead, we are gearing up to work on an alternative, creative solution that will satisfy code requirements but break out from the current model of buffer landscape used by most developers.