State of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development/CT Office of the Arts

Funding Received: 2013
Multiple, CT
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
June 13, 2014

By Rod Frantz

The CreateHereNow (CHN) project has been an inspiring one to watch unfold. To see how our team efforts spark a dialogue, nurture individual projects, and identify emerging leaders in our places engenders excitement and understanding about placemaking throughout the State of Connecticut. CHN continues to develop in ways not always easily predictable.

The Challenge
The public’s comprehension of “placemaking” still has a long way to go.
-- Many of our allies understand it intuitively, while ones you would think would be informed on the subject require more tangible examples in order to develop a collaborative approach and spirit.
-- We would have spent considerably more time laying the basic groundwork of placemaking had we realized the depth of this lack of understanding regarding placemaking concepts and the imperative for broadly, collaborative efforts.

What we’re doing
To address this problem, placemaking visionary Kip Bergstrom is staging a series of four roundtable discussions, called “The Power of Place in Connecticut” (POPCT), across the state. We invited diverse individuals from all walks of life who wished to participate in and support placemaking projects within their own communities.

Each gathering was centered on a principle question for the evening. The first event’s question was, “What place made you?”

A video short of the second session, held at the Garde Arts Center in New London can be seen here.

This video was created to air at the opening of the third POPCT session to help spark dialogue among the participants. It succeeded.

Dance choreographer Roman Baca, who promotes social change through the art of movement, will launch the concluding POPCT evening with a piece he choreographed with youth from Kirkuk and Erbil when he returned as a dancer to Iraq, this time using US veterans as his dancers.

The relatively recent New London/CreateHereNow effort has spawned partnerships with the Economic Development Department of the City of New London and the New London Main Street Program, resulting in a new storefront program that has evolved with each city or town that initiates this kind of program. Discover the New London brings new creative businesses to life and is building momentum throughout downtown.

Many challenges face storefront programs, not the least of which is that they require funders. This type of program takes time to develop as it gathers momentum and adds partnerships with building owners, who may not initially be inclined to participate.

Turning property owners into partners is one of the outcomes we seek in all our storefront programs. By activating citizens to participate in changing places, storefronts act as “campaign headquarters” where ideas from new leaders can develop and eventually take root. A vital part of the CHN placemaking mission has been to identify and mentor new leaders in our places who will continue and expand these efforts into the future.

Uarts (Universal Arts), a new CHN initiative paired with a grant from the NEA, has been training artists to work with “unseen populations” to bring to life their creative talents, while employing artists in the community, many of whom are experiencing poverty due to unemployment. Uarts also offers materials reuse product making and small business development of art and artisan products.

Uarts assembled a group of active Connecticut based programs and initiatives connected for the first time for the purpose of providing creative programming for our underserved populations. By unifying these various efforts for the first time, Uarts aspires to be a growing organization representing the best access efforts and programming statewide.

Some of them are found here representing their respective organizations. Uarts will serve as a network resource, too.
Roman Baca
Monika Neuland Kimrey
Lauren McLelland

Uarts is made possible by grants received from the NEA, NADA, ArtPlace and the Connecticut Office of the Arts.

IMPACT (Imagine Mixing Percussive Artforms CT) was begun with impetus by CHN in partnership with Community Radio Station WPKN 89.5  and Community Builder Billy Fischer.

IMPACT is staging performances around the state in communities like Bridgeport , New Britain, and Middletown, to engage and draw upon each community’s ethnic drumming groups. These local events will herald a culminating event, a mega drum circle/percussive symphony at EnvisionFest 2014 in Hartford’s Bushnell Park this September. The aim is to create an authentic, Connecticut event for all ages, ethnicities and skill levels to celebrate Connecticut’s wealth of percussive talent and diversity.

As the dialogue on creative placemaking has developed around the state, new communities continue to rise up and formulate their specific projects, creating a statewide sense of excitement and possibility.

This year’s Hartford EnvisionFest 2014 will bring together CHN artists featured throughout the day long event, including State of Makers, Uarts, IMPACT, the City of Hartford, the CT Office of the Arts and the i-Quilt Plan.

Our solution
The initiatives we’ve started change people’s thinking, and they become our latest crop of active placemakers, doers and eventually, leaders and teachers. Our initiatives like LAMP (Light Artists Making Places) and SOM (State of Makers) are the vehicles of placemaking in new communities, organizing new, creative placemaking events in previously unengaged cities and towns, spreading the message, allowing more and more of our population to become placemakers in their own communities. Southington (pop. 43,069), has fund-raised to bring a LAMP festival there in October 2014 to coincide with their annual fall festival.

We’ve learned through our placemaking efforts that it’s hard to teach placemaking. It’s something people have to do as an exercise and then adapt to each new situation and circumstance. There is no textbook for this type of work, only fluid thinking, flexibility and creative problem solving abilities. The rigid and rule bound will have other skills to contribute as projects mature.

Sustaining our placemaking sites, like the Morrison’s Artist Collective in rural Torrington (pop. 36,383) illustrates the struggle of our rural poor and our creatives, so many of whom also experience poverty.

The most pressing questions that we need to be asking ourselves are:
-- How can placemaking generate jobs?
-- How can we mentor self-sufficient means to sustain places that we try to create through building reuse?

In New London, CHN has launched a weekly series of placemaking “meet ups” that will become a model for perpetuating placemaking groups across the state.

In Bridgeport, CHN has designated an “emerging leaders” group and included them all in participation in all placemaking discussions around the state, empowering these young leaders and entrepreneurs while adding their voices to the placemaking dialogue.

Clinton (pop. 13,094) is exploring it’s own storefront project with an assist by CHN staff. Kip Bergstrom spoke there recently to a packed house at the Henry Carter Hull Library, an event that they fortunately recorded and published online.

Clinton will launch it’s placemaking work by repurposing a vacant storefront as it’s “placemaking headquarters,” a place for all residents to come, find out what’s happening and be asked to be a part of regularly scheduled “placemaking meet ups” to actively map Clinton’s future.

Kip’s rant:
“The local elected official and his or her agents are potentially our natural allies. The best of them are decisive, good delegators, and provide necessary ‘air cover’ to protect their subordinates.

They are also often impatient to get the job done. They are inheritors of bureaucracies not of their own making, and live in the most normative country in the world with rules and regulations governing every minute detail of life, but they have tenures too short to reform the system. To be successful, they become masters of distributed leadership, nurturing the initiative of the most entrepreneurial individuals in the system (or ones they can bring in from the outside) to make direct connection with citizens, to unleash their creative energies.”

Or as Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper noted, “It is better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission.”

The CreateHereNow team
It occurred to us recently that placemaking is similar to the punk movement; the most enthusiastic members are often “outsiders” and activists and not the usual suspects.