Creative CityMaking is a project that brings artists and Minneapolis City planners together for year-long collaborations, with the goal of providing both with new tools for working with diverse communities. The project also strives to engage artists in critical thinking and art making around important City and urban issues.
Artplace spoke to Theresa Sweetland, Executive/Artistic Director at Intermedia Arts and Gülgün Kayim Director of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy for the City of Minneapolis Office of the City Coordinator and asked them to reflect on the Creative Placemaking Summit in Miami.
ARTPLACE: Where does the movement go next?
Theresa Sweetland: We hope it moves back to Miami for another summit! This was an incredible opportunity to meet and connect with some powerful changemakers from around the country. As an organization and a project that is rooted in work with underrepresented communities and artists, I was excited to learn more about the diversity indicators that are emerging that reinforce our understanding of what makes a place vital. My hope is that the placemaking work continues to focus towards a people-oriented approach that asks meaty questions about gentrification, celebrates the role of independent and individual artists, sees diversity as an asset in vital places, and encourages all of us in the work to answer the question, “Who Benefits?” We are all working across and sometimes between fields and sectors, with individuals and organizations in collaboration and partnership and there are powerful opportunities now for greater convergence and collective impact. This movement will grow if we continually find opportunities to bring artists and changemakers together to exchange, connect and share, amplify the stories that are making a difference for all community members and leverage opportunities for greater systems change together.
Gulgun Kayim: Whoa movement ? What ‘movement’? I think it’s too early to call if there is a movement gathering around creative placemaking. I see the collection of strategies called ‘creative placemaking’ as still an emerging conversation still in flux and with many tensions in it. The dialogue between the theory and developing practices is very active and unsettled. Movements are by their very nature organic and take time to cohere, we are still cohering in the Artplace collection of projects. As the summit was our very first gathering, I think it’s too early to think about where it goes to next as it hasn’t yet arrived. In fact at the summit I was part of a few animated debates around whether there truly is a ‘movement’ and what that means. I spoke with arts organizations and artists who are still testing these ideas to see what they actually mean in practice. In my opinion we are still in the thick of the debate and I’m not sure we should be thinking about next steps - yet. We need to give some time to let whatever this thing is evolve out of what is happening on the ground, among practitioners and not just from those doing the marketing or theorizing.
ARTPLACE: What ideas did you gain or lessons did you learn that you plan to apply to your initiative?
Theresa Sweetland: Being around creative, passionate people is always food for new ideas and inspiration. What I found really useful, as often happens in these summits, were the moments and spaces in between the sessions to talk to the other people making this work happen and share stories. Overwhelmingly, there is buzz about this work and we want to continue to meet and talk and share. We want to visit each other’s spaces, projects and neighborhoods and we want to be on the ground in the thick of the work. From these conversations, I learned that there is a desire for more artists to be a part of these conversations, that indicators around diversity are deeply important to this community, and that we are all still trying to understand a new language and landscape from our own unique lens.
Gulgun Kayim: At the summit, it was very stimulating to see so much ebb and flow of ideas that don’t necessarily correspond with each other. For me if there is a big take away it is the excitement and energy around the different approaches to creative placemaking and the innovative conversations beginning to happen across sectors. I can’t say there were specific lessons that I walked away with that I could utilize in my work as the project I’m engaged in is unique. In fact most of the people I spoke to had projects that were really place based and therefore unique and specific to their circumstances and conditions. While I was inspired by everyone’s vision and creativity I found I couldn’t directly take their learning and apply it to my circumstances. I think it’s important that we move away from thinking that these projects are replicable. The issues that we’re all trying to address are exactly the ‘one size fits all’ kind of thinking that got us into building featureless urban environments that are not serving our needs today. I think its better for us to embrace the diversity of ideas that has gone into these projects and see what we do to identify the flexible, creative thinking that emerged in response to Artplace’s call and the practices that are being developed to sustain the work.
ARTPLACE: What did you share about your initiative that was surprising to you or to other participants?
Gulgun Kayim: I am working with many of the initiatives that received funding in the City of Minneapolis and shared with others that there is a strong community of practice developing in the Twin Cities seen in projects such as Irrigate, CAIR and Creative CityMaking. These projects have a common thread running through them all related to connecting with systems that are in trouble, addressing broader community needs with artistic strategies that engage and change those systems. Most of our projects are very organic orientated towards grassroots activism and the principle that old ways of solving problems are only producing the same results. In order to change the environment (physical and political) new ways of working are needed to produce different results.
One surprising resource I shared and utilized during the summit, that we use in Creative Citymaking convenings, was the collection of facilitation processes called Art of Hosting intended to engage groups of people in meaningful, active conversations. I used this in a session to reorient participants to talk to and learn from each other.
Theresa Sweetland: I agree that many of the people I talked to were surprised by how much energy and collaboration there was in the Twin Cities among our projects. It is not a surprise to me as Intermedia Arts, in partnership with Twin Cities LISC, has been deeply investing in building a network of artists and practitioners working in arts and community and economic development in the Twin Cities through our leadership program (Creative Community Leadership Institute) since 2001. There is rich ecosystem here that didn’t happen by accident but was built with deep intention and commitment. The over 120 fellows from this program have a shared understanding and language for this work and also a shared a commitment to the engagement of traditionally underepresented communities which makes us ripe and fertile soil for investment and innovation.
ARTPLACE: What new opportunities for your initiative did you identify from conversations with other creative placemakers?
Theresa Sweetland: So many great conversations over dinner, during walks on the beach and in the cab ride to the airport. What surprised me was how different everyone’s project was, but within each story, there was an opportunity. I also found, like Gulgun did, that our project was so unique among the others that the greatest opportunities were with and among other city planning projects and policy-makers like Lynne McCormack with the City of Providence. However, as a community-based arts organization, we have a hundred other projects and programs we are running. I was constantly bumping up against new opportunities for our work to connect and learn from our graffiti walls (Wynwood Walls) to our ArtsHub co-working space and plans for expansion (Intersections for the Arts/U3 Ventures) to our grant-making opportunities (Bloomberg Ideas Challenge).
Gulgun Kayim: I didn’t go looking for opportunities but I did connect with other projects that are similarly oriented within City Planning departments. It was very helpful to see the similarities and differences in our projects and hear about their successes and failures.