The Reinvestment Fund

Funding Received: 2011
Philadelphia, PA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
March 20, 2012

The Reinvestment Fund, in partnership with the City of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project, is using its ArtPlace grant to develop a creative assets mapping database for Philadelphia.

Now called CultureBlocks, the website is set to be released at the end of 2012. CultureBlocks is a free and publicly available web tool powered by a robust geospatial database.

At best, data related to arts and culture come from scattered local and national sources. At worst, these datasets need to be built from scratch. CultureBlocks will make Philly arts and culture data publicly accessible and easy to find for the first time. Furthermore, the tool will allow this data to be mapped with real estate and socio-economic information to better inform public policy and investment decisions. The benefits of data and locational intelligence will be available to citizens, artists, investors and organizations.

Among other things, CultureBlocks can be used to:
• Identify spatial clusters of emerging creative activity to facilitate public and private investment in specific neighborhoods
• Promote the Philadelphia as a location of choice through the locational display of cultural assets
• Advocate for new financial and capacity building tools organized around creative sector activity
• Provide a networking tool for artists, creative entrepreneurs, and cultural workers

ArtPlace spoke with Katie Nelson, Senior Associate at PolicyMap, a service of the Reinvestment Fund, about the project:

ARTPLACE: Do you have partners on the project?

Partnership is absolutely central to the development of this tool. CultureBlocks is a unique public-private partnership involving the City and two Philly-based nonprofits, TRF and SIAP. Members of each organization serve on a steering committee that guides the tool’s development.

Two municipal departments are involved in CultureBlocks: the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy (OACCE) supports and promotes arts, culture and creative industries in Philly; Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce is the umbrella organization for all economic activity in the City.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) is a research group focused on the relationship between arts and culture and community life.

The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) builds wealth and opportunity for low-wealth people and places through the promotion of socially and environmentally responsible development. TRF has also built the interactive online mapping platform called PolicyMap, which will power CultureBlocks.

ARTPLACE: What is the most rewarding thing about collaboration?

The beauty of any partnership is that you have many hands to get the work done. The truth is that without each of the partners involved, this project would never be happening. So, the rewards of collaboration here speak for themselves. We each bring a different knowledge-set to the table, allowing us the opportunity to leverage each other’s resources and expertise.

The City is uniquely positioned to bring cultural stakeholders into the conversation to help us understand what the tool needs to do; SIAP is at the vanguard of thinking about how to gather and measure cultural data; TRF and SIAP have a working partnership to explore the relationship between the creative sector, community change and place-making; and TRF’s PolicyMap provides the web-based geographic information system (GIS) to store the data and deliver it on web-based interactive maps.

The fruits of this partnership will really be felt the first time we get to try out the tool ourselves and begin to share it with the public!

ARTPLACE: What is the toughest thing about collaboration?
No one has ever built something quite like CultureBlocks before. The biggest challenge to date has been figuring out how to go from a cacophony of wonderful but disjointed ideas into a manageable set of data, tools, and design specifications. We figured out early on that CultureBlocks cannot be everything to everyone and if we try and design it for every use case we can think of we’ll end up with a tool nobody wants.

Ultimately to gain some perspective and clarity we decided to have a series of community stakeholder meetings where we sought the input of arts and creative community to help us zero in on what we needed to build. While we were somewhat worried additional voices would only add clamor, we found that these conversations ultimately helped us coalesce around user priorities.

ARTPLACE: What advice would you give to those having trouble making a collaboration work?
A successful collaboration can achieve something that a single organization could never achieve on its own. If you dream big – like we are with CultureBlocks! – you need to get the right voices in the room to make it happen. Ultimately a successful partnership involves creating a space for everyone to share ideas and then figuring out a process to turn the ideas into concrete action.