WaterFire's Creative Placemaking Learning Lab and Public Art Incubator

WaterFire Providence

Funding Received: 2012
Providence, RI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
October 23, 2013

We’ve had an incredibly busy period recently with five full and two basin WaterFire’s and our annual fundraising event all in the past five weeks. Now our sights are set ahead for the first week of November when we will host The Art of Placemaking Conference on November 7th and 8th followed by WaterFire’s Salute to Veterans on Saturday, November 9th which is shaping up to be one of our largest events of the year.

Our WaterFire Providence ArtPlace grant was focused on two major initiatives:
1.  Creating a public art incubator which collaborates with artists, arts organizations, community groups, higher education institutions and others in experimenting with new forms of public art to bring increased vibrancy to downtown Providence and

2.  Launching a creative placemaking learning lab to collect, share and learn from best, latest and maybe even a few failed practices which will serve as an ongoing resource for all creative placemakers.

We’ll soon report the some of the amazing things we accomplished with our public art incubator this summer and are exciting plans for the future. But in this post we’ll share with you our plans for The Art of Placemaking Conference in November, just one of our exciting creative placemaking learning lab initiatives.

WaterFire Providence has been active in creative placemaking for nearly 20 years. Over that period of time, more than 15 million people have visited Providence to experience the artwork. Each year, WaterFire activity creates $70,000,000 of spending for local businesses, generates $5,000,000 in direct tax revenue for the State of Rhode Island and supports over 500 jobs for residents in the community. More importantly, WaterFire Providence has helped transform a City and continues to inspire its residents and visitors. During recent challenging economic times, WaterFire has given the people of Providence and Rhode Island a popular admission free art event that creates a sense of pride of where they live and work.

But as a creative placemaking organization, measuring and communicating what we do can be a challenge. Sponsors, funders and policymakers may all have different objectives and anticipated outcomes for why they support creative placemaking initiatives. While this can certainly be considered a challenge, we viewed it as an opportunity to be a catalyst for conversation by all the various stakeholders and that’s why we decided to organize a convening/conference as part of our creative placemaking learning lab.

Since WaterFire has been active in the field for nearly twenty years, we fortunately have a strong network of contacts, from creative placemaking practitioners to academic researchers, from artists to urban planners, from corporate executives to government officials and we’ve drawn from our rich pool of talent for The Art of Placemaking Conference.

One of our first calls was to Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, Metris Arts Consulting, who in 2010 co-authored Creative Placemaking: A White Paper for The Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the United States Conference of Mayors and American Architectural Foundation Anne will kick off The Art of Placemaking Conference with an opening keynote titled “Indicators, Metrics, and Evaluations, Oh My!” , which will delve into the challenges and opportunities that surround measuring the impacts that creative placemaking projects have on communities and diverse constituents.

We’ve also invited Ann Markusen (Principal, Markusen Economic Research and co-author of the NEA’s Creative Placemaking whitepaper) to open our second day with an interactive discussion asking “How do we know Creative Placemaking is working?”

Back to day one we have lots of other interesting sessions planned with ArtPlace America grantees well represented. Lyz Crane, ArtPlace America’s director of partnerships and special projects who will be joined by representatives from two grantee projects sharing their own ideas and experiences with the initiative: Kimberly Driggins from the Office of Planning of the District of Columbia discussing the Arts & Culture Temporiums project; and Lori Lobenstine from the Design Studio for Social Intervention and Max MacCarthy from the Upham’s Corner Main Street discussing work in Upham’s Corner, Boston. Also on day one, Laura Zabel from Springboard for the Arts, another ArtPlace America grantee will present “Change the Narrative: Measuring Placemaking’s Effect on Neighborhood Narrative”

There are too many great sessions to list here in a single blog post so we invite you to visit The Art of Placemaking Conference website  to see the full schedule.

Following The Art of Placemaking Conference, we will be organizing WaterFire’s Salute to Veterans, our last full lighting of the 2013 season. You’re invited and encouraged to join us in what is turning out to be one of our largest and most spectacular community event of the year. Get an inside experience of WaterFire as our guest or, bet yet, join our 200 volunteers that day who create the art that transforms the city and inspires its residents and visitors.

We’re looking forward to reconnecting with many of our fellow ArtPlace America grantees, other creative placemakers and some of the sectors top researchers and thought leaders for 2 days advancing the conversation about how we all can more effectively measure and communicate what we do as creative placemakers. We hope that you will join us in our ArtPlace America Creative Learning Lab initiative.