Creative Placemaking Links Art and Community Revitalization

As sculptor Dee Briggs walked through the vacant house that she planned to have demolished next to her studio, she was struck by the evidence of the many lives that had been spent there. As she looked through the personal items left behind and pondered those lived experiences, she changed her original plan and decided to paint the house gold and carefully deconstruct it, saving those materials to eventually be reborn as a coffee house with the goal of providing jobs and a gathering place. Her sense of connection and commitment to her local community in Wilkinsburg, Pa, and the steps she took to enhance the location were labeled creative placemaking, a phrase which is linked to a wide network of programs aimed at revitalizing vacant properties in ways that also model inclusive community development. As a result, it can expand equitable development opportunities for low-income people living in disinvested communities.

With this idea in mind that art can fuel community development, Power House Productions, an artist-run neighborhood-based nonprofit in Detroit, Michigan, was created with the intention to build relationships in the community and revitalize neighborhoods. Instead of breaking down a vacant house as Dee Briggs did in Wilkinsburg, here vacant, abandoned, and fire damaged homes were renovated in collaboration with local artists and turned into centers for neighborhood creativity. With these projects, Power House seeks to “integrate contemporary art and artistic practices into the daily life of (its) diverse Detroit neighborhood, creating public spaces for the exchange of ideas, opinions, and experiences.” Currently five house have been renovated for community use, along with a public park that now combines skateboarding, public art, and green space.

As the Trust for Public Land (TPL) indicates, though, the focus of creative placemaking goes beyond vacant properties. TPL describes it as “a cooperative, community-based process that leads to new and rejuvenated parks and open spaces that reflect local identity through arts and culture. It has five components: equity, arts and culture, community engagement, partnerships, and stewardship.”

The Mid-America Mural Project was developed in 2010 with the intention to create “meaningful and high quality works through a collaborative process driven by local people.” Each mural project includes the guidance of professional artists, with every stage of the project connecting community members with an opportunity for hands-on experience in research, design, and execution of major public artworks. Two months after a devastating tornado, residents of Joplin, Missouri worked together to create a mural focused on rebuilding, remembering, and moving forward. “Inspired by the metamorphosis of butterflies, the poetry of Langston Hughes, and the capacity for renewal expressed in the imaginations of children, the mural captures the story of Joplin’s unbroken spirit and hopeful outlook after the storm.” The Mural Project has helped the communities of Arkadelphia, Arkansas; Waco, Texas; Hastings, Nebraska; Newton, Kansas; and Tonkawa, Oklahoma to create their own similarly meaningful community murals.

The impacts of creative placemaking can be seen from Los Angeles to Denver, New Jersey to Chicago, and Nashville to Philadelphia along with many other communities. Whether it is protecting “sacred spaces,” recovering the potential of abandoned land, revitalizing neighborhoods, or just bringing people together, creative placemaking offers exciting cooperative opportunities to blend art and diverse communities.

Read more about these projects and about creative placemaking here:

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