People want to live in places where they can create meaning, build connections, and see opportunity – all of which are things that artists can help build and maintain. However, many times when we talk about art in community development, we’re limited to percent-for-art programs, or decoration at the end of a project. Through our work, we know that by having artists and their creativity at the table in more substantive ways, we can build more equitable and healthy communities.
Artists exist in every community and art is inseparable from the communities in which it is created in. To be effective, community development projects need to engage stakeholders in a meaningful way and local people, including artists, need to see themselves reflected in the outcome.
During a period of intense light rail construction in Saint Paul, MN, we ran an artist-led creative placemaking project called Irrigate along the construction zone. We supported local artists with community organizing workshops and then funded small projects in partnership with local businesses and organizations.
Over the course of 3 years, we worked with 600 local artists to create over 150 projects in Saint Paul, which generated over 50 million positive media impressions of an area that otherwise would have had a predominantly negative narrative.
In addition to Irrigate, there are other great examples of how artists and community development can collaborate across the country and the world, including:
First Peoples Fund, based in Rapid City, South Dakota, supports creative indigenous artists through business training, fellowships and advocacy. The organization created the Rolling Rez, a mobile arts space, business training center, and a bank – all based in the Pine Ridge Reservation. More than half of the Native households on Pine Ridge are engaged in home-based businesses, 79 percent of which are in the field of arts, so the Rolling Rez provides crucial access, resources and visibility for indigenous artists.
In New York City, the Laundromat Project also goes where the people are. Based in Harlem, the project supports artists to create new, community-engaged work based in laundromats, a place where people go to be and to collaborate. Projects have included renaming streets based on personal history, creating community mixtapes and other projects that reflect a community back to itself.
This is deep, collaborative work but it is not inaccessible work. There are resources for those who want to build capacity and partner with artists and arts organizations in their work. For example, Creative Exchange, Springboard’s online platform, offers free toolkits and guides for artist-led projects to build community (from simple ones such as a Pop-Up Museum or a Neighborhood Postcard Project, to more complex creative placemaking and community development work like Irrigate).
For those interested in learning more, this summer, we are hosting a Train-the-Trainer Intensive that includes a two-day session on art and community development and we’d love to have you join us.