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Creative Placemaking & Urban Interventions

This year, two major granting efforts have been launched for creative placemaking programs: Our Town, the NEA’s newest design initiative, and ArtPlace, a unique consortium of foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions. Both programs support a diverse range of projects, such as design, public art, community engagement and revitalization, but a common thread is some form of public-private partnership (Creative Placemaking, a white paper published by the NEA, details numerous examples of these public, private, and community partnerships that use the arts as catalyst for improving public space). There are obvious advantages to operating under the auspices of a government entity, particularly when it comes to urban design and public art projects. However, as of late I am increasingly aware of several organizations that operate outside the purview of public agencies— grassroots style, if you will— whose projects are stunning examples of creative placemaking and ephemeral urban interventions.

The work of San Francisco-based design studio Rebar is “rooted in the belief that human interaction, community and a sense of wonder form the basis of the good life.” Fusing art, design, and ecology, the PARK(ing) project— perhaps one of Rebar’s better-known— has inspired a worldwide annual PARK(ing) Day during which parking spaces are temporarily transformed into parks. Operating under the belief that public art is not only a noun, but “just as often a verb,” this studio has re-conceptualized civic engagement and the role it plays in creative placemaking. The Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF), also of San Francisco, works to inspire “art, community and civic participation” and supports a diverse portfolio of projects that require “human interaction to complete the piece.” Although BRAF occasionally partners with various city agencies, it is a private 501(c)(3) that operates under a unique intersection between “inclusive participation, community input and city collaboration,” which allows them to remain true to their roots. Their installations serve as conduits for engagement; interactivity is key. For example, the Composting Contraption, part of BRAF’s Scrap Eden program, is a “kinetic artwork” that doubles as an educational tool used to engage communities in composting practices.

This is not just a San Francisco phenomenon– the Public Art Fund, Creative Time, Project for Public Spaces, ARTblocks, and City Repair are all exemplary organizations that work to imbue their local urban landscapes with increased community interaction, inspirational public spaces, and thought-provoking installations. I invite you to join the discussion – how do your communities inspire and support public, private, and grassroots creative placemaking?

 

Kyle Marinshaw, Impact Assessment Program Manager, joined WolfBrown’s San Francisco office in the Fall of 2011tm

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