Check out the crowdsourced local government COVID-19 response resources page!

COVID-19 learning & connection opportunities: week of April 6, 2020

Introducing: Creative Community Partners Civic Arts & ArtPlace America!

Posted on February 13, 2020


Danceworks Photo

Photo by Jonice Moore | Forklift Danceworks, Nadamos Dove Springs (2018)

This post is brought to you by Lyz Crane (ArtPlace America) and Lynn Osgood (Civic Arts) as part of ELGL’s “Creative Community” learning series about the role of arts and culture in local government. Sign up to guest blog about your local government experiences with creative placemaking here – tell your story so we can learn from you!


We are excited for 2020! 

This year, with support from ArtPlace America, ELGL will be partnering with Civic Arts to help lead a new initiative called Creative Community. Featuring blogs, podcasts, webinars and more, this initiative will help to introduce the field of creative placemaking to the ELGL community.  We know that when cities and towns use creative approaches, the result is stronger, more inclusive communities and we’re eager to share stories of projects happening across the nation.

For as long as there have been cities – there have been people integrating arts and cultural strategies as part of their development.  While here in the United States the conversation around the arts can sometimes feel “off to the side”, they have always been central to how we wrestle with questions like, “Who are we as a community? How do we let people know? How do we know when we’re ‘home’?” 

What is creative placemaking?

As far back as the 1890s New York City Municipal Arts Society declared, “To make us love our city, we must make our city lovely!” But even then, they wrestled with the question of what would be the best approach. Would it be better to improve basic sanitation? Or would it require harnessing civic arts to foster deeper experiences of pride and attachment for citizens?  Fortunately, the decision wasn’t either/or – it was both/and. Since that time, the conversation has continued around the question of how the arts and culture strategies can be part of the way we build our communities. 

About ten years ago, a new set of professional practices emerged at the intersection of the arts and culture sectors and the local government sector.  People began to wonder how cities could go deeper than the basic strategies of involving arts by creating cultural districts, arts centers, and galleries. These new practices took on the name “creative placemaking” and today we see a thriving set of practices which share some similar characteristics. 

At their core, creative placemaking projects are about place – a place’s history, its people, and its stories.  When working with partners on cross-sector issues it can be easy to forget this dimension of the work, but the best projects are rooted in local communities, with specific concerns, histories, economies, visions, and aspirations. Another essential element of creative placemaking projects is that they leverage the power of arts and culture strategies to help achieve the changes they’re looking to create – the arts are not an afterthought, but are rather a core aspect of achieving the change.  Bringing artists, arts organization, and culture bearers to partner on issues where they may not have traditionally had a seat at the table allows new perspectives, new ideas, and new networks to emerge. 

Today we are seeing an explosion of projects happening across all fifty states and a wide range of community issues and sectors. In each of these projects, partnerships between municipalities and artists and arts organizations are collaboratively creating place-based change.  The critical component of each project is that the “creative” in creative placemaking is an adverb describing the making (or ‘keeping’!), not an adjective describing the place. In other words, arts and culture strategies become the way community goals are met, and the power that the arts bring to community equations can be seen in housing, transportation projects, public safety initiatives, and community health.  Artists are becoming partners with local governments in furthering community goals.

What’s the bottom line?  What can creative placemaking do for local governments?

Over the last ten years, there’s been a huge growth in understanding what the arts can do, and how arts strategies are helping to achieve those results.  One of the key ways to understand creative placemaking within the local government sector is to understand the difference between doing projects ABOUT arts and culture and doing projects WITH arts and culture. 

The first strategy points to those municipal tactics that support the arts and culture as the focus of their work, such as the creation of an arts and culture district. These strategies are vitally important to the growth of the arts sector and need continued support.  However, the second strategy points to the idea of doing projects WITH arts and culture partners to help support OTHER city goals. These projects can look like artists being embedded within city departments to tackle old problems in new ways, or engaging mural artists to help support local public health strategies by creating positive messages about a neighborhood. 

As these types of practices expand, we see arts and cultural strategies helping municipalities in some important ways:

Working with communities to broaden the perspectives that are informing local government systems.

Arts-based approaches can help local government to engage a wider range of residents in problem-solving, and to better reflect local values, culture, and identity within municipal work. By engaging with local government personnel, residents can inform how projects are decided on, evaluated, and communicated about with the broader public.

Creating new ways for programs and departments to address “wicked” problems 

By leveraging the potential of arts sector partnerships to bring innovative ideas and new lenses for understanding, local governments can find new solutions to entrenched problems and advance standard municipal projects and services. Arts, culture, and design-based practices allow for exploration, experimentation, new ways of knowing, and prototyping in a way that standard government and development practices may not.

Building cross-sector capacity for municipal projects 

Cross-sector partnerships can open the potential for new project understandings, expanded goals that cross siloes, and broadened outcomes that generate more holistic progress. Working with the arts and culture sectors can help break down bureaucratic roadblocks, and help departments develop the capacity to work with new partners and translate their practices across sector-specific language and approaches.

Over the next year, we’ll be working with ELGL members to help bring forward the stories, inspirations, challenges, and opportunities that are at the core of this work and we’re eager to hear your questions and ideas for how these types of projects can happen in your community. 


LYZ CRANE is the Deputy Director for ArtPlace America, a national collaboration among foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions that works to position arts and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development, where she focuses on transforming community development practice. Previously, she served as the Communications Director at ArtHome, an organization that helps artists and their communities build assets and equity through financial literacy; and the Director of Program Development and Program Manager of the Shifting Sands Initiative at Partners for Livable Communities, a national nonprofit leadership organization working to improve the livability of communities. In 2009, Crane was named a ‘Next City Vanguard’ by urban affairs magazine Next City. She received her MPA in policy analysis from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University and her BA in Urban Studies and Sociology from Barnard College, Columbia University. Connect with ArtPlace on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Lynn Osgood is an urban planner and researcher that works at the intersection of placemaking, civic engagement, and the arts. She teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, and is the Executive Director of Civic Arts, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support and foster the integration of arts and culture strategies into the ways we envision, plan, and develop healthy, equitable, and vibrant communities. Connect with Civic Arts on Twitter.

Visit the ELGL Creative Community homepage!

Close window