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How The Art of Placemaking Conference came to be

WaterFire Providence

In late 2011, we learned about a new grant program called ArtPlace. It seemed perfectly suited to what we had been doing at WaterFire Providence for the past 17 years. In it’s simplest terms, ArtPlace was looking for projects that use art to add vibrancy to community and that is precisely what we do.

ArtPlace AmericaAfter several meetings with ArtPlace America founding director Carol Coletta and program director Bridget Marquis, both of whom challenged us to think outside the box and take some risks, we put together a successful application that focused on launching a public art incubator where we would collaborate with other artists and arts organizations in experimenting with new forms of public art and developing a creative placemaking learning lab which would be a platform to collect and share latest, best and a few failed practices so that the sector could advance its knowledge of what may work and what may not.

At WaterFire Providence, we knew we had great resources to build on and hosting a conference or convening to explore some of the big ideas confronting creative placemakers seemed like a good start. I’ve heard both Rocco Landesman and Jason Schupbach of the National Endowment for the Arts state that Providence is a city that gets creative placemaking. We have so many incredible arts organizations that create significant and diverse impacts for the community, RISD, Brown, AS220, The Steel Yard and fellow ArtPlace grantee Community Music Works are just a few. A supportive city government lead by an active Department of Art, Culture + Tourism has also fostered an environment conducive to creative placemaking. After reflecting on what Providence has accomplished in this area over the past 20 years, it made sense to invite people here to learn from our collective experience.

But we didn’t want to make the event too Providence-centric because that wouldn’t benefit our community and may not make it as attractive to others to travel here. So we were fortunate to use our networks to attract some of the sector’s leading thinkers and practitioners to join us. First aboard was Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, co-author of the NEA whitepaper on Creative Placemaking, who not only agreed to deliver the opening keynote (Indicators, Metrics, and Evaluations, Oh My!) but has been an integral member of the planning team. Her co-author, Ann Markusen, will also be joining us in leading an interactive session examining how we do we know what we do is working. Maria Rosario Jackson, formerly of the Urban Institute and now a Senior Adviser with the Arts & Culture team at The Kresge Foundation agreed to participate as has Laura Zabel, the executive director of SpringBoard for the Arts, who was recently recoginzed as one of 2013’s Fifty Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Arts. We also have several leaders from outside the field of creative placemaking including Jed Pearsall, president of Performance Research, one of the top event marketing research firms in the world and Marshall Sponder, author of Social Media Analytics and creator of Rutgers University’s online course Social Media for the Arts.

Back in February 2013, Barnaby Evans and I were invited to participate in ArtPlace America’s Creative Placemaking Summit in Miami Beach. It was  great to meet all of the other ArtPlace grantees, ArtPlace funding foundations and other industry leaders. Many attendees knew about WaterFire but never experienced it in person so we saw this as an opportunity to not only advance the great conversation that was started in Miami but also give fellow grantees the chance to come to Providence to experience WaterFire and visit some of our other innovative organizations who have been actively transforming the City through creative placemaking for the past two decades.

Looking at the calendar, we wanted to move the event to as far back in the funding cycle as possible. As we were developing the 2013 season there was tremendous interest in creating a WaterFire to salute our military veterans on Saturday, November 9. While we have plenty of work to do on a WaterFire weekend, we saw this as an opportunity to give conference attendees an inside experience at one of the largest public art events in the country. More on that in another post.

So that’s how The Art of Placemaking Conference came to be. We look forward to you joining on November 7 and 8 to advance the conversation on how we effectively measure and communicate what we do as creative placemakers.

Posted October 06, 2013 in: Placemaking by Peter A. Mello

  1. I really want to be at this gathering. I have been quietly working in the field – and gathering data – for over 30 years now, and selected one of the most poverty stricken places to work (Tucson, AZ). I would love to share my findings with you some time.

    michael schwartz, October 10, 2013 at 5:27 pm
    • Hi Michael, thanks for commenting and for introducing me to the Tuscon Arts Brigade. You definitely should be coming to Providence and participating in The Art of Placemaking Conference and helping to shape the conversation about how we effectively measure and communicate what we do. Hope you can join us.

      Peter A. Mello, October 11, 2013 at 11:34 am
  2. […] be giving a fuller version of this talk next week, at Waterfire’s Art of Placemaking conference. Any advice on how to answer these questions […]