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The Student’s Eye View


Conferences are a Good Thing to Attend.

As a graduate student at Brown University, this has been drilled into me on numerous occasions. The usual reasons are then handed out: it’s great networking; it’s how everyone gets a job these days; it’s a chance to apply your learning; you should really be presenting, you know. This is understood and you’d be a fool to disagree. However, The Art of Placemaking is a conference that truly offers more than the usual reasons to attend.

There is a legitimate opportunity here to make real change in the world. Creative placemaking is a new term and the professional community is still figuring out what it means. The people gathering in November aren’t coming to re-hash old battles or re-examine an ages-old proposition. This is the cutting edge of thought out there in the field. At an intimate conference like this every delegate will make an impact on how we all think about creative placemaking. The voice of the student is important in that debate. Students have no institution to protect, they’ve read the literature, and they’ve had the time to think deeply about the term. That’s critical for everyone in figuring out what we mean by creative placemaking.

This is a conference with a lot of angles. The question we’re examining is how we can track the ways in which people transform physical space into meaningful place. This is a process people have been involved in for millennia. It’s not just arts jargon. This is archaeology, anthropology, history of art, sociology, psychology, economics, and urban studies. The term might be new, but the process is certainly not. The more diverse the conversation, the richer it is. We talk a lot about interdisciplinary working and here it is, waiting for us.

For students at any of Providence’s great schools, the final reason is big – home team advantage. We don’t need to pay hotel fees, nor crash with friends. There’s no travel time and, best of all, we already know Providence inside out. We’ve seen creative placemaking at its best and we know how to talk about it. What better advantage could you ask for walking into a national conference?

So yes, come because attending conferences is a good idea. Do the networking, apply your learning, and look for that killer job opportunity. But stay because you’re a real part of the conversation and because you know you have something to contribute. Come tell the arts managers why they’re part of a tradition that dates back to pre-history. Share with policy makers why arts & culture has always been a critical component of successful cities. Or, for that matter, come and tell us why we’re doing it all wrong! People are coming to listen – come and be heard.


Paul Margrave is a graduate student at Brown University, studying for a Masters degree in Public Humanities. As part of the practicum requirement for the program, Paul is working with WaterFire Providence to deliver The Art of Placemaking. Paul is a community-based arts manager and practitioner, originally from the UK.


Posted October 24, 2013 in: Placemaking, Students by Paul Margrave