A Historic Partnership in Creative Placemaking

NACEDA recently announced our selection as a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town award recipient. The award will provide resources over two years for NACEDA and Americans for the Arts to collaborate on a Creative Placemaking Immersion Program for state and regional community development associations and their local/regional arts-based partners. Of course, the community development and arts fields already work together to improve low-income neighborhoods, but they approach the work differently and, too often, separately. This program will provide training, technical assistance, and convening support to blend local arts and community development strategies aimed at improving outcomes for low-income neighborhoods.

This is the first direct federal grant NACEDA has ever received. It is also the first time in Our Town’s history that national field-building grants were awarded. The mission of the NEA's Our Town grant program is to transform communities into lively, beautiful and resilient places with the arts at their core. The new field-building grants are designed to foster cross-sector collaboration, spreading creative placemaking to new geographies and organizations.

As an alliance of 42 state and regional associations for community development and affordable housing in 28 states, NACEDA’s network touches almost 4,000 community development corporations and other community-based development nonprofits across the country. These organizations build affordable homes, drive local economies, provide direct services, and organize neighborhoods. NACEDA saw itself as a natural agent to facilitate local and regional partnerships integrating the arts into the long-term community development goals of low and moderate income people and places through its network of associations, and the NEA agreed.

But this $100,000 grant makes a statement that goes far beyond the organizations involved. . .
That NACEDA’s first direct federal grant came from the National Endowment for the Arts—as opposed to HUD, USDA, or HHS – delivers a significant signal revealing a tremendous amount about the challenges neighborhoods face and how our movement will address those challenges. The future success of our field will require practitioners to capitalize on culture and diversity as an asset to be harnessed, nurtured, and cherished.

The term affordable housing has at times become synonymous, even interchangeable, with the term community development. In recent years, small business assistance, asset building, financial empowerment, mixed-use, commercial, and even green development have become core to neighborhood strategy and a regular part of the practitioner vernacular. And, for the most part, this has happened for very good reasons.

But NACEDA is firmly asserting that the arts and creative placemaking NEED to be on the top line of strategies to comprehensively lift up low-income, disinvested people and places, right alongside more traditional approaches. As recent national headlines have demonstrated, our neighborhoods are struggling with issues related to race, ethnicity, and cultural relevancy. Attacking these challenges with buildings, jobs, money, and physical infrastructure is only part of the solution.

Neighborhoods and their stakeholders need to be connected. They need to be engaged. They need to be safe. And they need a unique and shared vision for themselves. Creative placemaking is a culturally relevant, interactive approach that brings all those components together.

The day the NEA grants were announced, HUD Secretary Julian Castro was quoted as saying “the arts reveal the heart and soul of our nation.” I would go further to say the arts have the power to bring together the social, civic, and economic threads that weave the fabric of America’s neighborhoods.

And NACEDA is excited to be part of it. The formal announcement concludes 18 months of visioning, planning, and relationship-building. NACEDA’s board, membership, staff, consultants, and allies provided counsel, introductions, and resources. Our primary partner, Americans for the Arts, put their time, trust, and mission behind it. ArtPlace America was there with advice, guidance, and encouragement. And of course, the NEA Design Team was clear about their vision that the future of this work relies on investing in partnerships that embed the arts in long-term community development.

Now the real work begins. The next six to nine months will be spent convening known stakeholders and experts while discovering more along the way, transitioning to firm implementation in Summer 2016.

Our partner Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts summed it up perfectly: “Together artists and community development practitioners have an opportunity to develop creative placemaking as a vital mechanism driving the transformative power of the arts to create and sustain a place that residents and businesses can not only be proud of, but enthusiastically call home.”

The NEA announced 69 Our Town awards totaling almost $5 million on July 15, 2015. For the first time, the NEA initiated a national field-building component to its Our Town program. NACEDA is one of five organizations receiving these first-time field-building awards. Take a look at the complete listing of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, visit the NEA web site, and see project descriptions, grants listed by state and by project type, and resources. The NEA's online resource, Exploring Our Town, features case studies of more than 70 Our Town projects along with lessons learned and other resources. Read and Tweet about it with the hashtag #NEAOurTown15.

(Photo credit: Courtesy of The National Endowment for the Arts).

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