Artists make extensive inventories as part of their work; they use visual diagrams, sketch their subjects and catalog material culture to build that sense of place from the landscapes they explore. So it isn’t surprising to page through the report prepared for the Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) People, Land, Arts, Culture and Engagement (Place) Initiative, and be absorbed by the richly diverse landscapes and patterns of creative placemaking that are inherent in the PLACE grant projects and research documented in this far-reaching publication.
The TPAC PLACE Initiative offers compelling proof of how Arts collaborations and assets make a community livable and create that sense of place.
Groundwork for a Pima County Cultural plan, which included mapping of cultural assets, spurred the founding of the PLACE initiative in 2010, and nationwide attention helped to attract the support of the Kresge Foundation, which hinged its activities on a belief that arts and cultural activities were central to defining community life. The Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Open Society Institute soon followed Kresge with support. TPAC’s beliefs about creative placemaking and the influence of art were aligned in this good company: The Arts make places quite special, and inspire collaborative processes that bring creativity, well-being and character to physical and social places.
With more than 65 projects core to the community funded in five rounds of grants (Round VI applications will be available later this month), PLACE has collected details of our cultural landscape that help us understand Tucon’s artistic synergy.
The PLACE report documented the evaluation process and the methodology behind the projects – evidence of how arts and culture captured the essence of the place and inspired the people within it to become engaged through creative action. A research frame helped a wide range of participating organizations and artists reflect on how their projects create authentic community narrative:
- Two-Way Mirror: Ethnography as a Way to Assess Civic Impact of Arts-Based Engagement in Tucson, Arizona (Alvarez, 2009) set the context by invoking the power of ethnographic research as a tool that uncovers geographical memories and measures what is meaningful;
- Documenting Civic Engagement: A Plan for the Tucson Pima Arts Council (Stern and Seifert, 2009) provided a five-part strategy for data collection and analyzing the networks of civic engagement; and
- A Framework for Understand Place and Its Impact (Rosario Jackson, 2013, page 8-9) was the structural indicator of how the projects facilitated cultural engagement.
A more ecological approach (concentrating on ideas as much as data collection) produced valuable efforts that celebrated cultural characteristics and connectivity of the citizenship. For example, a cultural assets mapping project energized placemaking in Tucson’s Historic Warehouse Arts District (WAMO). A Geographic Information System highlighted the area’s cultural strengths as well as economic enterprises, and new programming emerged as one result of the project. The WAMO mapping project is here.
The PLACE initiative promised and delivered a web-portal application as a way of communicating to the public about cultural resource projects. Many communities are using these web-based applications as a medium for exploring creative placemaking, and for engaged citizens to have online conversations about local resources. Two other cities employing successful web portals are Philadelphia, in a project called Culture Blocks, and Austin, in a project called Drawing Lines.
Through PLACE, TPAC hopes to trigger block-by-block creativity that helps the community navigate their landscape. It’s a matter of activating the power of culture, reflecting diversity and delivering on creative programs that are central to the neighborhoods represented.
- Kresge on Placemaking: Kresge CEO Rip Rapson’s address to League of Historic American Theatres, 2013: http://kresge.org/about-us/presidents-corner/creative-placemaking-rethinking-role-arts-and-culture-strengthening-commu#sthash.toEdsGXD.dpuf
- Mark Stern and Sue Siefert’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP), 1994, and understanding social well-being “as a product of people’s opportunities to be and do in certain ways…”
- Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Cultural Value Project