Putting the Makers in Creative Placemaking

Creative Entrepreneurs are Creative Place Makers

The creative placemaking movement is exciting.  But it may be missing a bigger opportunity to fundamentally shift the role of creatives/artists in planning and building vibrant communities.  (If Creative Placemaking is a new concept to you, jump to the bottom of this post to read more about it.)  The individuals and teams who make creative places happen are mostly overlooked by creative placemaking powers-that-be.  Imagine where the global tech movement would be if tech entrepreneurs had not been at the center of the movement?

Assuming that creative places just happen is akin to assuming that technology companies just build themselves.  Teams of people build creative places (and tech companies, and cultural monuments, etc.).  There is always someone–or a couple of someones–to whom we can point and say, “It was their vision.  They led the charge. They never gave up, never stopped working on it.”creative-placemaking

Why does it matter that creative placemaking embrace the role of the creative entrepreneur?  Because investing in and supporting entrepreneurs is an entirely different animal than supporting established, resource rich organizations.

And entrepreneurs are the ones who bring fundamental shifts, radical new innovations, and great leaps forward in art, culture, technology, design.  The powers-that-be in any industry (software to museums to transportation) are focused on defending their market share and therefore make change incrementally.  Newcomers offer disruptive innovations.

And therein may lie the Achilles heel of the current creative placemaking movement.  The ambitious set of goals framed in orange above demand that we pursue innovation and invest in the innovators.  If we are to fundamentally shift the community planning and development paradigm to design and build from the bottom up – with artists and creatives at the center of that bottom – then this radical shift will only come from entrepreneurs who are living, thinking, creating outside any existing box.

Taking the exceptionally innovative tech industries as an example, we can see that elevating entrepreneurs as leaders and visionaries entices elements (finance, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, etc.) in an industry value chain to engage and contribute innovations.  We have had relatively few innovations in the funding/financing of arts and culture.  Tech, however, has seen an explosion of innovation (Angelist, Kickstarter, the list goes on).  Gratefully, Kickstarter and Indiegogo are both widely used by artists and creatives who are drawing benefits from the tech entrepreneur movement.  In fact, the distribution of art is increasingly being taken over by tech startups and companies (Pinterest, Picsart, Amazon, Etsy, etc.).  In other words, much of the innovation in arts and culture is coming from tech!  That’s no coincidence.  That’s a reflection of the tech sector embracing entrepreneurs – true change makers.

To be clear, much of the hero-izing of the tech economy drives me nuts (that’s why I moved to Santa Fe from Menlo Park, CA 15 years ago) in all its self-adoration and myopia.  And, the celebrity status of entrepreneurs is partly to blame for The Valley’s loss of touch with the rest of us.  But they do know how to do one thing right out there: Build voracious followings and movements that shift the human experience and societies.  So, maybe we can take some of what The Valley has learned and apply what might work for our movement to creative placemaking.

In any case, creative placemaking has great potential to measurably shift communities’ progress toward both economic and cultural gains.  And it requires the full engagement of communities.  But let’s not overlook the individuals whose vision and perspiration will galvanize communities and lead us toward great leaps in our collective thinking and expression.


Creative placemaking, as an economic development strategy, has long been used by cities and regions to attract and retain human resources, secure outside investment, and compete in commerce and markets.  Around the world politicians, planners, and developers are working to define and nurture their community’s shared identity and identify how their community is unique and to whom their community may appeal.

ArtPlace, an innovative organization based in NYC and making grants across the US, is leading the charge.  ArtPlace has been generously funded by 14 large foundations and is currently reviewing 90 finalists of 1,283 applicants for grants to be made over the 2015-16 period.  (Disclosure: GCCE is partnered with the Indigenous Design and Planning Institute at UNM on a project with the community of Zuni Pueblo and our project has been selected as a finalist.)

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