The role of art and culture in strengthening community

Authored by Principal, Todd Fuller.

Creative placemaking is about getting artists and designers, community culture groups, arts research groups, cultural affairs offices, and arts organizations out of their silos and into the neighborhoods and regions around them. Studies demonstrate how people in communities are mobilizing arts and culture to make the quality of life better where they live and to raise the visibility of arts and culture so that many more people are participating. Placemaking, wielded skillfully, is a powerful tool to preserve, respect, lift up, and celebrate the culture of a community in ways that go far beyond aesthetics. Giving placemaking and, within that, arts and culture, a seat at the table when community development decisions are made can help to support more equitable outcomes. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.

I find that it’s successful when it’s engaging artists and identifying opportunities to create and promote the authenticity of place, which is a community driven process. I’m really interested in artistic practice that's happening at the local level, and what outcomes that communities think they might be able to achieve through that practice. I think it's very much dependent on the actual project type that they're working on -- building artists workspace will have very different outcomes in a community versus temporary public art festivals. So, trying to future-proof and build flexible spaces within the program can build better outcomes for the long-term growth and expansion of a community. Within placemaking, art and culture are means of creating a sense of place – and can also be a means of drawing attention to social challenges in a community; ultimately, one hopes, attracting resources and interventions that enable neighborhood supported investments.

The new 234 acres mixed-use community, built across the street from Pinewood Studios (largest purpose-built studio outside of Hollywood), Pinewood Forest was designed specifically to build a “live, create, and play community,” where creative types can spend leisure time among 100 acres of planned green space. Rather than the arts being a luxury, or an add-on, to a project, for Pinewood Forest it was the anchor that was a necessary component of creating an inclusive community. My focus as a Design Principal on the mini-city concept ensured that decisions be made that reflect the culture, priorities, and needs of a creative community.

Breaking down policy barriers that all too often snuff out creative projects before they happen is key. Pinewood Forest was a great example of how the development team working with the arts, culture, and placemaking community engaged artists and local craftsmen to help express their own point of view. Setting a place at the table for the arts, culture and placemaking community helped build on and lift the culture of a community, stimulate economic investment, and ensure social equity and cultural identity remain at the forefront.

I think what's been very exciting about this work is that it has started a lot of new conversations between people who have been doing community development work and the arts world. A new study, drawing on 1.5 million images of cultural spaces in London and New York, finds that cultural capital is a key contributor to urban economic growth. The creative class and many other studies argue that culture acts as a key factor in economic development by helping attract talented, ambitious people to cities. Others go further, contending that arts and culture are large industries that act as direct inputs into development. The solution is ensuring that the cultural revitalization and redevelopment of our cities and neighborhoods can be channeled in more inclusive ways that benefit all urbanites.