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Assessing Impacts in Creative Placemaking

/ October 19, 2012 / www.millierdickinsonblais.com

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Assessing Impacts in Creative Placemaking

My last blog dealt with ‘creative placemaking’, which is receiving increased attention in both Canada and the United. The belief is that creative placemaking can produce a wide range of positive outcomes at a neighbourhood or district level.  Some of these outcomes include job creation, strengthening networks, building social capital and community capacity. While there are many individual projects that have demonstrated success, there is movement on both sides of the border to establish a more empirical base of evidence to substantiate the merits of creative placemaking.

As noted in the previous blog, Toronto-based Artscape is a globally recognized leader in city building through the arts and culture-led regeneration, including a strong focus and body of experience with creative placemaking. Artscape has developed a Creative Placemaking Toolbox to support groups interested in undertaking this work. In fact, just this fall, Artscape has partnered with the University of British Columbia to offer an online course in creative placemaking.

Artscape also has a strong interest in creative placemaking indicators. “Understanding the impact of cultural facilities on the cultural, economic, social and environmental condition of their neighbourhoods” is a proposed project with the Martin Prosperity Institute, at the University of Toronto and a series of other partners. The project will develop new partnerships and strengthen existing ones to support new academic research that will result in knowledge for Canadian communities to use to understand how creative placemaking can enhance social and economic prosperity. The research will have important regional, provincial, national, and international implications.

Similar work is being conducted in the United States. More specifically, there is a body of research coalescing around the concept of ‘Vibrancy Indicators.’ ArtPlace is one group that has invested considerable effort in this area. ArtPlace is a collaboration of eleven leading national and regional foundations, eight federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, and six of the nation’s largest banks to accelerate creative placemaking across the United States. To date, it has awarded 80 grants to 76 organizations in 46 communities across the United States, worth $26.9 million.

ArtPlace’s work on Vibrancy Indicators serves two purposes. The first is to measure the change in people, activity and value in communities in which ArtPlace invests funds. The second is to make the indicators widely available to others as a way of stimulating further discussion and exploration in the area. The implicit assumption is that ArtPlace’s work on indicators marks the beginning, and not the end, of the work needed in this area.

ArtPlace’s Vibrancy Indicators are divided into three broad areas:  People, Activity and Value. To date, indicators have been developed for People and Activity; whereas work on Value indicators is under development. Each indicator is accompanied by a rationale statement and data sources. While social and other outcomes are not excluded, it is interesting to note the degree to which current indicators are dominated by economic development issues and outcomes.