Creative placemaking and theories of art: Analyzing a place-based NEA policy in Portland, OR

Creative Placemaking

February 15, 2019

In this study, I consider creative placemaking as a bottom-up cultural policy developed by the NEA. A growing body of literature has described creative placemaking as a new paradigm in government intervention in the arts (Bonin-Rodriguez, 2015; Gadwa Nicodemus, 2013; Wilbur, 2016) that incorporates concerns about place and reshapes what artists can do. It brings community development and the arts together, as in the past they were two distinct areas of policy action. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) developed this policy through three tools: research, grants, and partnerships. The white paper Creative Placemaking (Markusen & Gadwa, 2010) laid the foundation through empirical research illustrating a study of hundreds of empirical projects around the country, focused on placemaking led by arts and culture. This study became the foundation for a bottom-up policy aiming to further develop these kinds of programs. Based on its recommendations the NEA enacted a new grant program—Our Town—and led the creation of a public-private partnership—ArtPlace—as a grant-making organization leveraging funding from a variety of sources. This analysis will deconstruct this place-based policy developed by the NEA, looking at arts projects in Portland, Oregon, and asking the following questions: How are the arts and artists interacting with place? Are these projects in tune with the artworld and its most recent theories of art? The relevance of these questions for the urban studies literature consists in the need to avoid a disconnect between the study of urban cultural policy and the ideas fueling the creative endeavors that a cultural policy is designed to nurture (Caust, 2003). At the same time, they bring attention to the conceptual complexity of socially oriented art projects to render them more power (Bishop, 2012)….

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