2014 ArtPlace America Grantee Summit: Day One Recap

Barnaby Evans, WaterFire’s creator and executive artistic director and I are in Los Angeles attending the second annual ArtPlace America Grantee Summit. This year’s summit is particularly interesting as ArtPlace America has successfully managed a leadership change over the past year and is charting a very defined future course for itself. More about that in a bit.

Lemonade at LA MOCATo accommodate travel schedules of participants coming in from all over the country, the Summit didn’t kick off until Monday mid afternoon so I took advantage of the great location of the Omni Hotel and visited the adjacent Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art which had two interesting shows of works from the permanent collection and recent acquisitions. If you are looking for a place to have lunch, definitely check out Lemonade in the museum’s courtyard.

Participants were welcomed to the Summit by Josephine Ramirez, program director, James Irvine Foundation and Doane Lui, deputy mayor, City of Los Angeles. Mayor Eric Garcetti sent a nice welcome video too.

Rip Rapson, president, Kresge Foundation and chair, ArtPlace America presented the future of the organization and introduced Jamie Bennett, the new executive director. Mr. Rapson’s remarks can be read in full in the President’s Corner blog of the Kresge Foundation website.

Jamie Bennett, executive director, ArtPlace America

Previously at the National Endowment for the Arts as chief of staff, Jamie Bennett was at ground zero for the formation of ArtPlace America while working with recent past NEA chair Rocco Landesman. So while founding director Carol Colletta is a tough act to follow, Mr. Bennett is well prepared for his new leadership role in creative placemaking’s most influential organization.

Mr. Bennett took considerable time laying our his vision for the future of ArtPlace America. One of the most interesting takeaways is that ArtPlace America has a self imposed grantmaking sunset of 2020. That gives Mr. Bennett 7 years to transform a movement into a field of practice which is a very tall order. However,  being a skeptic and optimist at the same time, I’m betting that ArtPlace America will meet it’s organizational objectives but at the same time will also find continued relevance and demand for strengthening and advancing creative placemaking across America.

Mr. Bennett shared some of his priorities including:

  • Reframing ArtPlace America grantees as “delegates” who will advance the cause and support the transition from movement to field.
  • Making “deep investments” in 5 communities (probably 3 geographically diverse cities, a rural area and tribal nation) across the country. How and where have yet to be determined.
  • Commissioning and supporting creative placemaking research for the benefit of all.
  • Leading and facilitating field building strategies and activities in the creative placemaking community.

If anyone can meet ArtPlace America’s BHAG’s, Mr. Bennett’s leadership experience at NEA, the NYC Cultural Affairs Office and Columbia University makes him the man for the job.

The next session of the afternoon was a “Creative Placemaking Commons” lead by David Dower and Polly Carl of Howlround. WaterFire Providence and Howlround’s paths crossed last year in the the friendly competition that we had in the ArtFwd Business Unusual Challenge. Unfortunately, neither of our organizations won the grant. Howlround does great community and field building work in the performing theater arts realm so please check out their website. At the summit they organized a live feed of all of the presentations which will be archived as a resource for creative placemakers.

Through a series of ice breaking exercises, Howlround got participants up and around the summit space and meeting new people and getting to know  wider swath of the summit community better and quicker than they would have otherwise. There were also some typical breakout and reporting in sessions that occur at these types of events with one of the most interesting sessions ending with the realization that many of the “needs” of the placemaking community could be met by the knowledge and experience (“haves”) that already resides in the community. If you are facing a challenge, chances are very strong that someone else in the community has too and they are most likely going to be willing to share their knowledge and experience with you.

Los Angeles TheatreWe finished the day with a walking Broadway theater tour guided by the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation. Check out their website for some of the city’s beautiful hidden architectural treasure. It was really great to put feet on the ground to experience this neighborhood. We all gathered at the chic Ace Hotel Downtown LA for a reception and brief remarks by Rocco Landesman, recent past chair of the National endowment for the Arts.

Of course, one of the best parts of these types of gatherings is that they facilitate catching up with old friends and making a few new ones. So it was great having dinner and learning about the exciting projects managed by Sherry Dobbin, director of public art, Times Square Alliance (Times Square Transformation); Erica Bolenbaugh, project manager, American Sign Museum, and Eric Avner, vice president, Senior Program, The Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation (Both Erica and Eric collaborate on the ArtPlace America supported CoSign project).

Congratulations to Lyz Crane, deputy director, ArtPlace America, for organizing a great gathering of some of creative placemaking’s leading thinkers and practitioners. The Summit got off to a good start!

We’d love to hear from other Summit participants so please share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks.

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