Monday, May 23, 2016

Repurposing stranded assets for arts and artists


By Leonardo Vazquez, Executive Director, The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking

Preface: PlanSmart NJ, an NCCP partner, is exploring how to reuse vacant suburban office parks and retail centers at its Regional Planning Summit on June 7, 2016.  Here are some thoughts on how these spaces can be revitalized through creative placemaking.

Fifty years ago, central cities with industrial spaces were facing their own challenges with stranded assets.  Manufacturers and warehousing companies were leaving urban centers to move to new suburban spaces around the region (or elsewhere in the country.)

In some neighborhoods, like downtown Manhattan south of Houston Street, the spaces weren’t empty for long.  Painters and sculptors enjoyed the big industrial windows that let in a lot of light, the high ceilings, and the open floor plans.  Musicians, dancers and other performers could practice their craft in buildings that were strong enough to handle noise and vibrations.  They had the room to live and work in the same space, which were often affordable because back then most people who weren’t artists didn’t want to live in or a near an old warehouse. By 1973, that part of downtown Manhattan became SoHo, and the ‘loft’ spaces that artists pioneered are highly desirable real estate.

Today’s suburban office parks and vacant retail spaces can be just as useful to working artists.  Many office park buildings offer spaces with large open floor plans that can be easily subdivided for individual artists, conference rooms that could be used for collaborative work, plenty of electrical power and high speed internet capacity, and room in the lobbies and in outdoor spaces for exhibitions and performances. 

While some suburban office parks around the United States are getting wholesale conversions into
Vacant office building in Colorado. 
mixed-use spaces, using all or part of an office park for artists’ spaces is relatively new. In 2015, the nonprofit Artomatic held a six-week exhibit of visual art, music, performances and films at 8100 Corporate Drive, a Hyattsville, Maryland office park.  More events like Artomatic could help create a proof of concept to show that artists and their patrons would use these spaces.

Turning suburban office parks into spaces that provide housing, retail and businesses – essentially creating mini-districts or new neighborhoods can be relatively expensive and carries enhanced risk.  Providing low-cost space – and surplus furniture and equipment -- to artists, makers, and small entrepreneurs could be a faster, less expensive and less risky approach to repurposing a property.

In many cities, owners of vacant retail spaces allow artists and entrepreneurs to create pop-up stores.  The stores may last for a month or a season. Many owners who allow pop-ups see this as a way to generate some income and interest potential long-term tenants in the spaces.  In some cases, such as in Chelsea Food Market, some spaces are permanent pop-ups.  The vendors change, but the space remains for temporary uses.  (Often these uses are for clothing, jewelry, artwork, or other commercial uses that do not require the installation of new equipment or the creation of new interior spaces. Individual merchants can separate themselves with divider spaces, temporary walls, or just by spacing themselves apart from one another. This low-cost, low-risk approach allows a property owner to offer new and different experiences that can bring back shoppers.

The biggest challenges for owners of suburban stranded assets are visibility and consumer concept. In busy urban areas, many people might pass by a building on foot and can be drawn in by clever signage, an interesting fa├žade, and what they can see through the windows. It takes very little time for someone to step into a building directly from the street. Tourists and other visitors tend to be open to the surprise of going into a converted bank or warehouse.

For the most part, suburban office parks and suburban shopping centers are designed for people who already know they want to go there.  A person driving near a steel-and-glass office park that is set far back from the street is unlikely to stop there to see ‘what is going on.’  Suburban malls tend to hide their activities from the street behind solid concrete walls and seas of parking spaces.
To increase visibility, property owners should consider working with artists to develop highly visible displays of arts – such as murals, gardens as well as outdoor art exhibits and performances.  To help change what consumers and potential lessees think of suburban office parks and malls, host a wide variety of events.  One event may not quickly change many minds, but many events can get more people to think more creatively about these spaces.


The NationalConsortium for Creative Placemaking, based in Union, NJ, works to build capacity, community and connections for better creative placemaking in the United States.  NCCP partners with PlanSmart on building the field of creative placemaking in New Jersey.

Image: By Xnatedawgx (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Learn how Community Coaching can help you do better creative placemaking

By Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP

Community Coaching is a proven way to build high-quality creative placemaking plans and the stewards to help implement them.  You can learn more about this unique approach to community planning and team building this week at an online information session or an exhibition of a successful Creative Placemaking plan.

On Tuesday, May 24, 1 pm eastern, NCCP will host an online information session on Community Coaching.  On Thursday, May 26, from 6 to 8, the Perth Amboy (NJ) Arts Council will hold a special reception and exhibit of Creative Perth Amboy, their award-winning creative placemaking plan developed through Community Coaching.   If you can't participate in either of these events, there will be another information session on June 23.

Community coaching in Perth Amboy, NJ. Image by Noelle Zaleski
Community Coaching, which was created by The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, brings together a diverse group of community stakeholders for six to nine months to develop a creative placemaking plan and a team to help guide its implementation.  The group is paired with a Community Coach, who meets with the members regularly to help them develop their vision, clarify their values, select and prioritize strategies, and determine how best to organize to guide its implementation.  The group also explores social, cultural and economic challenges to achieving the goals of the plan.

Sixteen communities in Louisiana and New Jersey have participated in Community Coaching, and have implemented significant portions of their plans.  In 2016, the City of Perth Amboy received the statewide Outstanding Plan - Municipal award from the American Planning Association New Jersey chapter.  The program is available throughout the United States.

Not only does the process lead to plans and leadership teams, it also helps participants understand better the various roles that arts and artists can play in enhancing communities, nurture new partnerships, and build the confidence of team members in their leadership skills and capacity to produce lasting impacts.

Questions?  Please feel free to contact NCCP Executive Director Leonardo Vazquez at 973-763-6352 or by email.

Monday, May 16, 2016

NEA grant will help NCCP, PlanSmart NJ and partners build creative placemaker community in New Jersey

By Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP

The National Endowment for the Arts Our Town program has approved PlanSmart NJ and The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking for a two-year, $50,000 grant to help build the field of creative placemaking in New Jersey.  The grant, announced in May, was awarded to advance this growing practice.

This grant will help grow several strategies to build a supportive, learning community among people who work to make places better through arts and cultural activity.

Funding will support convenings that bring together hundreds of people, such as the Creative
Community building at the 2016 Creative Placemaking
Leadership Summit
Placemaking Leadership Summit
, the Creative Placemaking Knowledge Exchange and Creative Team Roundtables; thought leadership to build a more welcoming climate for arts and creativity; and Community Coaching.  Each community that completes Community Coaching will receive an extra 10 hours of technical assistance per year, thanks to the grant.  PlanSmart NJ and NCCP will create a community advisory board of partners and representatives of Community Coaching teams to enhance the impact of the upcoming work.

Through research, policy briefings and guides, PlanSmart NJ influences leaders and policymakers in New Jersey to make wiser decisions around land use and sustainable development.  The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking (NCCP) works to build capacity, connections and community among creative placemakers throughout the United States. NCCP organizes interesting, informative and useful convenings; designed and leads the Certification in Creative Placemaking program at The Ohio State University; conducts webinars and workshops; designed and conducts the Community Coaching program; conducts research on the creative economy; and influences leaders from the neighborhood to the national level. 

PlanSmart and NCCP have worked together on several projects.  Among them were the development of the creative placemaking research and strategies in the award-winning Together North Jersey initiative.


To learn more about how this grant can help your community, please contact NCCP Executive Director Leonardo Vazquez by email or at 973-763-6352.

PlanSmart NJ Executive Director Ann Brady contributed to this report.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Community coaching to become available around the United States

By Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP

NCCP's award-winning Community Coaching program will soon be available to communities throughout the continental United States.  Community Coaching helps towns, cities, counties and regions build doable and lasting strategies for creative placemaking -- and a team of stewards to help turn ideas into reality.

Community Coaching is a 6 - 9 month program that brings together diverse people from a community
-- including elected officials and working artists -- and helps them build the skills to do and lead creative placemaking.  It is designed to do more and have more impact than traditional consulting.

Sixteen communities in Louisiana and New Jersey have engaged in Community Coaching.  This year, the City of Perth Amboy, New Jersey won the Outstanding Plan - Municipal award from the American Planning Association New Jersey chapter.  Through Community Coaching, Perth Amboy changed ordinances to be more welcoming to arts and creativity, developed an arts council, and created a new event to promote arts and sustainability.

Before, we could only offer Community Coaching within 2 hours of Newark, NJ (or in the case of Louisiana, when there were more than 5 communities in a state that wanted Community Coaching at the same time. We now have other service models that allow us to serve individual communities around the continental United States.

Community coaching will be available to communities more than 2 hours from Newark beginning in September 2016.

To learn more, please join us at the next information session on May 24 at 1 pm eastern Learn more or register






Monday, April 18, 2016

Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit 2016 a success

By Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP

Survey results are in, and show that the vast majority of people who attenCreative Placemaking Leadership Summit 2016 enjoyed the event, learned a lot, and found it useful.

About 150 people attended the daylong conference, which was held March 18 at Rutgers-Newark in
Newark, New Jersey. Participants included elected officials, developers, grantmakers, arts administrators, urban planners, economic development professionals, and artists from as far away as Massachusets, Ohio and South Carolina.

This year's Summit focused on the various meanings of the word 'equity'. There was a panel discussion about creative placemaking in Newark; Jamie Bennett from ArtPlace America and Sharnita C. Johnson (left) from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation explored equity from a grantmaking perspective; and participants could choose from among eight workshops.  The workshops explored a variety of topics, including an overview of creative placemaking, leadership skills, market analysis and real estate development, and social equity.

In an online survey, participants were asked in various ways about their experiences with the Summit. 55 people responded.
  • 98% said that they enjoyed the summit
  • 91% said they were satisfied with the quality of the speakers
  • 89% said that the workshops and peer learning experiences were useful to them
  • 80% said they learned a lot, and 55% said they learned more than they expected to
  • 75% said that there was a good mix of learning experiences

We also asked respondents "What did or would you tell your colleagues about the Leadership Summit?"  Here are some of the responses:

  • "The Summit generated a lot of energy and consisted of big, thoughtful discussions
  • It was great being with like-minded people from around the country and in a location which has experienced a lot of neglect but now is rising to the surface in a positive way
  • Great networking and learning opportunity
  • A bit different than the usual conference, with more time for discussion, networking and creative thought
  • For people involved in the arts and community development, the program focused specifically on their needs
  • Useful discussions and perspectives for those interested in the intersection of arts/culture and community development
  • Great, current, relevant conversations.  
  • I told colleagues that the sessions were helpful to a broad range of professions.
  • High quality and well thought out event; worth your while
  • Small conference with good content and a great chance to network with colleagues on the East Coast.
  • I told them that I found out about some interesting metrics for 'gold' for the arts
  • I raved about it.
  • It was really inspiring
  • The sessions were inspiring and helped solidify some organizational ideas.
  • I encouraged colleagues to attend... and would definitely do so again.
  • That it's very informative and educational, especially if they are new to or just beginning creative placemaking."

The next Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit is being planned for spring 2017.  Keep me updated on the Summit and on NCCP. 

All images courtesy of Jeremiah Cox.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

NCCP conducting creative placemaking workshops in NYC for Municipal Art Society

By Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP

The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking is working with the Municipal Art Society of New York to conduct workshops in creative placemaking in five neighborhoods in the city.

Beginning April 9, NCCP will lead workshops that help neighborhood residents learn about creative placemaking and how to map opportunity sites for murals, public art and arts activities. The mapping exercise is important for developing future creative placemaking plans.  They are part of the Municipal Art Society's Livable Neighborhoods Program.  The program is in partnership with the New York City Department of Small Business Services.

The workshops are between two and four hours, and are being hosted by community-based organizations. The workshops are open to residents, merchants, organizational representatives and other stakeholders.

Two workshops were held in Flushing, Queens and Red Hook, Brooklyn.  Together, they attracted about 35 people:

The next workshops will be held in:
  • Port Richmond, Staten Island. Wednesday, April 20, 6:30 to 8:30 pm. At Port Richmond High School. For more information, contact:  Kathleen Bielsa, northfield.ldc@gmail.com
  • Bedford Park, The Bronx. Saturday, April 23, 12-4 pm.   Location TBD.  For more information, contact: Samelys Lopez, ltpcrevents@gmail.com

NCCP offers a number of workshops, presentations and other learning experiences in a wide variety of topics in creative placemaking.  Among them are:
  • Basics of creative placemaking
  • Financing for creative placemaking
  • Mapping community assets and opportunities
  • Building sustainable teams
  • Determining how arts-friendly your community is
We have recently conducted creative placemaking workshops and other learning experiences for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Kentucky Arts Council, Delaware Division of the Arts, Purdue University Honors College and more.  We can customize any learning experience to fit your audience, situation and budget.  For more information, please contact Executive Director Leonardo Vazquez at leo@artsbuildcommunities.com or 973-763-6352.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Progress in Downtown Newark: Equitable for Whom?

By Marcy Thompson, Guest Contributor
On March 18th, about 150 energetic leaders from across the nonprofit, private and government sectors descended on the campus of Rutgers University - Newark for a day-long convening: The Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit 2016.

Hosted by The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, the Leadership Summit promised
The plenary discussion explored creative placemaking in Newark
something for everyone. And “everyone” included leaders in federal, state, county and municipal government agencies; foundations; real estate development; cultural organizations; community and local economic development organizations; urban planning and design organizations; and universities.  Dozens of organizations were represented, and all attendees were called upon to weigh in with their expertise.

I count myself as an avid supporter of the benefits of creative placemaking. But, as the co-founder and Director of a small, New Jersey-based performing arts non-profit, and the chair of a local arts council, I often have doubts that my efforts in the creative placemaking field have much impact at all. Rather than watching riverfronts revitalize, or factory spaces transform into hives of creativity, mine is the slow and painstaking work of making sure that my community supports our greatest natural resource: artists. I feared that any “expertise” I might offer might actually come across as nail-biting frustration, or downright apathy – at best disguised as patience.

But the field of creative placemaking represents a broad representation of interests, including small fries like me as well as large, endowed institutions. And on that day, I was determined to see where my efforts fit into that continuum.

Summit-goers had plenty to talk about during the day
The theme for the Leadership Summit this year is one that has echoed across the non-profit industry in the recent past: how does equity factor into creative placemaking? Terms like equity, fairness, social justice, and equality have long bubbled up in conversations around civic engagement, urban planning, and philanthropy, and have now reached full boil. The Ford Foundation has set its entire agenda — and its annual half billion dollars in grants — around removing barriers to inequality. Other grantmakers share similar concerns, and the list is growing.

Nowhere is the question of equity more important than in Newark, New Jersey, where a tremendous amount of investment has been made in and around the downtown Military Park area. The Leadership Summit’s opening panel – including Newark leaders Nancy Cantor, Jeremy Johnson, John Schreiber and Ohmeed Sathe – explored the topic as it relates to creative placemaking. A question early on by Jeremy Johnson, the newly-named Director of the Newark Arts Council, caught my attention: “Is equity in Newark geographic? How do we connect greater Newark to the activity in downtown?”  In a city with a 30% poverty rate (the highest in New Jersey), comprised of five distinct wards, how are all citizens reaping the benefits of Newark’s “Re-lifing,” as Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark so cleverly put it.

Given the degree of Newark’s steep uphill climb, the question of equity is actually more acute than the panel’s title might let on. The conversation’s subtext was more like: who is being re-lifed, and who is doing the re-lifing?

John Schreiber, CEO of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, sees the role of NJPAC as that of anchor. Schreiber believes his organization has a “responsibility to deliver community engagement,” and to create those connections to the downtown through educational outreach. According to Schreiber, NJPAC drives economic development in the area. Therefore, if NJPAC flourishes, so does Newark.

Like Schreiber, Nancy Cantor believes that Rutgers-Newark serves as a vital anchor in the city. She believes her role is to understand who is “at the table” with respect to decision-making, and – more importantly – “who is not.”  She went on, “We see ourselves as a partner of all of these people and many more,” adding, “creative placemaking imbues strategic planning with democratic practice.”

The case for creative placemaking as an agent of equity, then, depends on opening community dialogue. Cantor believes that when many constituencies work together, there is a “collective impact.” In theory, when many voices are heard, the needs of many are met.

Of course, none of these conversations would be possible without the availability of aggressive funding. In the case of downtown Newark’s development, a large percentage of that funding has come from Prudential – a long-time anchor of Newark itself. Ohmeed Sathe, Vice President of Impact Investments for Prudential Financial, commented that it is “Much easier to do this work today than it was years ago. Pies are growing.”

To hear it told, the story of Newark’s re-lifing is the story of cultural institutions, government organizations, funders, and individuals anticipating needs, accepting challenges, listening patiently, and acting generously. Knowing how incredibly difficult it is to move the process forward – even on a small scale – I can only imagine that the back story has been unruly, and perhaps even painful. Nonetheless, even with the apparently good-hearted nature of the panel, I wondered, is Newark a shining example of equity-in-action?

Summit-goers explored a lot of questions
Present-day Newark may be a confluence of radically positive energy (and funding) directed towards an undeniably creative goal, but is it fair to direct so many resources to anchor organizations - who do less producing of local art and more presenting of imported art? By creating an area rich in cultural offerings (as Military Park will surely be), and attracting outsiders to the downtown, there will no doubt be a spike in business activity. But Johnson’s question of geographic equity reminds me of what my own community experiences in relation to our Performing Arts Center: the majority of the programming is transient (bused in, and bused out), access to its resources is prohibitive to most (through high ticket and rental costs), and community outreach is dismal to non-existent. Yet – and my short nails are a testament to this concern – they receive funding. An incredible amount of funding in comparison to small, home-grown arts organizations (like mine), and the same story can be told in many communities throughout New Jersey. Even with half-full houses, they are featured in every magazine article about the arts in New Jersey.

Instead of developing a creative economy based on the raw talents of our citizens, New Jersey seems to set its sites on becoming a destination. A recreational area with Culture. Like the conservation movement, creative placemaking should concern itself first with investing in a sustainable creative society. And you can’t have a creative society without artists.

The unglamorous work of identifying and supporting local artists and organizations is where smaller, slower gains are made – but I believe this is where the integrity of any arts community lives. Perhaps my heart went out to Jeremy Johnson when he described this “backbone work”: taking notes, gathering data, making course corrections, all of these day-to-day tasks are necessary when working at a grassroots level (read: with no budget). What percentage of Newark artists will directly benefit from Express Newark?  Johnson’s initial question about equity as matter of geography remains undeniable; but if whole neighborhoods are potentially left out of the improvement equation, then the majority of local artists are on another map completely.
Anne L'Ecuyer, from Art Lives Here in Maryland, leads
workshop on how artists can lead creative placemaking
conversations


For example, a question from a participant seemed to catch the panel off guard: “What is Newark’s quintessential art form?” Yes: jazz. But what about a long tradition of writers and visual artists? Dancers and actors? The panel acknowledged the importance of putting future plans for Newark into historical context, but I hoped they have thought long and hard about the artists who remain in the city even as it has emptied out over the last few decades. If indeed these artistic legacies are valued, then they should have a place in the Newark to come. I suppose as long as they continued to be defined as “assets”  — in the parlance of this field — they will be treasured. But, for real estate’s sake? For tourism’s sake? Or because they are inextricably linked with Newark’s citizens?

For a great number of arts professional working directly (or indirectly) in the field of creative placemaking, the question of equity for artists is a constant undercurrent:  but how do you ensure equity in creative placemaking when the artist isn’t looked at as an asset to an area (or its anchor organization)?  Where, for example, is it written that the process of creative placemaking requires “social responsibility”? Does this type of endeavor always depend on the efforts of “folk of good will,” as Schreiber calls them? I’m not the first person to suggest that most people with money on the line are not that nice. The truth about equity is this: most often, there are a few stakeholders who seem to have a lot more at stake (political figures, real estate developers). And in my experience, those issues can make the community dialogue a wholly un-democratic process.

When Cantor proposed thinking about who isn’t “at the table?” I wondered what would happen if money weren’t sitting at the head? It would seem that the most top-heavy organizations – remnants of a time gone by – wouldn’t have the muscle, the community ties, nor the creative wherewithal to take up whole city blocks. Perhaps that’s the “democratic process” I’m interested in uncovering with regard to equity, one where money is not the object.

But, reality dictates differently. And if the current trend of funding is towards supporting projects with equity as an outcome, then large organizations with an eye toward community dialogue will continue to receive the lion’s share of resources. Smaller organizations or individuals cannot prove that they are removing barriers when they cannot even sustain the work they do on a daily basis. Artists have day jobs; children to feed, rent to pay. And so we return to what it means to be an artist – or any member of a disenfranchised community: you do not have the luxury to sit at “the table” when you can’t afford to take the day off.

Equity is a blinking word in this field. It has different meanings to different people and organizations,
Jen Hughes, from the National Endowment for the Arts, explores
keys to equitable outcomes in her workshop
and seems to shift even while all involved are saying, “Look at us, we’re doing a great thing!”  In my work, I take pride in building community by connecting artists and audiences – even on a very small scale. I continue fighting for an incredibly small piece of an apparently growing pie, because I am devoted to making room for artistry. But I still have to keep my day job.

In Newark’s case, creative placemaking has helped tell a cautious story of progress in a city that needs all the leverage it can get. Open-eyed, and open-minded leadership will hopefully clear the path towards equity. But the sunlight that reaches the tops of the treetops must also be able shine down, and help the grass below to grow.



Marcy Thompson lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, where she is the Honcho at Studio B - a multi-disciplinary, non-profit organization dedicated to producing and promoting the work of New Jersey artists.  ( http://www.studiobmaplewood.org ) She is also the co-founder of The Maplewood Arts Council, and the former Director of Cultural Affairs for the Township of Maplewood. By day, she is a freelance writer.