Learn how to put art to work

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People want to live in communities that make them feel connected to one another, neighborhoods and towns that are diverse, vibrant and inviting. If Iowans can cultivate and nurture those types of spaces, cultural and economic stability will follow.

It’s what community leaders instinctively understand, but sometimes have difficulty initiating. Development of inviting and welcoming spaces can’t be accomplished by one group working alone. It needs the voices and shared vision of local residents, government leaders, business owners and the nonprofit sector.

Four gatherings will take place next week that can help build the understanding and collaboration necessary for these types of community changes and enhancements. Just as important, attendees will learn what it takes to compete for a pool of project funding through the National Creative Placemaking Fund.

The fund is managed by ArtPlace America, which is itself a collaborative. It links a number of foundations, federal agencies and financial institutions to position arts and culture as core components of community planning and development. The group views art as part of what strengthens the social, physical and economic fabric of communities — and for several years it has financially supported projects under the umbrella of that vision.

A carved granite hand bike rack by Vermont artist Chris Miller is seen through one of the openings of a 17-foot abstract steam engine sculpture by Iowa artist Dan Perry on December 1, 2016. The two pieces are part of Marion, Iowa's ImaginArt in the Alleys, which is reinventing uptown alleyways for pedestrian enjoyment. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
A carved granite hand bike rack by Vermont artist Chris Miller is seen through one of the openings of a 17-foot abstract steam engine sculpture by Iowa artist Dan Perry on December 1, 2016. The two pieces are part of Marion, Iowa’s ImaginArt in the Alleys, which is reinventing uptown alleyways for pedestrian enjoyment. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

In June 2016, the group announced 80 nationwide finalists for funding. No Iowa project was on the list — which, unfortunately, isn’t unusual. A look through the list of 226 funded projects since 2011 will garner only one Iowa project — Marion’s ImaginArt in the Alleys, which received a $350,000 grant in the 2014 competition.

And, yes, competition for the funding is fierce. In any given year funded projects represent only a single digit percentage of the applications received. Hopefully the upcoming information sessions, led by ArtPlace staffers, will give local projects an edge. But since the pool is accessible regardless of tax-exempt status and roughly a third of each year’s funded projects are based in rural communities, Iowa should be more competitive.

An upward look at "Alley Blome," a tree-like sculpture created by Kansas City, MO artist Jake Balcom for Marion, Iowa's ImagineArt in the Alleys. The Marion project is the only one statewide to receive a creative placemaking grant through ArtPlace America. Photograph taken on December 1, 2016. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
An upward look at “Alley Blome,” a tree-like sculpture created by Kansas City, MO artist Jake Balcom for Marion, Iowa’s ImagineArt in the Alleys. The Marion project is the only one statewide to receive a creative placemaking grant through ArtPlace America. Photograph taken on December 1, 2016. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Organizers say the information sessions are for “anyone and everyone” who is interested in learning about support for creative change in local communities. Artists and art organizations are, of course, encouraged to be part of the process. But because the information presented and possible funding specifically seek to spark social and community change, town administrators, faith-based groups, philanthropists, community development leaders and curious local residents are also needed.

When creative placemaking is done well, it effectively embraces and includes the full local geography. Projects that don’t have a broad buy-in are known to backfire, generating distrust or resentment instead of the intended community identity and goodwill.

The information sessions begin on Wednesday in Des Moines and Fort Dodge. On Thursday, sessions are planned in West Liberty and Iowa City. Search “ArtPlace America” on eventbrite.com for additional details and free registration.

Let’s find out what can be accomplished when we work together.

Although empty on this cold, December 1 morning, outside seats at the back of the Uptown Snug in Marion, Iowa offer a perfect vantage point to look over the progress being made through the ImaginArt in the Alleys project. The community's decision to transform uptown alleyways into welcoming spaces for pedestrians is the only creative placemaking project statewide to receive a grant through ArtPlace America. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
Although empty on this cold, December 1 morning, outside seats at the back of the Uptown Snug in Marion, Iowa offer a perfect vantage point to look over the progress being made through the ImaginArt in the Alleys project. The community’s decision to transform uptown alleyways into welcoming spaces for pedestrians is the only creative placemaking project statewide to receive a grant through ArtPlace America. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

 

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“Alley Blome” by metal artist Jake Balcom of Kansas City, MO is tucked between the back entrances of storefronts in Uptown Marion, Iowa. The sculpture is one of many that are a part of the community’s ongoing ImaginArt in the Alleys project. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

 

An inlay serves as a celebration of local heritage and a focal point with Marion, Iowa's ImaginArt in the Alleys creative placemaking project, which seeks to transform Uptown Marion's alleyways into welcoming, pedestrian-friendly spaces. This photo, taken Dec. 1, 2016, also includes a portion of the only commissioned mural in the project, "Midnight Wonder" by Argentine-born, American-based artist Cecilia Lueza. Colorful pillars by Indiana-based artists Luke Crawley and Quincy Owens light up the space at night. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
An inlay serves as a celebration of local heritage and a focal point with Marion, Iowa’s ImaginArt in the Alleys creative placemaking project, which seeks to transform Uptown Marion’s alleyways into welcoming, pedestrian-friendly spaces. This photo, taken Dec. 1, 2016, also includes a portion of the only commissioned mural in the project, “Midnight Wonder” by Argentine-born, American-based artist Cecilia Lueza. Colorful pillars by Indiana-based artists Luke Crawley and Quincy Owens light up the space at night. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

 

This column by Lynda Waddington originally appeared in The Gazette on December 3, 2016. Photo credit: Lynda Waddington/The Gazette