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