Good places to live have more to offer than adequate housing, transportation, jobs, schools, and commercial amenities. They have spaces in which residents can express themselves creatively, connect with one another, and engage in experiences that expand their intellect, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and even their capacity for compassion and empathy—spaces in which art happens. These spaces can help transform residents into neighbors, mundane experiences into extraordinary and inspiring occurrences, and bland and monotonous places into communities with organic identities that grow out of the history, aspirations, passion, and imaginations of the people who live there.
“Spaces in which art happens…can help transform residents into neighbors; mundane experiences into extraordinary and inspiring occurrences.”
AS220 Mercantile Printshop, Providence, RI. Photo Credit: Heidi Gumula, DBVW Architects
Building Community: Making Space For Art
Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson
Good places to live have more to offer than adequate housing, transportation, jobs, schools, and commercial amenities. They have spaces in which residents can express themselves creatively, connect with one another, and engage in experiences that expand their intellect, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and even their capacity for compassion and empathy—spaces in which art happens. These spaces can help transform residents into neighbors, mundane experiences into extraordinary and inspiring occurrences, and bland and monotonous places into communities with organic identities that grow out of the history, aspirations, passion, and imaginations of the people who live there. Art spaces and the activity they make possible are crucial elements of a viable community, contributing to its cultural vitality and, by extension, its health, social fabric, and economic development.
Urban planners, community developers, and policymakers in various fields, including the arts, do their best to improve existing communities and design new places in which to live and work. However, when thinking about art and culture, they often revert to conventional notions of art spaces: large venues for the presentation of professional art, cultural districts concerned primarily with the consumption of art products, and live/work spaces for artists. But how might art spaces be incorporated into comprehensive community planning and revitalization strategies if we better understood (a) the full range of artistic activity that people value, (b) the importance of arts and creative outlets for all people, (c) the roles that artists play in society, and (d) the kinds of art spaces that robust cultural vitality requires? We address this theme by drawing from 16 years of urban planning research on the presence and roles of arts and culture in communities; a focus on artists in society—especially those working outside the traditional cultural sector at the intersection of arts and other fields such as community development, education, health, and environment—and an exploration of a wide range of contemporary art spaces.1
1. This essay builds on research conducted through several research projects including the Arts and Culture Indicators in Community Building Project (ACIP), launched in January 1996—an effort to better understand the role of arts and culture at the neighborhood level and to develop arts and culture neighborhood indicators; Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for US Artists (2000–03); research on artists’ spaces and the public arguments used to make a case for them (2007); and a subsequent study focusing specifically on the support structure for artists working at the intersection of arts and com- munity development, education, health, and the environment (2008–11).
Ashé Cultural Arts Center
At Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans, LA, residents and artists gather to celebrate, mourn, address community concerns, carry on and create new cultural traditions, and tap into the creative, entrepreneurial, and artistic energy that has made New Orleans a cultural force. Through a wide range of programs and events, artists from all artistic disciplines—seasoned to emerging—come to Ashé to make their art, share it with the community, and help everyday people unleash their imaginations, engage in critical discussions about their environment and their lives, and explore their creative powers. Ashé Cultural Arts Center is a thriving hub in the midst of a neighborhood marred by disinvestment and related crises. Located in Central City on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (formerly Dryades Street), Ashé is a beacon for creative people who care about the community and the city. It is the pulse point of a neighborhood seeking revival.
AS220, in the heart of downtown Providence, RI, is a hub for creative people of all kinds. The organization animates the area with arts workshops, shows, and exhibits. It provides residential and work studios, galleries, and performance and educational spaces. Focused on attracting a wide range of participants, creative styles, and artistic skill levels, all programs and exhibitions are unjuried, uncensored, and open to the public. Founded in 1985, AS220 seeks to “stimulate the cultural mulch in Rhode Island” and has been an important catalyst in the revitalization of downtown Providence.
Side Street Projects
In Pasadena, CA, professional and nonprofessional artists of all ages pursue their work in a formerly vacant lot that is now occupied by vintage travel trailers housing a remarkable array of arts programs and services. In addition, kids’ arts programs are held aboard renovated transit buses. Established in 1992, Side Street Projects is an artist-run, mobile nonprofit organization that provides the opportunity and means to pursue a wide range of creative efforts. Working with children and adults, the organization promotes self-reliance and creative problem solving through contemporary art. Artists working at Side Street Projects—often taking on important social and community issues—see the organization and their efforts as “social enterprise” and “meta-public art.” In partnership with the City of Pasadena, the organization intends to remain mobile and seeks to transform “blighted, transitional spaces throughout Northwest Pasadena into something that blurs the line between public art and public service.”
*** This article was published by NY Arts Magazine, 2011. NY Arts Magazine is published by Abraham Lubelski. Sponsored by Broadway Gallery, NYC and World Art Media.