Creative Placemaking Now: Creative Placemaking in Rural Communities Transcript
July 24, 2012
Let me first introduce our panelists. Daniel Hernandez, who is based in New York City, is the director of Jonathan Rose Companies' Urban Solutions Planning practice. He has more than twenty years of experience as a real estate developer and planner. Hernandez combines his deep expertise and development, urban planning, and sustainable development, to create distinctive placemaking projects. Projects throughout his career have lead to equitable, vibrant, diverse, and well-designed communities. He built on his practical knowledge of development and urbanism. Hernandez's work spans the regional, city, town, and neighborhood scales, and includes smart growth, transit-oriented development, neighborhood revitalization, brown field redevelopment, and open space plans.
Amy McBride, from Tacoma, Washington, is the arts administrator for the city of Tacoma, with more than 16 years experience as an arts professional. Working with the Tacoma Arts Commission, McBride manages three funding programs for arts organizations and artists, implementing public art projects, develops innovative and collaborative programming, and formulates effective policy. She has presented nationally on issues of public art, temporary art installations, and civic democracy through Americans for the Arts. She's also a sculptor.
So we've had a last-minute substitute, as Florence Kabwasa-Green had to drop out at the last minute because of a personal issue. So we're glad to be joined by Terrian Barnes from Louisville, Kentucky. Terrian was our what we call a ‘lay-person’ on our panel. Every panel at the NEA is required to have someone who is unofficially--who is not employed by the arts, but will have something great to contribute to the panel. She will we bring a unique perspective to this webinar. So, Terrian Barnes retired from Yum! Brands in August 2011, after serving as their Chief Diversity Officer. She joined Yum! Brands in 1998 and created the Office of Diversity. In 2010, the company was recognized by Black Magazine as one of the "40 Best Companies for Diversity" for the sixth consecutive year. She's also served as national resource and industry spokesperson on franchising and multicultural community affairs on CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Black Entertainment Television, and other media outlets. She's chaired several boards, including the Kentucky African-American Heritage Foundation, and the Multicultural Food Service and Hospitality Alliance. She was named one of the "25 Black Women Who Have Made a Difference in Business" by Black Enterprise Magazine. She's basically done a ton of work in communities and was a great voice on many topics in the panel.
So, I'm going to welcome our panelists, I think we're going to get started by, just like we did last time, with kind of talking about really what were some of the trends and exciting things that the panelists saw within the grants. What caught their attention about what was really happening in the country around cultural planning and design? Amy, let's start with you, what caught your eye, and what did you notice as we did the review process?
AM: Well, I think the projects that were really tapping into other areas in their cities, like crossing over into working with social justice, and connecting with transportation, for example, or the green movement, and things, because all of our communities are ecosystems, and I thought the cultural plans that really are seeing themselves as part of the greater community and not something separate were really coming up with some of the more exciting things, to me. And it wasn't--it was in small towns, it was in large areas, it's all over the nation, it's just the reflection of innovation, and I think when you can clearly articulate innovation within a cultural planning project, that's a-okay in my book.
JS: That's great, thank you. Daniel, what caught your eye?
DH: The projects that I thought were most interesting to me were ones that actually highlighted the quality of the urban design they were considering as part of team, and their approach. So it wasn't just sort of creating a--there was a lot of proposals that came through that created a plan, but without really a long-term vision for how, through design, they were going to attract new markets, new people, to their center, where they wanted to activate their downtown or wherever it was that they were focusing in on. That, plus, I was really excited to see that people are taking more and more seriously the idea about integrating community experts into the planning process, so that there seemed to be, the projects that I was most attracted to were the ones that actually thought that in order to activate these urban places, in order to design them well, they had to hear from the community that it was the way that they had hoped they would use those spaces. So those two things, and seeing those around the country, and people taking those two qualities: urban design and true, civic engagement, I thought were really, really exciting to see.
JS: That's great. Terrian?
TB: I would say, for me, what was exciting was to see how I can inspire the participants to be creative and create their own art, so it was a very inclusive process, and emotional as well as physical. So, the individual who is viewing this is brought into the process, and I thought that was really, really exciting.
JS: That's great. Well, let's talk about, you know, digging into the grants a little bit more, Amy, what kind of creative roles have you seen, either in your work, you are an Our Town grantee, in the first year, you know, what kind of creative roles have you seen designers and artists playing in the cultural planning of their community? How have you engaged them, how do the grants that you thought were really successful, what were the steps they took to engage those folks? What did some of those processes look like, and what have you seen work and not work? Let's dig into some of the specifics around that?
AM: Well, I'm going to speak from my personal experience with how designers I think have really helped with the base-level community conversation, going back to both what Daniel and Terrian were saying about the role of people in these planning processes; I mean, you can build a beautiful building but if nobody's going to use it then we haven't succeeded. But I also think that the communication of what good design could look like, the conversations around how to get to connections and good design in communities is really important. Often, I know in my experience, let's use, you go to the community and say "oh, what do you want?" And they say "oh I want a mural of a train on the wall," and it ends there. So it's like, that's not how to engage community and conversation about placemaking and livability, it's more about being able to have the designers and artists at the table to be able to encourage conversations that allow people to get to where and how they feel about a place and what they want to feel about a place, or experience a place, and I think that piece is essential. The other thing that I think designers and artists can bring to the table is they're doing, what they should be in this work, is to communicate that to the next phase, so that when either you're creating the actual plan or you're applying for a grant to support your plan, you're able to communicate both through language and through visuals, the result of that on the ground community piece, if that makes any sense. But I think that translation is really important between design and art community, and lay-people, and different disciplines, and things like that.
JS: So, Daniel, you've done an enormous amount of work across the country, tell us about some times where you--where artists were included in the process and how that maybe worked a little bit differently, or how it plugged into a larger planning process. I mean, several of the grants that we funded were about the cultural piece in a larger community plan, how has it played out over some of your work across the county?
DH: Well, you know, there were a few projects that we funded that we advised, that we found in the process of reviewing them, the projects that seemed interesting sort of fell into two different categories, one, that there was sort of a star, sort of a designer, which created a really, really interesting approach to public art, in that if the designer is able to actually truly involve themselves in the cultural history of the place, and do that well and meaningfully, then I think that you, you know, sort of then can work with the really star designer to actually help you see things that you may not have otherwise seen, and that actually can be an incredibly interesting process, if they meaningfully engage in that cultural history of place. But there are, so the other one that I spoke of earlier were the designer actually engaged with the community to learn more through their eyes and more, you know, on the ground kind of learning with the current dynamics of the community, but I've seen that actually not play out so well, and I think I can be fairly specific about when it didn't play well, and that's when the architect actually does it from a position of not really wanted to hear what the community has to say, and they already have a preconceived idea, and they try to, you know, sort of push that idea onto the community that they've created a forum--the community came together thinking that it was about something else. So while the civic engagement process, the community engagement process is important in community art and public art, the process of actually engaging with people is, you know, the process you go through has to be truthful and meaningful. The thing that seems to work best is when the artist, who unlike probably any other population of people in our society, are able to actually get people to see things in a whole new way, and that's their skill that they, you know, that's their blessing to us as a society and I think that if we, as facilitators for public art, can create a forum, for them to be able to do that, so we have to also be, the administrators and facilitators of these grants, have to also be willing and nimble enough to allow the artist to do their work, which is to create something and let us see the world in a way that we may not have seen it otherwise. And so, you know, it goes both ways, so you have to have an artist who's willing to willing to engage, and you have to have an administrator who's willing to actually open up the forum for those kinds of things to happen.
JS: Well Terrian, I know that you felt a lot, talked a lot about how the process is just as important as the outcomes, and I know you've done an enormous amount of work working with diverse communities on how to engage them in processes, so please share with us, and with the country, about what sort of those good lessons are, and what you know, what frustrated you about people who didn't hit that in some of the grants, and what, when you saw it was done well, what did that look like?
TB: Sure...is to ask big power questions versus little power questions, but for me, little power questions are questions like, how do we get people to be committed, how to we hold people accountable, how do we get others to buy into the vision, and how do we get that group, community, to change. I think those kinds of questions assume that others are the problems, and problems to be handled, and I recommend that we should be asking big power questions, like what do we want to risk to ensure that we broad spectrum of viewpoints, what will the creative placemaking process look and feel like if all facets of the community were involved; questions like are there beliefs and cultural practices among community leaders that could hinder the creative placemaking process, and how can we address them. I found that there were a few that were really exciting that were asking those big questions, but too many were asking the little questions, and the inclusion and diversity of the community, it kinda, again, is something to be addressed as a one-off and not really core in the sense of the process.
JS: Thanks. Let's talk a little bit about community leadership. What, again, we're focusing a lot right now on cultural planning, we will get into design, I think, a little bit later, for those folks who are listening specifically for about topics of design, and I wanted to talk a little bit more about cultural planning and the role of community leadership and what you saw in the applications. I'll start with Daniel here, because you spoke a little bit about it already, you know, what were you looking for from the community...the people reading these grants, to make sure that the planning process was going to go well, what kind of things did they need to show?
DH: Well, in many ways I learned a lot from the grantees themselves, the people who actually submitted really highly professional and qualified applications, I learned a lot. And to be honest Jason, I actually followed up a little bit with the design, or the commissioner for Designing Construction here in New York City, because what I was looking for, and I just wanted to follow up on the conversation about that same thing, was actually the leadership that can be the steward and long-time champion of not only the process, but the actual operational and programmatic issues around these projects. So particularly there was, you know, a planning process that had to be implemented, that someone was going to be able to carry that through, that they had clarity in their approach on how they were going to get to, you know, the beginning to the end of a process, but as important, how that process lead into the operational concerns for the long-term maintenance or program around whatever they were creating. So, I wanted to hear a very clear, sort of almost small business plan about their financing, as well as the governance and stewardship of the completed project.
JS: That's great. Amy, could you jump in here, I know you are a local leader, so what are the kind of things that you put into projects to, where, to make something work in the long run. I think we talked a lot about on panel about what happens after the panel process, how can we be guaranteed that what they're planning to do will actually go through. What were the things you were looking for that made you feel more comfortable around that topic?
AM: A couple things, how strong the partnership, you know, does it look like the partners that are at the table are really there doing the work, that the work is really part of their on-going mission and not just a "hey there's a grant, you know, hi I haven't met you before can you apply for me for this thing, doesn't it sound great?" A lot of the things that stuck out to me were projects that had, that were building on a former study, or they had done some leg work to show that the feasibility was there, and that made a big difference to me, and then, depending upon who the partners are, are they the ones who make the most sense for a project. So if somebody's coming forward and they want to do a streetscape plan, but the public works department is nowhere to be found, or the implementers aren't at the table, then it's not the right mix of people, so, just looking for that right mix. And I think, you know, just what everybody's said so far, I think this word works for all levels and that's is it an authentic project, does it make sense for your community, is it aligning with other activities that are happening, and leveraging the energy that's there that can propel it forward, or is it trying to fit a square peg in a round hole?
JS: Terrian, I know you advise leaders a lot, what kind of advice do you give local leadership when they're about to go into one of these kind of culturally specific planning processes?
TB: Well, I think one of the things that is really important is to be able to raise awareness of different communities, and different aspects of the communities, so make sure that they have the knowledge that they need to go back to tell all their communities, so they can-- you know, you make these folks leaders in their own right, that's how the community sees them, and they can--give them the knowledge and they will talk about what the creative placemaking process is like, and how it's really going to be inclusive of their community. So, engage community leaders in a meaningful way, give them the total knowledge to be able to go back and lead their constituencies. And I think what Daniel and Amy both said is important, about being able to catalyze excitement and to be good stewards throughout the process and not just in the beginning phases. And, obviously, also to do what you can to increase your own cultural competency, often I saw in the applications that when they talked about either people with physical disabilities or differences, or other kinds of diversity, which is kind of putting the demographics out there, and the numbers, but that's where it ended, there really wasn't a demonstration that they really understood the differences and similarities in these communities, I thought that was a missed opportunity.
JS: Great, thank you so much. Let's sort of switch to design a little bit. There were some exciting projects that, all the projects, of course, are exciting that we funded, you know there were some interesting that really were looking at how to rethink city infrastructure, and how to incorporate really high quality design into city infrastructure, I'm thinking of the bridges in Greensburg Pennsylvania, for example, the bridges that connected a museum to the city. Achieving design excellence within this kind of project is not the easiest thing to do, and this something that, Amy, I know you do in your community when you're working on public art projects and/or design projects, what are the steps that you take to find good designers, to work with good designers, who do you reach out to, how do you find those designers, what are the networks that you use, personally, and then what do you have to do in the process to make sure that designer is incorporated to achieve a good outcome? I know it's a big question with a lot of, you know, a lot of expertise out there in the country, but for some of the folks that may not be as familiar, generally, with some of these processes I think we should talk about them a little bit.
AM: Right, well, as a government agency, we bid within--you know, I don't personally get to go out and choose someone to do the design, you have to have a process to do selection. So, as maybe not so sexy as it sounds, a really good process for how you develop criteria for a project is really important, and a consistent process that your local leaders trust, if you have an arts commission, to use them, or a design commission so that you are able to put a call out, and still give an end result that you're proud of. In the case of our Our Town grant, and the other one that you referred to, those were both associated with museums, so in this case, at least for part of our project, we were able to rely on the museum's authority to choose their designer, and they went through a process as well, but they have more curatorial ability than we do. So sometimes we will partner with an outside agency if we have the end to have a little different way to do our process. But I think if you don't have an arts commission or you're not accustomed to having a strong process for selecting artists and designers, I think it's essential. Even if you're applying for a grant and you don't have the designers on board, being able to speak to how you will select the artists and designers, to make sure that you have that quality, is really important. So it's tricky if you're a government agency sometimes, but it's not impossible at all, and actually, in receiving the Our Town grant that we did, that helped to leverage our ability to choose excellent designers for ancillary that are in and around that area because we have different people at the table to be part of our selection process and things like that, so it kind of raised the bar for a lot of different projects that are related, so that was awesome.
JS: That's great. Daniel, do you want to jump in here a little bit, I mean, I know that you have looked at this issue a lot with, obviously if you were talking with DC in New York, they've got a pretty strict process there to look at, for some of the smaller communities you work in, how did they find good designers? What are the kind of recommendations you make to help them get to excellence?
DH: You know, the best way that I've seen it is actually, if a town or a CDC is actually thinking about moving forward...and trying to find good designers, starting early and interacting with local arts groups and museums is a really good way to just sort of understand where the network lies around artists. Typically, and not all the time, but you sort of have to keep your finger on the gauge on whether either those museums or arts groups are actually also keeping their finger on the pulse on the sort of informal network of artists in a community. And so if they're not, and if that's the kind of artist network that you kind of want to send it, make sure the art peek gets circulated through, you want to try to find where those are. I don't have great recommendations on where those might be found in different parts of the city, but I would just say keep your pulse on both layers, on all layers of where artists are actually circulating, and talking, and interacting. Because you don't want--you don't always--I mean it depends on what your project is but, you know, it's a little easier, or there are networks where you can find sort of the established designers and artists in the community but it's not always so easy to find the struggling artists, and how you can network to get them to respond to a request for proposals for a particular project. The other thing is, is that if you're designing and if you're sort of undertaking a broader master plan or redevelopment plan, or a development sort of project, making that very clear with the project team that you're planning on having as part of this project team, integrating, you know, the strategy has to be integration of public art, making that known upfront, and allowing that artist to make decisions along the way with the other designers on the team is really important, because designers, like a lot of people in the world, they tend to be territorial with what they do. So, assembling a team of people who are really interested in incorporating public art into that process, and making that known upfront is really important to me, for the success of the project.
JS: Okay, so I'd like to jump a little bit into the design of facilities. We funded several different kinds of facilities. Unfortunately, one of our experts who could talk about cultural facilities couldn't be on the phone with us today, but I do think need to talk about the topic a little bit. You know, there was a major study released recently by the University of Chicago about the overbuilding of some facilities, we still did fund quite a bit facility projects in this pool. Something that I said to all the panelists was, you know, we need to see evidence that there's someone who's actually going to run this thing, and that they have a plan for sustaining it if they're planning on doing the facility plan. But I'd love to hear, if you'd like to jump in again here, Daniel, about what, when you were looking at some of the facility projects, what made one stand out over another? You know, I mean, I think we should talk specifically first about some of the cultural facility ones and then I think artist space is kind of topic that we can touch in on. But what to you made sure to you that if we were going to invest in a design of a facility, that it was a good investment for the agency.
DH: That's a great question Jason, and actually just to give a little bit of background about the question and my ability to answer it, some knowledge. We do a lot of facility planning for cultural and educational institutions in our office. And what we're always concerned about, even before they walk through the door, with us, is whether they actually have a very strong board and a sort of track record of understanding the direct correlation between their programming desires and where they've been, where they're going, before they actually start planning the facility itself. So, oftentimes--and the operational costs associated with that--so oftentimes the cultural facility focuses either most of--typically when they get in this process they're really excited about creating a new facility without understanding the programmatic and operation costs associated with that--so we were looking for organizations that had a very strong understanding about that association that if you're increasing you're program there are operational costs associated with that. And we wanted to feel that the organization understood that, and had the capacity to increase their operational revenues from whatever resources they had, so that it matched their increased growth in facility expansion. So we were really, really, really focused on that, I think. Of course we were focused on the architecture and design team that were designing these facilities, but we wanted to make sure that they weren't overstepping what their capacity as an organization could handle.
JS: That's great. Amy do you want to jump in here a little bit? (Pause) Amy?
AM: Sorry, I muted myself, sorry!
JS: Oh, it's okay!
AM: I think Daniel covered it really well. But also, you know, there's the facility itself that also works and has its place within the broader community. Is it, you know, standing alone somewhere being a nice facility, or is it connected to the greater community, and can it also contribute to catalyzing activity and other things that happen around it, I think that's really important, too.
JS: Great. Well, if folks want to, we have about five, seven more minutes before we jump into questions from the crowd, so if people want to go ahead and start typing into Q&A, we can start answering some of those in a few minutes. But before we jump into those questions I wanted to talk a little bit more about design, and about, there's a couple of projects we have here, like the one in San Antonio and the one in Orlando, where there was a real connection between the planning and design of the place, and transit. Specifically, I wanted Amy, to jump in here a little bit and talk about, you know, what's it like for communities to think about the role of design excellence and the arts within the transit projects and kind of, how have you done that from your end? How have you been involved in those kinds of projects, and the city, being a government employee?
AM: Right, well we have a transit agency called Sound Transit in our region, and they actually just built their first 1.9 mile light rail right before they continued on with many more miles in Seattle. They actually came into our community when our, when we had no percent for art funding, it had been killed in the 80s and they were instrumental in working with us to start to talk about art again, and to get art in places where people wouldn't necessarily expect it. They did beautiful stations each with their own unique art works and a variety of artists who participated in that, because, I mean, transit is a long term investment. And an investment into the future and it's very much about placemaking. You have people who are going to be purposely spending their time hanging around, waiting for whatever transit mobility is going to come your way, and I think it's an excellent opportunity to help tell the story of a community and to contribute to that placemaking. And I think it's a great way to involve even emerging artists, if they're partnered with an agency that can help provide them those skills and maybe some support to get them to be able to do a project in the public realm if they haven't done it before, I think it's a great opportunity to help them to get some fresh work out there. But I think that when you're traveling, that's one of the best times to be quiet, and even experience the world the world around you in a different way, and so I think art is an essential piece to transit projects and I was excited to see that other people are considering it.
JS: Okay, we're going to jump into some questions from the crowd, here's one specifically for Terrian: We are working on a cultural planning project in a mostly Hispanic-based--most Hispanic-populated, excuse me, neighborhood, what recommendations do you have to work with--this is general that comes up--what tools would you recommend specifically for working within that particular community?
TB: One thing I would say is, and the person probably already knows this, but the goal, you know, whenever you're looking at language translation is to go beyond the words and to the emotions and meanings behind them, so make sure you're connecting. People get caught up in the language differences initially, but I think the cultural rich--differences are much richer, and the place to concentrate. Understand what their culture is about and how it fits in with the cultural creative placemaking process. And then also, obviously tap into leaders in the community who are influencers with the Hispanic population. And I think then, in looking at partnerships, of course there's the nonprofit and local government entity, look at your partner and what they bring to the table in terms of really reaching out to that community, so don't take it all on alone, put some of that on the partner.
JS: That's great, thank you. Here's a question: We're a mid-sized American community that's interested in doing--working on our cultural district, and looking at the beginning of doing cultural district planning. What recommendations do you have, I'll ask Daniel this, to begin that process? Should we do creative asset mapping first?
DH: That's great! Yes, definitely do asset mapping first, I'm assuming also that you've organized all of the stakeholders well so that they're actually helping you through that process about identifying what the assets are from their perspective. But that's a great--so when I'm typically embarking on a cultural district plan or a master plan, redevelopment district, whatever, you know, I really make sure that I've outlined the entire process from beginning to end, and where the civic engagement process comes in strategically. I do it in three different phases, but, you know, sort of this early phase is that asset mapping, second phase is sort of designing and coming up with your ideas, and then the last phase is synthesizing all the ideas and you sort of bring the community in to those different phases, but definitely that first phase is gather as much information as you can, from every point of view that you think is important to you, but also to the team, and also to who you think the stakeholders and what their concerns are going to be. So when you get to the design phase you have all of that in your back pocket, ready to respond, ready to actually use it to begin designing your plan. So, it sounds like you're on track if you ask that question.
JS: That's great, Amy, do you want to jump in a little bit, too, here, about how, from the government perspective how you work on cultural district planning in your community?
AM: Yeah, I think that asset mapping is an important piece, but I think it's to be done to get the information to decide what kind of plan makes the best sense for your community, so, it's not "Oh, we should do a cultural plan!" You know? Well, why? What's the point, what are you hoping to get out of it, how is it going to meet the needs of your community, how can it leverage what you have that's positive that's going on, are there certain gaps that you're trying to fill, and are there certain things that the cultural piece can fit better maybe than some other things, but not trying to be the solution for all things at all times? I think being able to be knowledgeable and able to make connections and have the best synergy possible is crucial for cultural planning. I don't know, we always here the "Oh, another plan that's going to sit on the shelf." Well, what keeps plans from sitting on the shelf? It's about the energy behind them and the people participating in it and actually being able to move on something to show some success. I mean, it is a long process but I think even when you're putting it down on paper to really think about where you can actually start to show some impact is really helpful.
JS: Here's another question, this is probably one that I will ask Terrian to jump in a little bit on: keeping in mind the challenges of cultural integration in communities, have you observed effective or collaborative community arts development projects that have been employed in the US that have increased community collectivity and diverse immigrant communities?
TB: It's a great question. I can remember that during panel there were a couple that really stood out. Unfortunately, right now on this call, I cannot remember, maybe Daniel or Amy can remember some of those specifically, but if there is a way to follow up after the call, or get back to that person, I'd love to.
JS: Sure, Daniel or Amy do you want to jump in here? Any examples where you see really the immigrant community being the target of some of this...the goal being community collectivity...
DH: Well, again, this was actually in public arts projects I did in San Francisco, were actually about bringing immigrant communities into the discussion, and so when I talked earlier about working with CDC or arts groups or arts museums, it was always focused on whether it was the Latino sort of CDC in the area that was actually doing the various types of projects and I was trying to identify artists who would be able to work on an architecture team, to be able to actually integrate public art into affordable housing developments where it was clear that the immigrant communities needed affordable housing and it was a way to actually then engage them in other sort of, if you will, infrastructural assets of the community like high quality affordable housing that integrated art that represented their own aspirations as a community. So it was a great way to kind of combine and create a synthesis about these different things in community development/community building.
AM: That's one that I know I'm going to hang up and then be like "Oh and then there was this, and then there was that!" but one that really jumps to mind that I remember standing out in Boise, Idaho they have a strong Basque community, and I remember that they did a number of projects to celebrate, you know, engage the Basque artists and their traditional art forms, and create a place around that, which, you know, I remember it. It's certainly had success as a result of that.
JS: Yeah, there's an interesting project that I just heard about, too, just to jump in a little bit here, a Boston foundation is actually--so there's140 different communities in the city of Boston, and one of the things that they're doing is they're going to fund what's called Random Acts of Culture, a support for temporary events in the city, and they'll only fund--they want to get to all 140, so if you've already done work in the El Salvador community, you can't come in, but what they're going to do is do some very deep work with this, the way that Terrian spoke about it, working with a lot of those community leaders to identify those kinds of projects in each of those communities and putting a little bit of funding behind it. So that might be an interesting project for you to look at also. Here's one for Amy, what kind of innovative partnerships have you witnessed in the design of cultural facilities, or public spaces around cultural facilities. I know you're working on one of those in Tacoma right now, so what are the partnerships that you've seen that have really made the project special?
AM: I'm hoping I remember. What did you say earlier, was it Milwaukee where the ballet partnered with the science?
JS: Right, yeah. The Harmony Initiative.
AM: Yeah, that blew me away because it was such different fields coming together, but, you know, when somebody can stitch together a project like that and make sense, like "Oh of course there would be a connection between the science and the dance. I'm trying to think of some other ones. In our partnership is with a museum, which is a great partnership, but it's not atypical. Ask Daniel; let me think about this for a second.
JS: That's okay, yeah, that was a very interesting set of partners, that one in Milwaukee. Well, I am going to ask you guys each to give us some final comments here, before we wrap up in the next five minutes or , but I want to ask one more question that just came in. This is a question really about, again, about achieving design excellence, and what you guys were looking for in the grants and how--so this is a question that, they're basically asking how do folks find the kind of designers or artists that might meet the excellence requirements of the NEA? And one thing I'll say is that, you know, if you read the guidelines, the Our Town guidelines, we are looking for excellence that is appropriate to the place, and authentic to that place, so we're not expecting that everybody will find Frank Gehry to design an astronomically expensive building, that's certainly not what the panel is looking for, but. So, if you could speak a little bit more, and I might ask Amy to jump in again here about how, if an artist wasn't identified, what kind of process were you looking for that would guarantee in the grant that you felt comfortable that they were going to achieve that excellence requirement? What were the steps in that process that made you feel comfortable.
AM: Okay, well, I mentioned earlier, I think, about developing the parameters for the project. So, I think maybe it even starts there, so when you're identifying what you want the artist to do, that helps really define the quality of the project or the innovation of the project, so if it's a kind of off-the-shelf, I've seen ten communities do decorate the pig, and we're going to do a decorate the pig thing, and then we're going to have the process be X, Y, Z, from the get-go. I think that kind of fails in the artistic excellence level because it's, the project itself, is kind of standard. But if it's, like, I remember--I'm trying to think of the projects that we saw that--you know if you're looking at, as Daniel mentioned earlier, either engaging artists early on, so that we can see that you understand that the role of the artist can be more than just being the one that decorates the corner with the sculpture. That could be interesting if you've identified different opportunities, be they temporary, or ways that artists can engage space, or things like that that help show that there are different ways that arts can be involved, that would be good. And if you're even looking to do a traditional piece, that's fine, there's nothing wrong with that at all, it's just really clarifying what you're looking for upfront and then, a typical process is that you define your parameters, you called an artist, what are you looking for. You ask them to submit examples of their work, and you ask them to submit their resume and a letter of interest, and they should be able to respond to your projects, you're called an artist as your job description, basically, and they should be able to speak to you about how they perceive your site and how excited they about whatever it is you have going on, and how they'd do a good job for you, and then I think the next, most important piece is pulling together the selection panel, because that's the place where you get to have varying levels of engagement, and expertise. So on our panels we have arts professionals, artists, curators, but we also have community members and stakeholders that are going to be using the place or being affected by the place, so it's not just, you know, only art people who get to decide because it's about community as well. But I think having that mix in the room--I've never failed to see the panelists have a really robust conversation and there's a lot of information exchange, and I think some phenomenal selections come out of it. You also have to remember that you get to interview your people, so after you look at all the slides and you make your finalists, you bring them in and you talk to them, so that you're sure that you're getting that artistic quality that you want but you're also getting an artist with whom you believe your community can work with, and who gets you, you know, so that you can go through the trials and tribulations of public art, which is not a straight line, and be working with somebody who does a good job. And you know, if it's pretty--a big budget project, you know you're going to be looking for artists with a deeper breadth of experience, if you're looking for more temporary work, you might have the opportunity to work with artists who haven't worked in the public realm as much, so depending upon what your project is, you set it out with that call, that, you always have the process where you're looking at the work coming in, and I think Daniel's comment earlier about making sure that you're casting the net wide and getting, you know, not just the people who are on your mailing list, but figuring out how to connect with artists who may not know how to look there. I mean, this is a different kind of thing, but we were doing a mural program and we wanted to connect with some of the urban graffiti-style artists out there, we found a way to partner with a private garage to allow free wall painting, which was an entree into that community, a very untraditional one, but it was a way for us to start to have something out there that connected with those artists that we wanted to find and be able to connect with other opportunities later, so, that's kind of an aside, but.
JS: Great, thanks, great. I mean, I would add of course, that you should always look to your local arts agency, Amy is a local arts agency person.
AM: Right, that's 'cause I am one. Right!
JS: And your states arts agencies as resources for finding artists, but, Daniel, before we jump into final words, I want you to say a little bit about procuring and finding good cultural planners and designers. It is a little bit of a different process than finding an artist, for a piece of public art. And what do you say when somebody calls you up and says "Look, we're going to do this cultural district plan, you know, what's the best way for me to get the word out, and to find, you know, the series of folks who are going to help me do this kind of work?" What kind of advice to give folks like that?
DH: Well, I mean, thankfully we have the internet where you can actually tons of looking at previous work design work, and award-winning work that happens around the country, whether it's a master plan, or whether it's a cultural plan, and just do a little bit of work to find out what's happening in the world, to find out what the cutting edge things are that are happening, and I actually really, really-- whether it's a public procurement requirement or not, to actually do an RFP process, I--if there are stakeholders involved in that process, it's a really valuable thing to actually 1) identify what those big, best practice, you know, deliverables have been in other places, show them to the other people who will involved in the decision, this is the quality, this is the kind of stuff that this group should aspire to and this is where we're heading, and write an aspirational RFP, to get people to actually respond at a level that you want that meets those kinds of practices that you saw and that you've introduced to the people who will be making the decisions. I can--that visual quality, you can go on all day about, "Oh, we really want high quality, and we really want beautiful design," but until people are actually able to see what that means, through photos and best practices from other places, then you can begin sort of bringing them in closer so they make the right decision to get a high quality designer on your team. That's what I would recommend people doing.
JS: Okay, great. And I won't, we won't get into a conversation about design competitions at this point, that's probably be something we'll hold for a future webinar that the design team might do at some point. But that is another option that some cultural facilities and some folks look at; there were none of those actually in those grants, but, big topic that we're not going to try to jump into right now. We have five more minutes to jump into final comments from folks. I just wanted to get some final words from all three of you about what kind of advice you would have for communities that are trying to pursue the kinds of projects that you guys reviewed, any final thoughts for these folks as they might apply next year, we imagine that these webinars will be listened to quite a bit by folks that might look at coming in next year, so what's--we've said an enormous amount of breadth here, but are there any last thoughts you want to get in before we have to jump off the phone here? Terrian?
TB: Congratulations to everyone who submitted an application...final words: play to your strengths, that's where your energy and depth comes through in the application...
JS: Great, Amy?
AM: I think, I would second that, you know, make sure that what you're writing is authentic, but have somebody read your application, I mean, this is very--it's fantastic to have a great idea, but if you can't communicate it, we have, the panels have so much to read through, the more clear you can be and the more just sort of, yeah, clear is the word, what I'm not doing now! And just have somebody look at, have somebody read it for that, and keep thinking good things and do authentic work in your community and then just figure out how to communicate it.
JS: Daniel, last word?
DH: Yeah, so I think that it's really important to organize ahead of time, these applications take a long time to put together, and it really--if you're going to bring together a group of people and excite them about the potential to get federal funding, you want to make sure that you've actually spent a lot of time in planning it, getting agreement, and sort of writing a very high quality application. But as the previous comments were: be extremely clear about what you're doing and what the outcomes are. There were a lot of applications and the ones that always rose to the top that we remembered after reading them when we sat around the table to discuss them for a few days, the ones that rose to the top had a clear message about what you were going to do, who was going to be involved, the diversity of people that were going to be involved, and what the outcome was and the benefits of those outcomes. So, just planning ahead and making sure that you have agreement on a strategy is really important.
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