Judy Nemzoff: Thoughts on Creativity

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Judy Nemzoff, Director of Community Arts and Education at the San Francisco Arts Commission. It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses.

Keyword: Thoughts on Creativity

I’m participating in an Americans for the Arts Creative Placemaking webinar series that defines creative placemaking as, “the intersection of when place making by design has art and creativity at the forefront.” This definition presumes that—by building partnerships and crafting policy that addresses defining places with outcomes that include creative, financial, and social success—you must also place creativity and art making in the hands of artists.

In looking at successful examples of creative placemaking through this lens, one would need to see artists and arts organizations at the forefront of planning and redevelopment, with government and the private sector investing heavily in a project’s scope and scale. It would beg the question, “What would an artist do?” If I am responsible for establishing the merits and methods of creative placemaking in my work, the webinar reminded me that I need to step back (again) and ask more questions: What does it take to rebuild and repurpose a place with art and creativity at its core?  When is arts activation a Band-Aid versus a long–term, systemic way to embrace community? How do we design projects with architects and planners that include practicing artists from the project’s inception? How do we remind policymakers, however well-intentioned and whatever their background in the arts may be, that their ideas are not the voice of the artist?

I’m not sure we can continue to talk about creative placemaking without the creative makers in the conversation sooner. I want to ask an artist about a sustainable model and authenticity. I want artists to have the opportunity to participate early on in the creative solutions that define success, and then be given the tools and money to assure sustainability and growth.

Isn’t it great that in so many communities across the country and the world recognizes the arts as an important contribution to the revitalization of community? Can we imagine a time when every local government agency has an arts position integral to the policy and outcomes of their work? I think we should, and the first thing every policymaker and planning wonk will ask, “What would an artist do?”


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