Tuesday, January 27, 2015

East 9th Street and the Allure of Creative Placemaking

Over the past year, there has been lots of conversation about the Lawrence Arts Center’s proposed development for East 9th Street. At City Commission, East Lawrence neighborhood meetings, in the Journal-World and on the street, people have been discussing the potential impacts and opportunities of this ambitious and first of its kind endeavor in Lawrence.

Reflecting on the origins of this project, and studying recent evaluations of the new practice of creative placemaking, may help shed light on many of the concerns and questions that have been raised.

East 9th Street
In 2010 Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus completed “Creative Placemaking,” the National Endowment for the Arts report that introduced this practice to a wider public. It was this report that launched the creative placemaking funding initiatives Our Town and later ArtPlace, which are at the center of the proposed East 9th Street project.

But just two years after co-authoring the NEA’s paper, Markusen wrote of her unease about how ArtPlace was measuring creative placemaking success. She writes “ ArtPlace is developing “measures of value, which capture changes in rental and ownership values…” This reads like an invitation to gentrification, and contrary to the NEA’s aspirations for creative placemaking to support social cohesion and community attachment.”

This is not a surprise. Gadwa Nicodemus and Markusen alerted us to the potential of creative placemaking to spur gentrification in their original NEA paper when they wrote, “Arts-initiated revitalization can set off gentrification pressures that displace current residents and small businesses, including non-profit arts organizations.”

And they are not alone in their concern.

In his 2013 essay, “Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-Belonging,” Roberto Bedoya, Executive Director of the Tucson Pima County Arts Council, writes, “The blind love of Creative Placemaking that is tied to the allure of speculation culture and its economic thinking of “build it and they will come” is suffocating and unethical, and supports a politics of dis-belonging employed to manufacture a “place.”

These comments by respected arts leaders are clearly reflected in the dialogue that has emerged around the proposed East 9th Street project. Although East Lawrence was represented on the Cultural District Task Force, which made general recommendations for the Cultural District, the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association (ELNA) was not consulted in the development of the actual ArtPlace and Our Town grants related to East 9th Street. Concerns about this lack of agency in the process, led ELNA to initiate forums for discussion around the project’s implications, including facilitated public meetings and a three-hour “Imagine East 9th Street” event. 

Imagine East 9th Street event, November 16, 2014
Comments from many participants at these meetings expressed the need for accountability and the desire for full participation in the overall process. These ideas taken together concern social equity - the idea that fair access to livelihood, education, and resources; full participation in the political and cultural life of the community; and self-determination in meeting fundamental needs is a social good intrinsic to healthy and just communities.

In her 2014 article, “The Gentrification of Our Livelihoods: Everything must go,” about an ArtPlace funded project in San Francisco, writer Megan Wilson speaks directly to this need for equity. She writes, “To achieve these ends, we must work to put far more pressure on our city officials and hold them accountable to provide the best services, opportunities, and amenities for residents, while ensuring that existing communities are protected and supported through high functioning planning, permitting, and legislation with strong and clear avenues for oversight and accountability by their constituencies.”

This is what many East Lawrence residents have been advocating for – genuine accountability and an acknowledgment of the value that their unique experience and knowledge can bring to the process. Unfortunately, these basic measures have yet to be met while new concerns have arisen, as expressed in a letter (below) sent to Lawrence City Commissioners and signed by more than 140 residents.

June 21, 2015    

To Mayor Farmer and Lawrence City Commissioners,

We deeply appreciate the careful consideration you and city staff have given the East Ninth project process and trust that you will continue to give it the serious and thoughtful regard it deserves. The learning curve has been steep for this ambitious and first of its kind endeavor for our community.

In an effort to move toward the goals of a healthy, just, equitable and sustainable East Ninth Street project, we, the one hundred forty (140) individuals undersigned, have carefully reviewed the draft Work Plan submitted by el dorado inc to the City Commission and propose the modifications outlined below be included in the document before the plan is accepted.

1) Statement of Values

Respect and understanding of the place and people where this project is proposed are critical to its acceptance and sustainability. The Work Plan should be revised to acknowledge that the East Lawrence Neighborhood already has a statement of values that applies to the majority of the area where the project is planned. Following from this, the Design Team, City and Lawrence Arts Center should strive to respect and be guided by these values in reviewing existing plans, and as it moves forward with the East Ninth project.

2) Artist Participation Model

The culture and spirit of East Lawrence are alive and well, in part because of its organic growth and thoughtful and passionate stewardship. All public art projects in recent memory that have been carried out in East Lawrence have been presented for consideration and approval to the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association before going on to the City. This includes the mural at Hobbs Park, the forthcoming Intersection Repair, the New York School mural, the Cultural District, and Better Block event. We believe that the same process should be used for all art and culture related projects outlined in the Artist Participation Model (APM) section of the Work Plan. The Work Plan should be revised to include the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association in the review and approval process (that includes Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission, Historic Resources Commission, and City Commission), for all art and culture related projects proposed in the APM.

To ensure that the character and expression of the neighborhood is guided by those who live there, we propose that at least 50% of the projects outlined in the APM be led by Lawrence artists (with at least one Lawrence artist in each of the three sections of the APM), and at least half of those led by East Lawrence artists. To make the most of the potential creative exchange that can take place during this process, we propose that all art projects outlined in the APM include paid assistant artists from Lawrence. This will be great experience and training for our local artists and will give any lead artists who are not from Lawrence essential insights into the place they are working. 

3) Conservation Overlay

In order to ensure that development along East 9th Street and adjacent parts of the East Lawrence Neighborhood will evolve in a way that protects and supports the cultural and economic life of its residents and the unique character of its built environment, we propose that a Conservation Overlay be designed and implemented as a part of the East Ninth project and be in place before any work described in the Artist Participation Model begins. The physical extent and specific provisions of the overlay would be determined collaboratively with the City, project Design Team, East Lawrence Neighborhood Association and other interested citizens.

Thank you again for your continued work on this issue and specific consideration of our letter.


Brenda Nunez                       

Robert Baker                         

Jean Ann Pike                       

Dave Pike                              

Richard Kershenbaum           

David Crawford                    
Leslie Soden

Charlie Bryan                        

Ted Boyle                              

Dave Evans                            

Mary Kirkendall                    

Eric Kirkendall                     

Creed Shepard                    

Gotfred Beardshear            

Phil Collison                           

Susan Earle                            

Lane Eisenbart                      

Jill Ensley                              

John Hachmeister                 

Amber Hansen                     

Thad Holcombe                     

Lora Jost                                

Ashley Laird                           

Sue Ashline                            

Jim McCrary                          

Dave Loewenstein                 

Arch Naramore                      

Alison Dishinger                    

Yanice Friedman                   

Carol Klinkett                                    

Dennis Cox                             

Marilyn Brune                       

Chanette Alexander              

Lauretta Hendricks Backus  

Oswald Backus                      

Martha S. Thorp                    

Bonnie Uffman                     

Jill Allen                                 

Macy C. Smith                                  

Pat Miller                               

Dave Kingsley                        

Loring Henderson                 

Bob Garrett                            

Janet Martin                          

P. Johnson                              

Katheirne “KH” Harris         

Irene Tsuneta                                    

Don Kantorv                         

Megan Roelofs                       

Terese Cioffi                          

Katie Ashmore                      

Katie Reese                           

Marta Schwartz                     

John Huff                               

Marty Olson                           

Phil Chiley                              

Teresa Wilke                         

John P. Jervis                         

Janet A. Jackson                     

Louie Galloway                      

Saunny Scott                          

Laura Morgan                                    

Susan Munn                          

Janet Good                            

Elliot Good-DeCosta              

James C. Dunn                       

Ann Carlin Ozegovic              

Shannon Gorres                    

Sarah Wallace                        

Maya Crocker                                    

Linda Lips                              

Marvin E. Voth                       

Juliet Remmers                      

Brian Sultana                        

Ginger Chance                      

Thomas E. Peters                  

Dennis Constance                 

Daniel Bentley                       

Sarah Archiblod Busse         

Barb Michener                      

Katy Clagett                           

Bridget Chapin                      

Nancy V. Brune                      

Carol Schmitt                         

Eileen Larson                         

Don Mayberger                     

Stephanie Harsin                  

E. F. Tolbert                            

Jane W. Gibson                      

Jim Carpenter                                  

Sven Erik Alstrom                 

Frank Janzen                         

Alan Martin                            

Gregory M. Herrod                

Pam Blackburn                      

Robert W. Lepphe                 

John Swift                              

Jay M. Hester                         

Rhonda Beardshear              

Alonzo Beardshear                

Nicollete Proudfoot               

D. Byron Darby                     

Kellie Smith Herrod            

Tony Peterson                       

Dorothy Devlin                      

Kyle Garchee                         

Sonya Bonner                                    

Steve Bonner                         

Jolene Anderson                    

Brooklynne Mosley               

Jackson Sump                                    

Vicki Douglas                         

Phil Minkin                          

Dan Dimmit                           

C. D. Hall                                 

Marilyn Hall                           

Claudean McKellips              

Christopher Hayes                

Marah Melvin                                    

Ardys Ramberg                    

Sarah Rooney                                   

Odessa Shorter                    

Cindy Suenram                     

Nicholas Ward                       

KT Walsh                              

Amanda Schwegler               

Rebecca Blocksome               

Kate Meyer                            

Aaron Paden                          

Judith K. Burns McCrea        

Darron Carswell                    

Cindy Trask                           

Daniel Barkofske                  

Sam Michie                            

Ben Kimball                          

Carey Scott                             

Max Yoder                             

Johni Lacore                           
Chris Lempa

Wednesday, January 14, 2015



January 17- February 22, 2015
Gallery hours: Wed-Sun, 12-6pm
Opening Reception: Saturday, January 17, 5 to 8pm

Smack Mellon
92 Plymouth Street @ Washington
Brooklyn, NY

I am participating in this remarkable exhibition and series of events responding to the continued failure of the United States to protect its black citizens from police discrimination and violence.
More from Smack Mellon here, and a review of the exhibition from the New York Times here.

Ruth Fremson / The New York Times