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Let’s use the power of the arts to stimulate community development

We can build on success: Look, for example, at the Irrigate project in St. Paul, an artist-led initiative along six miles of the new Central Corridor light-rail line.

Juxtaposition Arts in North Minneapolis prepares youth for arts-related careers while creating neighborhood murals and selling real (and fun) design products.

Right here in the Twin Cities, we’re sitting on a mountain of underused community-development assets.

The arts.

Andriana Abariotes
Andriana Abariotes

The power of art goes far beyond audience appreciation. We have the opportunity to marshal our impressive creative capital to transform neighborhoods and fuel our region’s economy. Don’t forget — neighborhoods are the spark plugs for the whole region. If they’re all firing, the regional economic engine can roar ahead.

Nationally, there’s a growing movement that recognizes the catalytic power of the arts in creating new economies, cultural destinations, and vital neighborhoods. It’s called Creative Placemaking.

While our region’s creative assets may be considerable, we’ve only started to scratch the surface of ways we can use them to stimulate community development. Nevertheless, inspiring examples are springing up everywhere.

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Current successes

Look at the progress along Franklin Avenue in creating an American Indian Cultural Corridor, culminating in an arts mall at the Franklin Avenue station. Look at the Irrigate project in St. Paul, an artist-led placemaking initiative along six miles of the new Central Corridor light rail line that has successfully mobilized artists in support of small businesses and neighborhoods during a critical time.

Laura Zabel
Laura Zabel

Look at the planning efforts of St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood to attract creative entrepreneurs, or the success of Juxtaposition Arts in North Minneapolis and Hope in South Minneapolis in preparing youth for arts-related careers, all while creating neighborhood murals and selling real (and fun) design products.

Why do the arts suddenly seem at the core of community development?

Fostering human capital

First and foremost, they foster human capital. We may be used to thinking of community development  in terms of bricks and mortar, but the lifeblood of any neighborhood is the people who live there. The aim of community developers is to improve quality of life, not just build housing or beautify streets. Quality of life implies that residents have access to basic opportunities in their neighborhood, but also that they feel connected to that neighborhood, invested in it; they feel that they have a say in its future as well as their own.

Creating or experiencing art can give people a fulfilling sense of personal power. We all have something to say about the world, and art helps us find our voice. It can also help us find each other. Arts activities provide valuable opportunities for people to gather and interact. Personal  power gained through art can become community power, and collective action that results from that power can be transformative.

Economic spillover effects

When people find their voice and come together to think creatively about how to improve things, it isn’t just blue-sky dreaming or crafts day at the community center. The creation of art has real economic spillover effects — sales revenue, advertising revenue, and jobs. And let’s not forget income for individual artists, who are then better able to join the economic mainstream. As new markets develop around the arts, businesses benefit, too. And because public art projects make places more attractive to shoppers, entrepreneurs and homebuyers, the larger community benefits.

Here’s a great illustration of creative placemaking: the Northern Clay Center on Franklin Avenue. Years ago, the building that now houses the center was slated to become an equipment warehouse. But the Seward Neighborhood Group, Seward Redesign, and the Northern Clay Center got together a successful community-development plan to rehab the building for the clay center. Today, the center is a major arts institution that draws people from all over the region to events, classes, and shopping — enlivening the Seward neighborhood every day.

Creative placemaking evolves uniquely

This is creative placemaking. It happens from within, and evolves according to each neighborhood’s unique assets and needs. Its greatest drivers and beneficiaries are the neighbors themselves. It’s a movement that reattaches people to places, in the process reigniting hyperlocal economies that then feed our regional economy.

The truth is, there’s hardly anywhere in the country better poised to employ the arts in community development than the Twin Cities. Let’s go for it. Let’s get creative.

Andriana Abariotes is executive director of Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC); Laura Zabel is executive director of Springboard for the Arts.


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