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Looking back: Kresge’s 10-year investment in ArtPlace America

Arts & Culture, Centennial

Longtime support helped to expand the role of arts, culture and design in communities

For a decade, ArtPlace America worked to cultivate equitable, healthy and sustainable communities across the U.S. by enlisting artists as allies.

ArtPlace was a $150-million funder collaborative that successfully positioned arts and culture as a core strategy of community planning and development and strengthened the field of creative placemaking. It operated from 2010-2020.

According to the e-book ArtPlace America: 10 Years, ArtPlace achieved this goal by supporting demonstration projects, organizational change, cross-sector research, resource development, storytelling and convening, and knowledge and network strategies in arts and culture, local government and higher education.

Eleven private philanthropies joined with the National Endowment for the Arts and several federal agencies to establish ArtPlace as a nationwide initiative to drive community revitalization with a new investment model that put arts at the center of economic development.

ArtPlace grants were given through the combined support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Ford Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Kresge, The McKnight Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, The Robina Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation and an anonymous donor.

In this Q&A, Communications Officer Kaniqua Welch speaks with Regina Smith, managing director of Kresge’s Arts & Culture Program, to share insight into Kresge’s partnership with ArtPlace and the evolution of the Arts & Culture Program.

Q: Investing in ArtPlace is considered one of Kresge’s “big bets.” Can you share why it was considered a big bet and how this grant aligned with the Arts & Culture Program strategy back in 2010?

A: It didn’t align with our strategy in 2010, which is what made it a big bet. After its founding in 1924, Kresge supported capital campaigns of arts and culture institutions for 80-plus years. The Arts & Culture Program strategy pivoted from making capital grants in 2009 to help the arts and cultural institutions recover following the financial crisis and expand artists’ services and community-building initiatives.

Q: How did the idea of ArtPlace America emerge?

A: The idea of ArtPlace America emerged from a July 2010 meeting convened by the National Endowment for the Arts chairman Rocco Landesman. According to an excerpt from the book ArtPlace America: 10 Years, in the recession’s aftermath, the two-year-old President Barack Obama administration had been advancing place-based strategies — measures that addressed entrenched community challenges by looking at the livability of the communities as a whole. During the convening, Landesman made the case that art could — and should — play a much more significant role in shaping and strengthening communities.

It was a big bet because until that point, Kresge’s Arts & Culture Program had not participated in an initiative of this scale, and this was (for us) an untested concept – a national public-private partnership where arts and culture strengthen communities – and yet this new way of thinking and working appealed to Rip Rapson (Kresge’s President & CEO), who attended that NEA convening, and the Kresge Arts & Culture Program because at the time our strategy had been dominated by a sector-specific approach to stabilizing the balance sheets of arts and cultural institutions.

Q: How did Kresge’s Arts & Culture Program strategy continue to evolve after the ArtPlace funder collaborative was established? 

A: In 2011, Kresge’s Board of Trustees formally adopted the foundation-wide aspiration of “expanding opportunity in America’s cities,” specifically emphasizing low-income and historically disinvested communities. This action also reinforced Kresge’s new way of working at the Foundation—one that understands barriers to opportunity holistically and pursues comprehensive, cross-sector, cross-disciplinary solutions.

The Arts & Culture Program’s strategy and its sector-specific focus on capitalizing arts and cultural organizations was not aligned with the Foundation’s vision to use different methods and tactics and focus on comprehensive community development priorities.

In 2012, with the board mandate to change our strategy to align with the Foundation’s vision and exposure to types of efforts funded by ArtPlace, we unveiled our strategic priority on equitable Creative Placemaking. This strategic shift also created opportunities to scaffold our support and collaborate on field-wide partnerships with the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town program and Artplace America.

Q: How has the Arts & Culture Program funding strategy evolved today?

A: The Arts & Culture Program announced updates to our funding focus areas in January of 2024. However, our strategy primarily remains the same. As a national funder that supports place-based initiatives, we position culture and creativity as drivers of more just communities.

Through this strategy – which is a cross-sectoral approach that integrates creative practices into community development – we aim to ensure that creativity is valued widely as an integral resource for healthy and sustainable places and for residents of color to live abundant and self-determined lives.

When announcing the refinement of our funding focus areas, we wanted to ensure we were explicit about where, with whom, and how we intend to deploy our grant dollars — in place, with people, and through partnerships — to advance the preconditions for long-term change. The preconditions include resident agency, narrative control, social cohesion, and collective action, to name a few.

Q: Is your team still focused on equitable Creative Placemaking?

A: One thing that has changed is how we speak about Creative Placemaking. The sector at large has evolved over the last several years when discussing the role of Creative Practices – which is inclusive of placemaking and placekeeping. There are many ways the field, grantees and other funders are describing this practice, so we’re not so hung up on terminology.

The label of Creative Placemaking has graduated to the point where we’re now excluding other ways of involving creativity in community development work.

To be clear, we’re still working at this intersection of arts, culture and community development. It is called so many different things that we do ourselves a disservice by exclusively talking about Creative Placemaking. Instead, the term Creative Practices showcases the evolution of the field and different approaches we can implement in the future.

Photo Gallery: ArtPlace America memorable moments

Graphic: ArtPlace 10 Years
From left: Katy Locker, former Detroit program director for The Knight Foundation, Kresge Foundation CEO Rip Rapson, and ArtPlace America Executive Director Jamie Bennett attending the Creative Economy Policy Summit held during the 2015 Detroit Design Festival. Photo by The Knight Foundation:
In 2016, Kresge’s Arts & Culture and Health programs launched the Fresh, Local and Equitable (FreshLo) Initiative by partnering with neighborhood-based coalitions to ensure that residents had access to healthy foods and economic opportunity. The $11 million-dollar initiative envisioned strengthening low-income communities by integrating Creative Placemaking and food-oriented development.
Images captured in 2016 of an underutilized public park that was recreated into a Latin American city plaza long identified as a place of connection and pride for the Adams Morgan’s Latino population. A unique sensory environment was created using a combination of creative programs and activities to build community and celebrate the neighborhood’s Latino culture. Featured in the 2018 report “Crossing the Street: Building D.C.’s Future Though Creative Placemaking.”
Images from the PolicyLink 2017 report, “Creating Change through Arts, Culture, and Equitable Development: A Policy and Practice Primer.”
Images from 2017 report, “The Field Guide for Parks and Creative Placemaking,” published by The Trust for Public Land and City Parks Alliance.
ArtPlace Compilation: Images featured in the 2018 report “Crossing the Street: Building D.C.’s Future Though Creative Placemaking.”
Putting arts and culture at the center of urban community development strategies was the topic of a discussion between Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson and Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba at the 7th annual ArtPlace Summit in Jackson held in 2019.
In 2020, ArtPlace America partnered with Common Future to release a report titled “Building Community Wealth: The Role of Arts and Culture in Equitable Economic Development.” In this photograph, Thunder Valley CDC is a Lakota-led organization that worked to empower Lakota youth and families on the Pine Ridge Reservation to improve the health, culture and environment of their communities through the healing and strengthening of cultural identity.
Graphic: Arts & Culture Can…
  1. Download ArtPlace: 10 Years, a publication that tells the story of ArtPlace America, available in digital format and as a print-on-demand book
  2. View the 285+ projects and organizations ArtPlace supported across the U.S. in the sectors of Agriculture and Food, Economic Development, Youth Development, Environment & Energy, Health, Housing, Immigration, Public Safety, Transportation, and Workforce Development
  3. Speech: Rapson explores Creative Placemaking; rethinking the role of arts and culture in strengthening communities
  4. Video: A Conversation with Rip Rapson and Jamie Bennett on Creative Placemaking
  5. Report: Creative Placemaking and Expansion of Opportunity
  6. Blog: Program officer’s compilation of resources helps answer the question, “What the heck is Creative Placemaking?
  7. Blog: How to build collective power in Creative Placemaking
  8. 1942-2022: Learn more about Kresge’s Arts & Culture origin story
  9. Kresge’s Arts & Culture Program refines its funding focus areas, reflects on investment
  10. White House Domestic Policy Council, NEA officials unveil new initiatives at arts and culture summit

Learn more about ArtPlace America's Impact

View the 285+ projects and organizations ArtPlace supported across the U.S. in the sectors of Agriculture and Food, Economic Development, Youth Development, Environment & Energy, Health, Housing, Immigration, Public Safety, Transportation, and Workforce Development.