(On March 22, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman addressed a group of foundations about how the idea of creative placemaking evolved into ArtPlace, a new, national initiative to revitalize communities through the arts. Rasmuson Foundation was an inaugural investor. In January, ArtPlace announced that seven Alaska organizations were among the finalists for $15 million in creative placemaking grants. We share Landesman’s remarks here.)
The last chairman of the NEA was a poet, and he made great advances in the agency’s work with poetry, literature, and Shakespeare. When my appointment was announced, I think the theater community puffed up a bit and said, “Great! Now it’s our turn.”
Sadly for them, that has not turned out to be the case. I think my tenure at the NEA will be remembered for two things, our focus on creative placemaking and our partnerships with other federal agencies and all of you in the private sector.
Let me start with creative placemaking, which is simply the ways in which communities use the arts to help shape their social, physical, and economic characters. Or to put it another way, cities and towns literally change when you bring artists to the center of them. I witnessed this first hand during my time in New York City as I watched the transformations of everything from Times Square to the South Bronx. And now that I am at the NEA, I have seen this happen from Sitka, Alaska, to Opa-Locka, Florida. In each of these towns, I saw the same three critical ingredients for success:
- A history and tradition of the arts. You can’t just parachute into the desert and make something happen…I mean, not unless you’re in Marfa, Texas, or at Burning Man.
- A committed philanthropic sector: 87% of the support for the arts in this country comes from non-governmental funds.
- Local political leaders that “get it.” And almost all of the mayors I have met in the past three years do.