Iâve lived and breathed cultural plans for so long, it feels as though Iâve looked at the work from every angle. Iâve read many. Iâve talked to a lot of people in different places that have developed them. Iâve taught cultural planning in the U.S. and China. Most importantly as a municipal cultural leader, I had the great fortune to head up the creation of Boston and Chicagoâs cultural plans. I then spent two years implementing each. Pre-planning started with fundraising, goal setting, vision development, drafting an RFP, and engaging consultants. During the planning process, we built a team, trained volunteers, collaborated with artists, engaged stakeholders and the public, crafted research and synthesized data, articulated a compelling shared vision, and launched the actual plan. That plan launch then triggered a whole new set of workâwe cultivated partnerships, identified funding, devised programs, created pilots, crafted policies, adopted legislation, commissioned follow-up research, and finally institutionalized the work and communicated our accomplishments. Phew!
Just as I began my internship with Metris in September 2018, I also embarked on my engineering studies senior capstone design project. Our group had to design an art installation for the exterior of the Acopian Engineering Center at Lafayette College. Our goal for the project was to create an installation that could help Acopian and the engineering department feel more inclusive and interdisciplinary. At the time, I was still finding my footing at Metris, but based on what I knew so far, this project seemed likely to be a perfect converging of both of my majors (engineering studies and studio art) and my work at Metris. I just wasnât sure what exactly that would mean.
Two years ago, on the night of December 2nd, 2016, 36 people lost their lives in a tragic and preventable warehouse fire, which broke out in the middle of a concert on the second floor of the Ghost Ship arts performance and living space in Oakland, CA. The fire trapped concertgoers on the second floor of the warehouse space with only a single narrow stairway as an exit, as the other stairway had been blocked off for the event. The tragedy immediately reached national news. I remember the news stories updating, the slow, awful revelation of the extent of the loss of life. I also remember that as the night went on, my social media feeds began to fill with personal outpourings of grief from friends who had lost loved ones that night. This was not an anonymous, distant tragedy. This was an extension of my community.
In 2009/2010, I caught an incredible break. I had recently decided to hang out my shingle as an arts and urban planning consultant. A former choreographer/arts administrator, I was just 29 years old, had a newly minted masters of urban planning in hand, and a rock star of a mentor: Ann Markusen. The upper echelons of the National Endowment for the Arts tapped Ann to write a white paper. It was to underpin a new, flagship grantmaking program on how arts and culture could be harnessed for community revitalization and livability. When she asked me if Iâd like to work on the project, I unequivocally said yes. In many ways, that white paper has been and remains my professional calling card. It allowed me to build Metris, a business now nearly 10-years strong, and I am incredibly proud of our body of work. When giving talks around the country, folks introducing me would frequently go off-script from my official bio and ad-lib âshe, literally, wrote the book on creative placemaking.â
I always appreciate when I get the opportunity to pry myself away from my Office friendsâWord, Excel, and PowerPointâand witness creative placemaking in its natural habitat. Last year, Metris had the privilege to support Center for Community Progress in an exploration of how four cities use creative placemaking on vacant properties. A national organization, Community Progress fosters strong, equitable communities where vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties are transformed into assets for neighbors and neighborhoods. Continue reading