Laying Out the Territory of Creative Placemaking

Laying Out the Territory of Creative Placemaking

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Edited transcript of talk given by Matt Baker at kNOw One Place Creative Placemaking Forum in Dumfries on 23 September 2022


Today is about us all working together and bringing our different experience and insights to further shape the role of creativity and creative practice within placemaking. I’ll come back to a working definition later – but before I go on, I want to just say something about creativity in general. It’s very important to underline that when I’m using the word creativity I’m meaning a way of working that can be used by anyone…not solely by ‘professional creatives’…but also by people running community groups, planners, health professionals, council officers…anyone!

There is a part of the Creative Placemaking territory that supports the development and sustainability of a local Creative and Cultural sector creating jobs and career development…but I’ll come back to that.

I think the single most important idea that we will be working on today is the idea of co-creation, which is fundamental to a holistic view of creativity as practised by everyone. Co-creation means working collaboratively with everyone who has a stake in a place or situation to come up with an approach that everyone is agreed on; and there is also a role for everyone to be part of delivering that approach. This means setting aside the way so many things happen in our world – with a pre-determined plan based on evidence gathered from previous situations that are supposed to be similar. I’d argue that this old logic of top-down control, based on evidence from elsewhere is what has led us into the crisis we find ourselves in globally and locally – we have to change the way we do things and empower people again to take responsibility for their own lives and places – the disempowering mantra of ‘someone else is in charge’ has been exposed as a dangerous lie that perpetuates inequality. It is time for us all to act – and to do so we need to collaborate, we need to take risks and we need to listen deeply to each other and understand our needs and our differences. Nothing will be perfect first time, all solutions will need to be remade – that is the creative process….but we have to get started, not spend years waiting for the perfect plan to emerge. Getting started is what Creative Placemaking is all about – small things at first but a gradual building of trust and alliances that will bring about powerful change for places and individuals.

Traditionally there has always been a  tension between the places where art and creativity act. I like to think of this in terms of an ocean – some art takes place in the middle of the ocean where it is part of influencing big ideas, ideas which in the ocean analogy shape the currents and eventually turn into waves which reach the shore, but there is no consciousness or intention from the artists about where the waves will end up, the important thing is to be part of that bigger conversation. At the other extreme you have art making which happens on the beaches where the waves break – where there is immediate impact on people and places. I am not making a judgement here about whether one is more important than the other, but I do suggest that they ARE different and that as a society we need to be bold enough to assert that difference in the way we think about how we resource creativity. For me the idea of co-creation is critical here, which, in art terms, could translate as participation – could we re-make our broken society with a radical shift to participation in the way we think about creativity and maybe move in similar direction to the way that sport is supported with funding spilt between supporting ‘participation in and development of sport’ and ‘elite sport’ for people who will win medals? Opening-up significant funds for art in community settings would certainly allow more people to make a living from their creativity and help communities to thrive in many different ways. In recent times we have been seeing shift towards ‘art where the waves break’ with national initiatives like the Sistema community music projects in Stirling, Aberdeen and Govanhill and more recently the Creative Communities project, Culture Collective and Creative Scotland’s new strategic plan. One of the common threads of debate around this is the need for creativity to work more closely with other sectors and draw in resources through this….a shift towards positioning creativity as a fundamental part of how our society functions…rather than something which is an additional extra for those who are interested or can afford it. This is the context of our forum today which puts forward the concept of Creative Placemaking as a bridge that can connect the arts to common ground with other concerns in our society such as community planning and development, Local democracy, community wealth building, regeneration, education, health and wellbeing. But this concept of Creative Placemaking is not fixed, it holds the principle of co-creation at its core and the purpose of our forum today is to be part of examining, testing and building it together.

The principles or Creative Placemaking as they are emerging in Scotland are around the role of creativity and creative practice in Placemaking more generally. Placemaking itself is at root about collaboration, following Scottish Government’s ‘Place Principle’ which charges all agencies working in an area to come together and agree how they could work in complimentary ways for the benefit of the place they are in, rather than focus on individual objectives for say health or education – instead looking at these as part of a collective and collaborative response. Currently there is a significant focus on the role of communities in being part of shaping plans for their places through the creation of Community Place Plans – which are increasingly required to release capital funding for the physical changes that places need. But its important to say here though that placemaking is more than physical changes – it is health and wellbeing, skills, enterprise, climate justice, diversity and inclusion, local democracy…the whole thing!

So what’s the added value of Creative Placemaking?

Firstly, Creative Placemaking is about inclusion, the co-creation thing of genuinely involving everyone in all parts of the process…and critically creative projects work from the ground up – reaching out to everyone in the community and supporting often overlooked voices to be heard.

This takes us to the visioning bit – creative thinking is fundamentally imaginative…projecting into the ‘what could be’. Creative Placemaking supports communities to imagine better. But not just the ‘better’ that you’d get if you sent people with clipboards into an area to ask people what they wanted. The creative process builds trust to the point where people feel empowered and inspired to speculate about what they ‘really want. Adrian Sinclair in his brilliant talk as part of the lead up today talks about creativity ‘modelling change’ referencing a project that he was part of where people turfed over their whole street for week and experienced what it was like to have shared recreational space on their doorsteps…people being empowered to find out what could be possible.

Creative Placemaking also initiates unexpected partnerships by drawing people and agencies into creative projects like the turfed street – partnerships that then persist because everyone gets something positive from being part of them.

Creative Placemaking is inherently innovative – bringing forward plans that are different to the same old solutions.

There is an age-old pattern with traditional place projects that an initial burst of energy and enthusiasm is often followed by a period of silence where ‘decision-makers’ disappear behind closed doors to ‘get on with the plan’ and everyone else is left wondering if this was really anything to do with them at all.  Taking the creative route means that maintaining the community momentum is actually as important as anything else – creatives will keep communicating about the process and understand the need for visible signs of progress – ongoing creative projects, small physical changes and/or ongoing groups and workshops are ideal to keep the energy live and people actively engaged as partners.

A fundamental part of this is also the support for the Creative and Cultural sector local to the place where the work is happening. Creative Placemaking projects develop expertise and capacity in working with creative professionals and start to become a source of ongoing work for a cluster of freelancers and creative businesses locally. Working in this way also models and creates opportunities for local people to start creative careers for themselves through being inspired, seeing others making a living in this way and gaining skills, information and networks. Such work is critical to bringing more people into the Creative sector who are traditionally underrepresented within it.

The immediate context for the kNOw One Place forum is built around current national and local projects from the South of Scotland.

The key national projects we will be drawing on are the ones I mentioned earlier – Creative Communities and Culture Collective.

Creative Communities is an initiative managed by Inspiring Scotland which in its first round supported 46 communities around the country to work with artists and co-create projects for the benefit of local people. The premise was to start with community groups and ask them to imagine projects that required artists to help deliver them. Creative Communities has recently published a strategic plan for their next phase which proposes a staged series of opportunities which taken together could neatly form a pipeline for groups and projects to progress into the Culture Collective programme. With us today we have Erica Judge who leds Creative Communities for Inspiring Scotland and also people who have been part of delivering Creative Communities projects.

Culture Collective grew out of the pandemic – with so many creative freelancers out of work during lockdown and communities struggling also, the simple idea was hatched to build a support programme that paid freelancers to work in community settings. In the Culture Collective example, the Scot Govt scheme was managed by Creative Scotland who asked locally-embedded arts organisations to come forward with ideas for how they could deliver this in their own area. There are currently 26 Culture Collective projects active in Scotland who are coordinated as a national network by Kathryn Welch who is here today along with Karen Dick from Creative Scotland and many people who are working on Culture Collective projects all around the country.

The Stove is honoured to be delivering one of the Culture Collective projects – ours is called What We Do Now and is a networked approach to delivering Creative Placemaking for our region with a community anchor group in each of 5 towns across Dumfries and Galloway supported to host two creative practitioners to work with a section of the community that they have identified. Through creative practice What We Do Now aims to co-develop new future visions and practical projects with each of the place hubs, practitioners and communities. This project has been running for 15 months so far and has now received continuation funding. Yesterday participants in the Dumfries and Galloway project sat down with local partners from other sectors and colleagues from the Scottish Borders who are working in similar ways – including people working on the Culture Collective project in Hawick delivered by Alchemy Film and Arts. We spent the day facilitated by the brilliant Rosie Lynch from Workhouse Union in Killkenny, Ireland and worked with the five themes of the kNOw One Place forum sharing what we have learned and working on a series of principles, values and methodologies that could underpin an ongoing Creative Placemaking Network.

This is what we have come up with and you all have a copy – massive respect to Martin and Katie for all their work last night in designing and making the prints – we hope these will be a useful platform to build on (or tear down!) today.

Download the manifesto

There were about 50 people working together yesterday it was a dynamic and challenging process and collective decisions were taken about the way we worked together resulted in people sometimes talking and sometimes walking in groups and expressing themselves in words, drawings and even song. We all went through a prioritisation process at the end to identify what people felt were the most important principles, values and methodologies of working in Creative Placemaking. Massive thanks to everyone who contributed so brilliantly and generously yesterday.

If you look at your diagram you’ll see that the number one statements in each theme are represented as being the closest to the centre… closest to the essence or core values of the work. I should just say that the reason there is only one entry under Society and Activism is that we just ran out time for that session. For this work to be true to its own principles of co-creation and empowerment – the work yesterday has to be seen as just one step on a journey of discovery and one of constant renewal and remaking. This is what is challenging about connecting this work into existing structures – it must stay fluid in order to be true to itself. But perhaps this is also an essential attribute for the times we live in – how can we plan with certainty in such an uncertain world and maybe the world has to finally embrace fluidity in the way we think and plan together. Please do keep the documents with you today – they may serve as a compass as we navigate this terrain together. Please be creative with them – add to them, tear bits out of them and stick them back together….everything is a work in progress. As someone once said to me at school a good way of describing something is as ‘finally unfinished’.

I’d just like to finish by showing a piece of work made through the What We Do Now network in Stranraer – but as a prelude to that I’d just like to say a little about what I see when I look at work co-created in communities –  I see the chats, the new friendships formed, the deals made in families to make the space to be there, conversations about shared places and people, the advice given on local issues, the dreams of change, the new skills learned and the new understandings of who we are as people. Through this lens we see something fundamental about this approach to creativity and culture. We see how taking an active part in making culture, as participants, gives us so much more than the satisfaction of self-expression and making something to show to others. It creates new connections in communities, new stories and knowledge that bind people together in deep ways. Ways that combat the isolation and anxiety that plagues our society and leads to breakdowns in people, families and the fabric of community that should support us all.

As well as health, and skills, and justice benefits, these projects can spark new confidence and ideas that lead to new projects to improve places and sometimes even new enterprises and businesses. Research study after research study has shown active participation in creativity leads to happier people and happier places.  And yet we have all grown up with the idea that culture is not made by the likes of us, it is made by special people and our role is just to admire it, not be part of making it. Projects like this give us a glimpse into another possible world. A world where it is completely normal for everyone to be creative and be part of making the culture of Scotland.

Imagine if at school all our creativity had been nurtured, be that in singing, gardening, cooking, den making or making up stories. Imagine if, when we got depressed or anxious we were encouraged to join a group building a boat or a choir rather than be given pills? Imagine if every town and village had a community festival where everyone took part and it was one of the ways that places welcomed new people into being part of their future. Imagine too what such a vision would mean for those working in the arts. Long term jobs working alongside communities, jobs that would support other parts of their careers and help make amazing art that would put us on a world stage as a country, where we value things differently and put people first.

We’re now going to watch Song for Stranraer which was a project facilitated by artist Hope London. The video features images from a colouring book which was distributed around the community called ‘What Could Happen Here’ and featured line drawing of buildings highlighted by local people as needing attention. One of these buildings is the former George Hotel which is now the subject of a major capital redevelopment programme as a community and cultural centre – Song for Stranraer fronted the funding bid for the project which also included images from the colouring book. As a result of the success of arts projects in Stranraer the redevelopment project is now employing and ‘Arts and Engagement Officer’ who is charged with building on momentum in the community to ensure that there the town is engaged and ready for the new building when it is complete.

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