Anna Francis – Co-founder of the Portland Inn Project and a Director at AirSpace Gallery
What we do now: what do we do now?
The temperature in the room:
I was asked to come and talk about and think about creative practice, in the context of creative placemaking. A series of conversations with varying themes took place in different corners, and I felt that I could have been asked to take part in any and all of them.
In my conversation space there wasn’t an appetite to answer the pre-set questions that were put forward. That happens with humans sometimes, people don’t want to do what we want them to do, or what we think might be useful. Rosie Lynch (our room’s facilitator) felt the temperature in the room, and let the conversation bide.
Part of the ecology:
Instead, people told stories of their lives, and about how they had noticed things about the world around them, some people were driven by wanting to make something better, sometimes people had felt their way towards a creative way of living, and others described a set of actions that led them, almost deliberately towards creative practice.
A number of people talked about how they brought the whole of themselves to their work, and that being a mother, a neighbour, an activist, a teacher – a human, were all part of the picture, and also that individuals are part of an ecology, but that those present recognised that their creative practice was central to who they are in the world, it was important to those in the room that everyone might have a stake in that.
So, who gets to do it (CREATIVE PRACTICE/CREATIVE PLACEMAKING)?
I’ll come back to that.
What is creative placemaking?:
One of the big questions across the day seemed to be: what is creative placemaking anyway? This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Just a few days before the forum, my collaborator Rebecca Davies and I had a discussion about this term ‘placemaking’ and why we are suspicious of it.
The term placemaking, often framed within development or regeneration contexts, emerged around 45 years ago, and was originally ‘coined by Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces*’ and initially meant to approach development in a people-centred way; with high levels of civic engagement and social innovation. More lately, the term has been appropriated by developers as shorthand for something that looks on the surface like inclusion, but where if you scratch just a little, can be found to be anything but. Placemaking in these contexts feels problematic because it suggests a gap or a lack or an absence of something. A space waiting to be filled.
If a place needs making there is a suggestion that there was no place there before, or that the place that was there needs fixing or wiping out. Having worked with communities in places of change, both Rebecca and I know that it can be dangerous for a community if their place finds itself labelled as needing making, in some cases this means clearance and cleansing. It can also mean that planned changes are for someone else and not for the people of a place. None of this is what it was supposed to mean to begin with.
Creative placemaking is different to that.
Creative placemaking is an evolving area of practice. From the conversations that took place at the forum, it is clear that our shared understanding of what we mean when we talk about it is in the process of being defined. There were many different and overlapping understandings of the term: we found we could be talking about culture lead development, co-creation, neighbourhood democracy, grassroots decision-making, people lead change, social arts-embedded in place.
Through a variety of methods and stories Creative Placemaking was modelled across the forum. To name just one example: the tour of Midsteeple Quarter, a demonstration of what can be done to transform our failing high streets if local people are supported to find solutions, is a case study in Creative Placemaking that must be shared with other towns and cities; who are all searching for answers.
And Back to the Question of Who gets to do it?:
Can creative placemaking be about involving people of a place in the change that they want to see for themselves? Can it not be about gentrification, and pushing people outside? In the room that I was in, underneath the individual stories, we heard about the ways that creative practice can help us to build bridges across difference and across sector. There was recognition of the friction caused by seeing creative practice as something that just artists do, and that there is great power in using creative ways to collaborate and form partnerships, which enable shared visioning and decision-making about how citizens can make change for themselves and their places.
In my neighbourhood, we are finding ways, through creative practice, of making long term plans for our neighbourhood. We are writing a 100 Year Plan together, community led but with solid local partnerships, with the aim to make a better place for the people that live here. Creative Practice is enabling a smoother process to emerge, and enabling more people in the area to be involved.
Thank you so much to The Stove Network for providing such a lot to think about.
* Placemaking: What is it? [online: 2016] McConnell Foundation. Available at: https://mcconnellfoundation.ca/placemaking/