For years, funding placemaking projects have been central to many community development initiatives. Investing in the local arts and its integration into broader plans is also quickly becoming a key ingredient. More local and national municipalities are ensuring that the arts and cultural programming are part of their revitalization process so they can strengthen their community’s sense of identity and pride. Referred to as Creative Placemaking, this approach can provide safe, vibrant places of economic opportunities - and funders are taking notice.
For example, The City of Rahway created a Special Improvement District (SID) in its downtown using the lens of art and culture. Referred to as the Rahway Arts District, Inc. this non-profit arts and economic development organization is supporting all businesses in its Central Business District by leveraging funding for the arts to redefine its own placemaking. The result has produced a unique destination for artists to work and live and for visitors to shop and dine. Rahway has since been recognized for its efforts in establishing a thriving local economy based on arts, innovation, and sustainability through extensive grant support from the National Endowment on the Arts, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Sustainable Jersey.
Similar initiatives are being replicated throughout New Jersey. Municipalities including Bound Brook, Burlington City, Carteret, Metuchen, City of Orange and Perth Amboy are all actively engaging their residents and public officials to adopt plans and ordinances that will provide the groundwork for distinct arts district overlays that complement existing historic central business districts.
In late 2014, the Kresgue Foundation— a $3 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and investing, awarded the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) with $3.5 million in seed funding. In return, LISC will invest in arts-related businesses and cultural activities in some of the nation’s most distressed neighborhoods. One of the goals of this partnership is to develop Creative Placemaking best practices that can help direct efforts in other places, and ensure future funding will expand to new communities across the country.
Foundations and government entities are discovering that arts and culture investments do more than stimulate growth. They also respond to the needs of a community’s long-time residents. By embedding the arts within community development plans, municipalities can be more strategic about how to help their residents build their place in a lasting, unique and creative way.
This post was originally published on the New Jersey State League of Municipalities website in January 2015.