How can we tap creativity as a renewable resource to power transformative community change?
We all want to live in a healthy community. However, despite decades of investment across multiple sectors many communities are still struggling to thrive. Are there ways we could think differently about community development to solve intractable problems and catalyze systemic change? What role do artists and creativity play in that effort?
In 2018 we worked with Springboard for the Arts to develop a new framework for integrating creativity-centered and people-centered development in the service of strong, healthy, and resilient communities. Creative People Power draws on research and practice from creative placemaking, community development and grassroots organizing to offer a take on creative community development that responds to the demands of our current moment and yet is based in enduring principles.
Listen to Laura Zabel from Springboard talk about Creative People Power on the radio, or keep reading for more.
For decades, community development has focused on addressing issues and problems on a sector-by-sector basis, largely through expert-led processes and top-down structures. This approach to community development was informed by the idea that communities were like machines. Now, we're beginning to realize that communities are dynamic, interconnected wholes, not collections of isolated
parts or problems. They are more like ecosystems than machines. This has radical implications for how we think about supporting healthy communities.
This "community as ecosystem" view has led to awareness among community developers of two “natural resources” that are essential to community health and change efforts—people and creativity. However, to date people-centered and creativity-centered approaches to community change have been pursued as separate strategies, with different champions, philosophies, and funding sources.
Building people power is essential to sustained community health because it strengthens the ability of people to keep improving the places where they live on an ongoing basis, whether or not major investments or plans are being implemented. Integrating creativity--of artists and other people--means that civic initiatives are more likely to be imaginative and engaging, and think beyond the status quo of what already exists.
Creative people power is an energy source available in all communities, but it isn’t always immediately visible or readily available for community change efforts. As with other sources of renewable energy, such as wind or solar, tapping creative people power requires two steps: first, recognizing its value, and then creating the systems to channel it towards community impact.
Structurally, harnessing creative people power requires things like:
- Hubs and homes for creative people and ideas
- Support for creative people to make a living and a life
- Support for the implementation of lots of creative ideas
- The engagement of artists in civic contexts.
Curious about how to bring creative people power to your community? Read the report for questions and tips including:
- Assessing where there may be natural hubs and homes for creative civic activity in your community
- Identifying supportive resources that currently exist for other residents that could be adapted for artists.
- Thinking about how can we provide incentives, or remove barriers, to enable people to quickly and easily put their creative ideas into action.