Can working with artists and arts groups help community developers create bold, inventive solutions to existing challenges, and breathe new life into ways of doing work? Participation in the Community Development Investments program, supported six organizations in developing creative placemaking projects that could help them more effectively achieve their missions. During that time, PolicyLink conducted a research and documentation project to measure the progress, immediate outcomes, and impacts of those projects. The central questions for the research were about the consequences of incorporating arts and culture strategies — to specify, track, analyze, and understand what difference this new engagement with the arts has made for community development work.
Arts and Cultural Strategies for Community Development
The PolicyLink research framework was organized around four themes, each with a number of guiding questions:
- Working with Artists to Deepen Impact: How did these organizations develop collaborative practices with artists? And have these significantly changed the ways in which community preservation and revitalization takes place?
- Advancing Community Engagement and Organizing: How did these organizations experiment with new approaches to community engagement through arts and culture? Did this process build collective power and amplify resident voice, agency, and influence?
- Strengthening and Connecting Social Fabric: Did these creative placemaking projects contribute to cultural resilience or enhance community ties? Did they help these organizations more effectively deliver community outcomes such as health, economic security, and safety?
- Organizational Change and Evolution: How did these experiences change the outlook, approach, and internal structures of these organizations? How did they deeply incorporate these arts and cultural strategies without succumbing to mission drift?
“Learning agendas” were written for each site which included questions customized by and for each site, honing in on their unique contexts, issues, and interests. Over the course of three years, PolicyLink collaborated with the six organizations, their artist collaborators and community partners, and ArtPlace America staff to collect data and contextualize outcomes to provide answers to these questions. PolicyLink conducted monthly check-in calls; utilized VoiceThread to create audio/video discussions among the CDI cohort; organized two convenings in Oakland, CA and Los Angeles, CA; interviewed staff, artists, and community leaders; and more, to complete the research and documentation process. A team of local correspondents also contributed substantial research, analysis, and conducted focus groups for this project.
PolicyLink also brought in an artist into the CDI Research & Documentation process to enhance the findings through creative documentation. Photographer and videographer Chris Johnson is conducting a complementary video-based project with participants in each CDI community to surface themes related to the personal meaning of this work.
Each of the strategies below elaborates on our research takeaways, and are intended to support non-arts organizations to learn how to pursue this work.