Creative placemaking has gained momentum across the country and region as an approach that can drive cross-sector engagement and community transformation. This is critical to an equitable economic transition in Central Appalachia. The Central Appalachian Network commissioned RSP to conduct a scan of Creative Placemaking in Central Appalachia in order to understand what creative placemaking looks like on the ground, assess the state of the field regionally, offer ideas to strengthen and accelerate current momentum, and ultimately bring more attention and resources to advance the approach of creative placemaking in the region.
What did we learn? A lot:
Central Appalachia has been employing creative placemaking for decades, if not centuries, just not necessarily by that name. This working framework helps pull together some of the key elements that distinguish creative placemaking approaches in the region, according to those who practice it.
Creative placemaking in Central Appalachia is grounded in four overarching principles:
- Engages artists and creative strategies: recognizes and uses the perspectives, tools, problem-solving capabilities of the arts to bring people together, communicate ideas, and contribute solutions.
- Employs community organizing approaches: meets people where they are, centers equitable decision-making, and empowers residents to influence and make decisions that affect their own lives.
- Honors culture, identity, and place: celebrates the diversity of cultures and livelihoods that have defined the character of a place in the past and present.
- Creates economic development opportunities: leads to growth in businesses and jobs that result from or spur additional creative endeavors.
Creative placemaking actors come from grassroots and community economic development organizations, the arts, small businesses, TA providers, field builders, and more. This inventory contains a database of actors identified in this research process.
Why does this matter?
Creative placemaking is more than one-off projects that may increase commerce. It’s a process for communities to come together and solve challenges on their own terms. Practitioners use creative placemaking to reach multipronged outcomes:
- Economic diversification: as the major economic drivers (coal, tobacco, manufacturing) decline, communities are looking to creative placemaking to foster more diverse, resilient economies.
- Equity & Inclusivity: creative placemaking can help address inequitable power dynamics.
- Placehealing: To heal the wounds of Appalachia’s history, communities use creative placemaking to build a sense of hope, pride, and trust in the region, all of which feed a more cohesive regional identity and a more positive narrative of Central Appalachia.
What’s Needed Now?
The region’s creative placemaking practitioners have a robust foundation of aligned goals and shared principles guiding their work. Here’s what they need to strengthen the field.
- Increase investments in community-designed solutions via flexible grants and seed funding.
- Train communities in artistic strategies that break down traditional power dynamics.
- Change the narrative around the relevance of the arts.
- Promote peer learning and field building coordinated through a regional creative placemaking network.
- Support artists as small business owners.
- Show the potential economic and social impact of taking the creative placemaking approach.
- Meet communities where they are to help them define where they want to be.