Introduction to Creative Placemaking

by guest blogger Leonardo Vazquez

Creative Placemaking can have a big impact on communities and offers opportunities for artists.



Yarn bombing takes over and beautifies Glassboro, NJ


Like other art forms, creative placemaking can seem simple, but is in fact complex. It is easy to do, but hard to do well. Creative placemakers can agree to a single set of goals, and have many ways to reach them.

Creative placemaking, in short, is about helping communities be better off through arts and cultural activities. What does better off mean? Usually, it means that as many people in the community as possible feel that their quality of life will improve. That more people can enhance their standards of living, or see ways to do that when they want. That more people feel emotionally connected to and invested in the place. That they can be free to express who they are, and still feel respected or valued.

In creative placemaking, local arts and cultural activities are vehicles for making this happen. They are fueled by the creativity that bubbles up from collaborators and flows through the process. Artists (which includes everyone who has the courage to express their creativity publicly, not just those who get paid for it) and culture bearers are pilots, guides and sometimes the captains of these efforts.

No one person, organization or group can do everything themselves. Collaboration is the medium creative placemakers use to produce what most people see as murals, sculptures, events, and other artistic work in communities.

It may be easier to understand creative placemaking by what it isn’t. Creative placemaking is not about doing art for art’s sake. It’s also not about trying to change everything to “create a sense of place”.

Every place has a “sense of place”. It’s blended from the countless beliefs and behaviors of all the people who inhabit the set of spaces we call a place. Nobody “makes” a place by themselves. We all do it together — sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. Creative placemaking is about being more mindful, intentional and collaborative about growing better places.


Hackensack Arts Walk

Hackensack Arts Walk — A usually empty alley gets transformed into a pop-up art gallery in Hackensack, NJ


What is the difference between creative placemaking and public art?

The difference is motivation. If your goal is to produce a great piece of art outdoors, then you’re doing public art. But if your goal is to address social, cultural, economic or environmental issues in part, but not entirely, through a great piece of outdoor art — you’re doing creative placemaking. If you’re doing it “for” people in the place, it’s public art. But if you’re doing the work “with” people in the place, it’s creative placemaking.

How long do placemaking projects take?

Placemaking projects — like yarn bombing or parklets — can happen in a matter of weeks. But placemaking  is more likely to take months or years. That’s because you’re not just doing projects. You’re trying to impact what people know, believe and do. And the more change you’re trying to make, the longer it takes.

What should artists know before they get involved with placemaking?

It’s important to understand that it’s not going to be like other types of arts practices. You, like everyone else, have ideas for how your place could be “better”. And you might have a clear vision that you could translate into a painting, sculpture, story or song. But in creative placemaking, you don’t sell your vision to collaborators. You share yours, and they share theirs. And you may end up with a new vision that you create and nurture together.

If an artist wants to get involved, how should they start?

Start by searching the internet for the term creative placemaking and your community. You may be surprised who’s leading the efforts. Sometimes it’s arts councils. But it also could be local government agencies, schools, merchant groups, or others.

If nothing comes up, check with your most local arts council or arts agency (which might be a county or regional entity). See if they’re involved with creative placemaking. Some people don’t like the term creative placemaking, so they might say arts in communities, cultural policy, or something similar-sounding. Most people are speaking the same language, just with different dialects.

If you’d like to be part of a bigger community of creative placemakers, please join us at Creative Placemaking Communities. Members have access to online forums, webinars, leadership summits and other education in the field of creative placemaking. Interested participants may also earn a Certificate in Creative Placemaking through our programs.


Guest blogger Leonardo Vazquez is a creative placemaker, community economic development planner, educator, author, and leadership coach. He is the founder of Creative Placemaking Communities.


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