Article by Leslie Braunstein published by Urban Land magazine, November 25, 2013 – Cities need look no further than Chicago’s “Bean,” Anish Kapoor’s iconic Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park, to realize how investment in the arts can pay off in terms of urban place making, as well as in economic terms.
Rocco Landesman, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), sees the arts as one of the keys to America’s economic recovery. Landesman, who retired at the end of 2012, told Urban Land in mid-2011: “Historically, unemployment has been solved by citizens picking up and redistributing themselves to where the jobs are. But today, with so many underwater mortgages and such widespread unemployment, that is simply not possible. So we need to create new economic activity in every community. Art does that.”
Following the premise that most art is place based, Landesman directed NEA to strengthen and expand a program it has funded since 1986, the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD). This partnership between the American Architectural Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors brought mayors and design professionals together for three-day symposiums six to eight times a year in different cities, preparing mayors to become what the MICD terms the “chief urban designers of their cities.”
Landesman spent part of his three-year tenure at NEA touring the cities and programs that came out of these conferences. “The arts put feet on the streets, which is the most important thing you can do to improve public safety. The arts also create brand identity for places, and they drive local economies.”
Landesman was no economist; he was a celebrated Broadway theater owner and producer, best known for the Tony-award winning hits Angels in America and The Producers. But as an entrepreneur, Landesman had a clear vision of what makes America’s economy tick. His views are supported by a 2012 study, Arts and Economic Prosperity IV, sponsored by Americans for the Arts. This study revealed that the estimated $61 billion in 2010 spending by nonprofit arts and culture organizations leveraged an additional $74 billion in event-related spending by arts audiences—parking, dining, shopping, and even babysitting—and supported more than 4 million full time–equivalent jobs.
In 2010, NEA launched the MICD 25th Anniversary Initiative (MICD25) to support creative place-making efforts across the country. MICD25 was conceived as a grant program to help communities shape their social, physical, and economic character by engaging the arts. That year, NEA’s MICD25 program awarded 21 grants totaling $3 million.
In 2011, NEA incorporated MICD25 into a new initiative, called Our Town, which supports creative place making with goals that include
- improving the quality of life;
- encouraging greater creative activity;
- fostering stronger community identity and a sense of place; and
- revitalizing economic development.
In 2011, NEA awarded $6.575 million in grants to 51 communities in 34 states. To date, NEA has supported 190 projects in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with total funding exceeding $16 million.
“In addition to the 190 primary grantees, more than 1,370 other organizations have been official partners in these projects,” notes Jason Schupbach, NEA director of design programs, who has led the Our Town program since its inception. “Each year we have had at least 250 communities applying for these grants. Many of our grantees are looking at how arts can address community ills.” (For more information on applying for grants, visit http://arts.gov/grants.)
To read the remainder of this article, visit: http://urbanland.uli.org/planning-design/nea-grants-support-culture-based-place-making/.