Arts, Culture & Creativity
How the Arts and Cultural Sector Strengthen Cultural Values and Preserve Heritage and History
One sign of a healthy community is its simultaneous ability to preserve and invent its culture — that is, to conserve its history and heritage while developing new expressions for current times. Often, the concept of preservation is interpreted as meaning stagnation when, in fact, heritage and history can be the basis for innovation and advancement. Moreover, heritage and history are frequently essential sources of meaning that give a place character and resonance. In a country as diverse and complex as the United States, the histories of many communities are layered and contested. Groups settle and move away, each leaving some remnant of who they were and why they had come to that particular place. Sometimes they leave voluntarily. Sometimes they are forced to leave. Sometimes they do not leave at all. All of these groups — present and departed, rich and poor — have stories to tell, stories that can be collected, conserved, and celebrated. The articulation of those stories can significantly contribute to the planning process by preserving, celebrating, challenging, and inventing community identity.
#1: Compiling the history and heritage of a place requires time, resources, and commitment; there may be conflicts among community narratives, and these may take time to resolve.
#2: The involvement of trusted community-based organizations — such as churches, schools, art centers, ethnic associations, and community socialservice agencies can be key to the advancement and preservation of culture and heritage.
#3: It often takes an outsider to catalyze identification of and discussions about important aspects of a community that some residents might take for granted.
#4: Using venues such as parks, open spaces, and public streetscapes as places for arts and cultural expressions can be an effective way to integrate history and heritage into the everyday lived experience.
Despite the importance of history and heritage, too often both community residents and planners do not dedicate sufficient attention and resources to preserving spaces and objects, documenting stories from elders, and recording as well as facilitating a community's contemporary cultural practices. There are many policies, ordinances, and regulations on the books intended to identify, preserve, and protect heritage (from national to local). Still, tangible and especially intangible history and heritage frequently are not valued fully until they are in peril. Groups with deep roots in a community sometimes do not reckon with the potential evanescence of their heritage until they feel threatened by new groups or interests that they perceive to be encroaching on their physical or cultural territory. In the heat of new development or dramatic demographic shifts, this sense of imperilment can lead to bitter conflicts, often along racial and ethnic lines, as for instance when various groups seek to claim or reclaim a place's historical identity. Though such conflicts can be found across the United States, particularly in cities, there are also places where history and heritage have been preserved, tensions have been eased, and people have become more respectful of the cultural legacy of others and more conscious of ways to preserve and enrich their own. Moreover, these efforts to preserve, affirm, and advance cultural heritage can have important beneficial impacts on attempts to build community and create place identities. Many of these examples involve arts and cultural activity and the leadership of artists, historians, folklorists, anthropologists, planners, and a range of community stakeholders.
In the following text, each point is discussed briefly with the intention of reminding planners of the importance of culture and heritage in good planning practice.
Keypoint #1: Compiling the History and Heritage of a Place
Diversity — the tolerance and celebration of difference — is often the hallmark of innovative, creative cities.1 In most cases, the history of diverse communities is layered and includes the experiences of different groups. In representing that history, capturing different voices and experiences is essential. However, compiling the history and heritage of a place can be contentious, political, and even sometimes painful. In many communities, diversity is complicated by racism, discrimination, competition for resources, and fear of change. By incorporating arts and culture activities into their practice, planners can help community residents share their stories; participate in learning processes; establish or reestablish healthy relationships among diverse groups of people; improve a community's overall understanding of history and heritage of place; foster tolerance and celebration of identity; and possibly provide opportunities for community residents to more actively participate in community visioning and planning processes. Specific examples of efforts to collect and share history and contemporary experiences follow. These examples can be instructive for planners as they work directly on issues of preservation but also as they continue to develop and incorporate new tools in their efforts to improve communities more generally.
Snapshots of Community Life in Writing, Photographs, and Video
The University of Texas (UT) Humanities Institute used a combination of writing, photography, and video to capture the diversity of community residents across the city of Austin and central Texas. While this project was not led by planners, it contributed to a shared understanding and celebration of diversity — an important first step to community visioning and goal setting. Between 2001 and 2003, the UT Humanities Institute invited community residents in Austin and surrounding areas to submit "brief personal stories using any language, form or style related to one of six topics: 1) my family's history in Austin, 2) where I live, 3) the best day of my life, 4) what I really need, 5) my family's most treasured possession, and 6) what I see when I look at Austin." More than 900 people of all ages and ethnicities responded. These English and Spanish stories in written (hand- and typewritten), visual (photographs and video), and oral form (video) provide snapshots of life in the region. In 2003, the UT Humanities Institute, in partnership with the Austin History Center Association, compiled 127 of the individual stories into a book, Writing Austin's Lives: A Community Portrait. This book represents a living history of the diverse and culturally rich population: "people of every age, every neighborhood, every ethnicity; people in comfort, in transition, in trouble; experienced writers, and those who never thought they had a story to tell, or someone to listen."2 This effort captured both historical and contemporary life in Austin and also galvanized residents around the identity of the city. This has implications for planners concerned with heritage and the meaning of a place, as well as for those concerned with civic engagement.
Community Empowerment Through Storytelling
Storytelling methodology is an empowering tool that planners can use to develop an understanding of a community's history, values, and needs. Various methods for storytelling have been documented amply and are worth incorporating into a planner's toolbox. The examples here offer opportunities for creative expression through imagery, sound, and writing. In addition to playing a role in preservation and documenting heritage, these tools are useful for initiating change and also for identifying the kinds of changes a community would like to see. For example, the Bay Area Video Coalition (www.bavc.org), a nonprofit media arts center in San Francisco, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's New Routes to Community Health, developed a digital storytelling project, Abriendo las Cajas (Opening Boxes), intended to raise awareness about domestic violence in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland. Using simple media tools, participants created films of family members to share their stories and struggles with domestic violence with others in their community. The process of storytelling not only helped people document a difficult aspect of their history and understand the social impacts of domestic violence but also provided a means for "selfexpression, peer sharing, and family healing to [abet] community empowerment and change."3 The final audio and video stories were shared on television, broadcast on the radio, screened in health-center waiting rooms, publicized at community events, and made available online (www. bavc.org/index.php?option=com_seyret&Itemid=1047&task =videodirectlink&id=19).
Another example of storytelling that can be instructive to planners involves the Neighborhood Story Project (NSP), which operates in partnership with the University of New Orleans. NSP started in 2004 as a book-making project through which New Orleans residents could tell their histories and share their experiences and aspirations in their own voices. One of many notable NSP efforts is the documentation of the Nine Times Social and Pleasure Club, one of the oldest second-line clubs in the Ninth Ward. (Second line is a quintessential community-based New Orleans music and dance tradition and art form — vastly important to New Orleans culture and identity.4 Work on the book began in 2005, before Hurricane Katrina struck. After Hurricane Katrina the group came together again, with support from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, to finish the book while also rebuilding their lives and the club. The book, Coming Out the Door for the Ninth Ward, was released in 2006 with a big community celebration and the first parade organized in the Ninth Ward since Katrina. In 2007, the book was chosen as a citywide reading selection by One Book One New Orleans, a campaign for literacy and community. Another NSP undertaking is the Seventh Ward Speaks oral-history project, which involves neighbors sharing the stories of their lives with one another. As part of the project, interview content is used on posters that are displayed throughout the neighborhood, helping to bring neighbors together and also providing a greater sense of community identity for the Seventh Ward. The NSP will turn the collection of histories into a book.5
Highlighting the History and Heritage of Place: A Deliberative Process
City Lore, a nonprofit membership organization located in New York City, works with community residents to foster and protect the city's cultural heritage. Members "believe that cultural diversity is a positive social value to be protected and encouraged; that authentic democracy requires active participation in cultural life, not just passive consumption of cultural products; and that our cultural heritage is a resource for improving our quality of life." Together with the Municipal Art Society of New York, City Lore developed a project called Place Matters to "identify, celebrate, interpret and protect places that tell the history and anchor the traditions of New York's many communities." Through a public nomination and survey process of places across the city, public forums and workshops, and the production of maps and other publications, Place Matters works directly with city residents to identify and understand the historical and cultural significance of specific places. The organization also offers cultural tours to educate people about the history, culture, and memories of different places across the city.6
Initiatives like this provide an iterative and deliberative process of interpretation and reinterpretation of the meaning of places and are imperative for helping to make relevant and appropriate determinations about why places matter and how they should be treated.
Celebrating Marin County's Agricultural History
The agriculture community is an important, if not central, element of life in Marin County, California. Since the mid-1800s, working farms and ranches have contributed to the local landscape and economy. In November 2007, the county adopted an innovative plan update that integrates the overarching theme of sustainability into its six mandatory elements and 13 additional elements. This update builds on Marin County's legacy of sustainable agriculture by addressing not only the preservation of agricultural lands and resources but also agricultural viability, sustainable farming practices, and community food security. As a way to further educate the community about the important contribution of Marin's farm families to the community and as a way to celebrate this contribution, the Marin County Community Development Agency and the Marin Agricultural Land Trust produced an addendum to the Marin Countywide Plan: Marin Farm Families: Stories & Recipes. This document provides an overview of the values and objectives of individuals across the county who are responsible for reforming agricultural practices. It tells their stories through their words and recipes, and it provides images of them working on their farms, growing fruits and vegetables, raising beef and dairy cows, farming oysters, making cheese, and raising flocks of sheep. It showcases "the importance of agriculture to the County, and [supports] the efforts of Marin agricultural organizations, including Marin Agricultural Land Trust and others who work in partnership with farming families on issues of conservation, marketing, education, and natural resource restoration."7
Keypoint #2: Importance of Community-Based Organizations in Fostering Culture, Heritage, and Place
When a planner desires a community's input for the purpose of understanding culture and heritage and revitalizing place, the involvement of trusted community-based organizations — such as churches, schools, ethnic associations, community social service agencies, and other places where people gather — can be a key to success. Community-based arts and cultural organizations are often closely connected with the community they serve and have an intimate understanding of the community's culture, heritage and identity.
Local Historical Associations
Local historical preservation associations, which are often small, deeply rooted, passion-fueled nonprofit organizations, can play important roles in fostering appreciation for culture, heritage, and place. In California, the Pajaro Valley Historical Association has been at the forefront of consistently documenting historically important places and persons in the region, which is dominated by an agricultural economy. Documentation has included a broad spectrum of the valley's history, including the stories of past and present immigrant groups — such as Portuguese, Croatians, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, and more recently specific indigenous groups from Mexico and Central America — as well as migrant groups such as African Americans from the southern United States. The association collects artifacts and photographs, creates oral history projects, and conducts historical tours. In addition to being mindful about things and places that have official state or national designation, the Pajaro Valley Historical Association also pays attention to places that and people who are deeply significant to the local community but may not have any official designation. These types of organizations can be essential to planners in their efforts to address heritage and ensure that future development is culturally responsive.
Ashe Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans
Ashe Cultural Arts Center is a nonprofit arts organization that utilizes arts and culture activities for neighborhood and economic development purposes to revive and reclaim a historically significant corridor in Central City New Orleans: Oretha Castle-Haley Boulevard, formerly known as Dryades Street. Professional and nonprofessional artists use the center as a gathering place to "not only commemorate African American contributions to New Orleans, but also to create new performing and visual art expressing the present conditions and aspirations of African Americans and other New Orleaneans."
Using a combination of storytelling, poetry, music, dance, photography, and visual art, Ashe celebrates the life and cultural traditions of the surrounding neighborhood and "immortalizes" these traditions in art.8 Ashe also is currently working with other organizations and the city to redevelop vacant properties for community cultural uses. Beyond its official work as a cultural center, social service provider, and player in the economic revitalization of the corridor, the organization is a community hub — a safe place where people can be heard and recognized as active, contributing citizens.9 The organization has a good read on the pulse of the community. In this capacity, it plays an important role both as a validating hub for residents and as an essential entity to be consulted by anyone seeking to effect change in the neighborhood.
Keypoint #3: Ousider Perspectives
Outsider perspectives are important in bringing into relief the historical or contemporary essence of a community. While insiders (people from a community) have the necessary information, it often takes an outsider to catalyze identification of and discussions about important aspects of a community that some residents might take for granted or to foster communication and learning between disparate groups. Awareness of the very useful role that outsiders can play in catalyzing a more robust consciousness of a community's culture, heritage, and history is important for planners.
Uncovering the Ingrained
As part of a research effort to create measures of cultural vitality, the Urban Institute conducted focus-group discussions around the country to investigate the various ways that people defined cultural assets in their communities. During the pilot period to test focus-group questions, the importance of outsider perspectives was underscored. In one particular focus group in Denver, the participants included many longtime residents of a community as well as one new resident who had decided to move into the neighborhood after research and careful consideration about what the community had to offer. When the focus group first started and residents were asked to discuss what cultural assets existed in the community, the conversation was sparse, with residents struggling a bit to identify assets. However when the new resident began to share her thoughts, she caused the other participants to reevaluate things that they were taking for granted that in fact contributed greatly to the community's cultural life and identity. Community assets that she identified — such as a local radio show by and about residents, uniquely painted and decorated private homes and gardens, a few particularly beautiful old buildings, and some neighborhood holiday traditions — were things that were so ingrained in the fabric of the community that their value in this conversation had been overlooked. As a result of this experience, focus-group discussion guides were revised to include questions that required respondents to think about their communities from a distance. For example, one of the questions asked was, "What do you miss about your community when you leave it?" These ended up being some of the most effective questions in the inquiry.10
Outsider Brings a Community Together
Community Bridge in Frederick, Maryland, is an example of how an artist from outside the community brought together local government staff and community residents to collaborate and learn about the community's history and diverse culture. The artist, William Cochran, helped the community develop a shared vision for a neighborhood revitalization project, create a piece of public art that interprets the commonalities of a diverse population, and provide a practical and aesthetic amenity to a once economically distressed area.
As a part of the Carroll Creek Park economic development project, which is located along a symbolic racial and economic dividing line, Cochran proposed decorating a reconstructed bridge that not only had a practical function but also served as a symbol of connection and of the spirit of community. Cochran invited more than 173,000 residents to develop a shared vision of the bridge through a public outreach campaign called Bridge Builders. Residents were asked, "What object represents the spirit of community to you?" The Bridge Builders team enlisted the help of churches, community organizations, local civic groups, private and public schools, youth centers, shop owners, and other groups to gather public input for the project. These groups distributed posters, brochures, response forms, and collection boxes to solicit feedback. In addition, Bridge Builders created a 30-minute documentary that was shown multiple times on the local cable station; aired PSAs on local radio and TV stations; painted chalk murals on sidewalks throughout the downtown area asking the question "What object represents the spirit of community to you?"; advertised the question on the local Hampton Inn's electric sign for six weeks; and mailed the question on a postcard to every home in Frederick County.
As a result of this comprehensive outreach campaign, Bridge Builders received thousands of oral and written ideas, photographs, and stories from local residents. Because the outreach campaign was so successful, Cochran invited some residents to physically contribute to the work to reflect this collective imagining, "exploring common realities that cannot be encompassed by a single artist bound by the limits of a solitary human perspective."11 Using the symbols gathered from thousands of residents, Cochran transformed an ordinary bridge into a work of public art that contributed to a shared understanding and celebration of the community's diversity. In this case, it took an outsider to assist the local government in leading a community-based participatory process to discover and celebrate the history and diversity of place
Keypoint #4: Diverse Venues for Arts and Cultural Expressions
Certain institutions, such as museums and libraries, are logical and important places to access materials about a community's history and heritage. However, venues such as parks, open spaces, and public streetscapes can be effective in integrating history and culture into a community's everyday lived experience.12 While some planning ordinances and zoning can be obstacles to such uses, often, planners together with artists and other stakeholders play an important role in creating and or helping to sustain these vibrant spaces and making them available for children, youth, and adults of all genders, races, ethnicities, and incomes. The following are examples of diverse spaces and activities that contribute to the affirmation, preservation, and advancement of cultural heritage in communities around the country.
Parks and Drums
Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C., has been the site of a weekly drum circle for more than 40 years. People show up with their own drums, tambourines, maracas, or simply by themselves to enjoy company, drumming, yoga, music, and other festival-like activities with community members. The park provides people of all ages and ethnicities and all levels of musical ability the recurrent opportunity to gather and experience African-inspired rhythms.13 Similar experiences are available in several communities around the country, such as Leimert Park in Los Angeles, where for many years on Sunday afternoons people of all ages, from the immediate community and outside of it, come together to drum to traditional and contemporary rhythms of Africa and its diaspora. Such gathering spaces and communal activities are important mechanisms that help to animate space and provide community identity. Moreover, the recurring activity enables the creation of both bonding and bridging social capital — the strengthening of relationships among people within a community as well as the creation of relationships to people from outside the geographic community. These dynamics are especially important in communities that are economically distressed and discouraged.
Neighborhood farmers markets or open-air markets located in the heart of a community offer much more than fresh, locally produced food. In many instances all over the country, they provide a recurrent community gathering space and the opportunity for residents of all ages and cultures to participate in communal activities such as cooking and gardening workshops, live music, and special cultural events — providing important amenities and strengthening community bonds.
For example, in addition to selling produce, the San Luis Obispo (SLO) Farmers Market in California is home to a diverse range of activities, including music, juggling acts, dances, and puppet shows. In 1983, the SLO Downtown Association started the market on Thursday evenings to attract shoppers to the downtown area. While the SLO Farmers Market was created primarily as part of an economic development strategy, it opened up six downtown blocks of Higuera Street to community residents and tourists to experience food and culture.14
Similarly, in the mid-1980s, Vietnamese refugees began gardening 40 acres of vacant land in east New Orleans and developed a farmers market in an abandoned shopping- center parking lot adjacent to the vacant land. For the last 30 years, the Vietnamese Farmers Market has become a lively gathering place where Vietnamese people sell a variety of produce, live ducks, rabbits, and chickens, as well as listen to Asian pop music.15
Public Art and Community
Efforts to validate a community's history and heritage are abundant within the public art field.16 In Seattle, through permanent and temporary public art installations and sculptures, artists have commemorated the city's maritime legacy in a range of public spaces — along the waterfront and in other places such as Pike Place Market. In Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities around the United States, the history of many communities has been commemorated through murals often involving residents in the design and sometimes in the execution of the artwork. In the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, some of the history of the Japanese-American community is integrated into the public sidewalk. Pedestrians can read residents' reflections about what the community was like as they walk through the neighborhood. Public art projects that commemorate a community's history and heritage range in scope and scale.
Over the course of the past eight years, the Los Angeles State Park, located on a 32-acre brownfield site in downtown Los Angeles, has served as a living art exhibit, provided a reflection of the city's history and heritage, and more recently improved public access to green space and recreational and community activities. Between 2004 and 2006, in collaboration with the California State Parks (CSP), which owns the site, Los Angeles artist Lauren Bon transformed the 32 acres into a grand scale, living art exhibit: a field of corn. Motivated by the desire to transform the remains of "the industrial era into a renewed space for the public," Bon brought in 1,500 truckloads of soil and planted a million corn seeds. The exhibit, which was called "Not a Cornfield," provided a creative interim solution for the site.17
During this time, CSP held numerous community engagement activities to create a shared vision for the park. While there are plans to develop the entire 32-acres, in 2006 CSP developed a temporary, 13-acre portion of the park. In partnership with educational and community organizations, the park provides residents and visitors with a range of "creative and innovative public events. . .to engage in the past, present and future of Los Angeles."18 The northern end of the park is marked by a living sculpture exhibit and a field of wildflowers, reflecting the past use of the site as "Not a Cornfield." Due to the economic recession, plans to build out the park have been delayed. Efforts are currently under way to begin a phased approach to carry out the original plan developed by Hargreaves Associates, which "strives to preserve and share the history of this resonant space, from the earliest native Tongva-Gabrieleno settlements, to the Portola crossing, and prominent railroad history in the late 19th through the 20th century. . .[and] to recognize the significance of more traumatic events such as the displacement of communities."19 In addition, there are plans to link the park with the Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan, established in 2002 to improve public access to the river, provide opportunities for recreation, enhance water and environmental quality, and improve natural habitats for wildlife.20
The economic development field has changed in the last decade from one that primarily This briefing paper provides a snapshot of the various ways in which different players are involved in both the preservation and advancement of heritage as well as in the expression of our rich history and diversity. Planners may not be leading these efforts but are, or can be, important collaborative players who can facilitate connections among community residents, community organizations, artists, and other stakeholders.
While this briefing paper is not an exhaustive review, the examples are intended to provide planners with glimpses of what is possible as part of planning practice. Moreover, they raise important questions. First, are planners aware of the wide -ranging benefits of fostering heritage and cultural vitality? Second, are planners sufficiently considering and collaborating with the wide range of entities already involved in heritage and cultural work? Third, are planners equipped with
the adequate tools and methods to implement strategies that lead to preservation of heritage and cultural vitality? These questions are crucial as the field strives to do its best work to plan and revitalize communities that can ultimately offer residents meaningful and rich environments.
This briefing paper was written by Maria Rosario Jackson (director of the Urban Institute's Culture, Creativity, and Communities Program), Kimberley Hodgson, AICP (manager of APA's Planning and Community Health Research Center), and Kelly Ann Beavers (Virginia Tech Planning, Governance & Globalization PhD candidate and APA arts and culture intern). Thanks to Florence Kabwasa-Green and Timothy Mennel for their review and thoughtful comments.
1. Maria Rosario Jackson, "Towards Diversity That Works: Building Communities Through Arts and Culture," in 21st Century Color Lines: Exploring the Frontiers of Americas Multicultural Present and Future, ed. Andrew Grant-Thomas and Gary Orfield (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009).
2. Records of the project are maintained at the Austin History Center. See www.lib .utexas.edu/taro/aushc/00015/ahc-00015.html.
3. See New Routes to Community Health, "Abriendo las Cajas (Opening Boxes)", available at http://newroutes.org/projects/abriendolascajas.
4. Dan Baum, Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans (Spiegel and Grau, 2009), p. 120.
5. See www.neighborhoodstoryproject.org.
6. See www.citylore.org and http://placematters.net.
7. See http://groups.ucanr.org/GIM/Archived_News_Items_and_Articles/Marin_Farm_ Families-_Stories_&_Recipes.htm.
8. See www.ashecac.org.
9. See Jackson 2009.
10. Maria Rosario Jackson and Joaquin Herranz, Culture Counts in Communities: A Framework for Measurement, Culture Creativity and Communities Program (Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, 2002).
11. See http://williamcochran.com/GalleryMain.asp?GalleryID=5788&AKey=YX679BSX; and "The Story of Community Bridge," available at http://bridge.skyline.net/history.
12. See Jackson and Herrnz, Culture Counts in Communities, and Maria Rosario Jackson, Florence Kabwasa-Green, and Joaquin Herranz, "Cultural Vitality in Communities: Interpretation and Indicators," Culture, Creativity and Communities Program (Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, 2006).
13. See www.washingtonpost.com/gog/music-events/drum-circle,1128195.html.
14. See http://travel.latimes.com/articles/la-trw-slo27may27 and www.pps.org/ great_public_spaces/one?public_place_id=168&type_id=8.
15. See www.pps.org/great_public_spaces/one?public_place_id=170.
16. Public art is that which is created by an artist explicitly to be sited in a public space.
17. See http://notacornfield.com.
18. See www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=22272.
19. See http://lashp.wordpress.com/our-story.
20. See www.lariverrmp.org/Background/master_plan.htm.
This is one in a series of briefing papers on how planners can work with partners in the arts and culture sector and use creative strategies to achieve economic, social, environmental, and community goals. Prepared by the American Planning Association, as part of a collaborative project with the RMC Research Corporation and with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.