On the importance of measuring the impact of arts-based placemaking

Elli Gemmo

Elli Gemmo, 14 November 2019

Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else." - Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

In his novel Invisible Cities Italo Calvino explores 55 fictitious cities through the description of an explorer, Marco Polo.

All the cities described by Calvino are between pure imagination and imaginable. They entice and inspire our own idea of ideal city. It takes a lot of creative thinking and theoretical knowledge on different subjects such as urban planning and design, data analysis and policy making to shape a City's landscape, and more importantly to inform and change its impact on the community as a whole and on the individual's wellbeing.

In recent years, arts-based placemaking and its potential benefits, such as stimulating local economies, increasing innovation, cultural diversity and civic engagement, has been taking more space in the discourse and planning of new policies and in setting the discussion to reimagine our cities.

Arts-based placemaking is an integrative approach to urban planning and community building. The concept is to integrate an artwork to the structure of a building, create functional artwork (such as seats and other urban elements) or to install temporary elements. It's been demonstrated and widely discussed how creativity and art can augment the value of a place and play a major contribution in building a place's unique character.

It's not just the place value that benefits from this type of intervention, other aspects such as the social, cultural, and economic life of communities can be profoundly shaken by this type of interventions.

Take, for example, the 'Yes” artwork created by design firm Sagmeister & Walsh in collaboration with Japanese illustrator Yuko Shimizu. The artwork is located in the DUMBO district in Brooklyn, New York, and has transformed this sad and dangerous underpass in an emblem of positivity, lifting its bad reputation: from ‘place to avoid’ to a great spot for wedding pictures, a tourist hot spot and generally speaking, a place to interact and engage with.

Arts-based placemaking is a collaborative process that feeds from the bottom-up and is community engaging and empowering. The community itself is both the driving force of the project and the key measure of its success. The process of creating placemaking art has to be in itself context-specific, dynamic and flexible with a focus on social and wellbeing outcomes, with the aim of re-vitalising the community.

But how do you measure the extent of what has been achieved and the different type of outcomes? When, how and why measure the impact of arts-based placemaking? The first step is setting up a community consultation process to hear from all the involved and understand the potential benefits of the project. The second measurement comes after the project has been realised, to understand and clarify the impact on the community.

It's important to measure the impact of these initiatives to talk to potential funders, policymakers and urban planners, proving (data on hand) the positivity and level of impact the project has achieved.

Contact us to find out how Culture Counts can help you measure your outcomes.

Image: YES! DUMBO mural x Sagmeister. Photo by About Street Art.

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