New Report: Activating Public Spaces with Art

Albert Einstein once said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” For the benevolent media community, the question is: how do we give artists the opportunity to creatively solve our problems?

Judilee Reed, the executive director of Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), asks this question every day. Her organization's recent report, "Building Community: Making Space for Art," written by Maria Rosario Jackson, stems from a 10-year initiative to support the creation of artistic outlets in different communities. Artists from across the country are building new infrastructure, obtaining health insurance and receiving business training because of LINC.

What most programs fail to see is how the process becomes an important aspect of community engagement. LINC values revitalizing communities through the process of creating art, not from the end result.

Over the past decade, LINC has provided grants to up-and-coming artistic outlets and convened panels of experts in different communities. (Now that LINC is wrapping up its work as a 10-year program, it is no longer offering grants at this time.) What has set LINC apart is the diversity of experiences on its panels. Each decision is made through the different perspectives of many members, including artists, members of the national development firm and nonprofit workers. Reed emphasizes that the organization's outreach focuses on “racial and gender diversity.”

Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates represents what LINC is searching for.

“His works moves from reclamation to redemption,” Reed says of the trained sculptor and urban planner.

The buildings where he creates art installations are broken down, along with the rest of their surroundings. Gates takes the run-down scene and turns it into a canvas, giving it a fresh start. He rehabilitated one abandoned building in an economically distressed neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago and turned it into The Dorchester Projects, a two-story home that has been converted into a library, slide archive and soul food kitchen. He animates the building in such a way that the entire community receives benefits: residents are invited to enjoy the art, the project hires local workers, and the art within reflects the culture of the community.

As part of the project, the artist teamed up with storyteller Ayana Contreras to collect untold stories (learn more on the project's Tumblr blog):

Stories that have fallen between the cracks of the sidewalks, stories that whistle as gusts of wind pass through a broken fence, stories that live in the creases of a wrinkled face, and unheard voices that live within the needle of a record player.

Gates is also proving that arts and culture can have economic benefits—something that all Americans are searching for these days. By animating what is already there, the community gets long-term benefits. Prosperity for the dying community is now closer.

Reed comments that the report is “meant to provide training for people in economic development, to be able to understand where their practices fit within a national network.” By giving grants to programs like the one Gates created, LINC is helping communities get back on their feet.

As Reed continues, “Artists can tell something that can only be told through art.”

By donating its time, money and support, LINC is creating profitable change in the world. Communities come together through artists' work, buildings are rebuilt, and lives are changed.

Stay connected to LINC through Facebook or its website, where you can join the email list to receive up-to-date information on any new research, partners, publications or events.

The full report is available here.

Correction, 10/26/2011: Judilee Reed was misquoted in a previous version of this post. Of artist Theaster Gates, she said, “His works moves from reclamation to redemption,” not "reformation to redemption."