By Andriana Abariotes, Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Coalition
I have a colleague who loves to quote this Buffalo Springfield song when he’s trying to explain the shift that is happening in neighborhoods here in the Twin Cities. And, as the song goes–what it is ain’t exactly clear—has been the easiest way to frame what we’re starting to see or hear in communities.
On the one hand, we’re reminded daily in the news or our own lives of how far we have to go to ensure this region and the communities within it are prosperous and that everyone has access to the opportunities this region has to offer. On the other, there is a growing, positive energy among a variety of sectors toward working together to ensure both people and places prosper.
One clear local example is Irrigate, an effort to use the arts and “creative placemaking” as a means toward spurring economic development along the emerging light rail Central Corridor and for building community among the various residents, artists and businesses living and working up and down the line. Irrigate was launched with the support of ArtPlace, a collaboration of top national foundations, the National Endowment of the Arts, and other federal agencies to leverage the assets, resources and talent of the arts to enhance the vibrancy of local communities. Through ongoing trainings, small grants and networking opportunities, Irrigate has done just that: it has helped local efforts to seed and grow.
Last Saturday, my son and I attended The Creation Station event at Iris Park. Led by Rachel Petrie, residents, artists, and passers-by were encouraged to explore their creativity by making mosaics or wind-chimes, painting a picture, learning to knit, or telling a story and so on. It was a simple reminder that the act of creating can happen anywhere and that it doesn’t have to happen in a studio or with expensive materials. In fact, I learned how to finger knit!
The Creation Station was also a great example of creative placemaking. The definition the partners of Irrigate (Springboard for the Arts, the City of St. Paul, and LISC) use is–placemaking is the act of people coming together to change overlooked and undervalued public and shared spaces into welcoming places where community gathers, supports one another, and thrives. As a neighborhood resident, I’ve been by Iris Park many times but never actually stepped foot into it. On Saturday, it was the perfect place to be outside, meet neighbors, and spend time with my son, exploring our creativity and a little gem right off University Avenue.
There’s a growing movement to make these connections between arts and culture and community development, across the region and across the country. I encourage you to stop, listen and look around your community to see what’s going down.