On October 22, leaders and community members gathered at the Please Touch Museum
in Fairmount Park for a Community Development Investments
public forum. The focus was a $3 million grant from ArtPlace America
to the Fairmount Park Conservancy
, announced in August by President Obama.
The Conservancy is one of just six organizations nationwide to receive this grant, which will disburse $1 million per year for three years for new creative placemaking initiatives in Philly’s parks, incorporating artistic and cultural works into infrastructure and programming (focus sites and projects TBD).
Leading the forum, Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell said the conversation was at the "nexus of arts, culture, and parks."
"This opportunity comes at a critical juncture" for the Conservancy, she continued. Projects sponsored by the grant will help to make individuals’ experience of Philly’s parks more meaningful.
Mayor Michael Nutter, also on hand to speak, expressed pride that the Conservancy was recognized by the White House. He pointed out that it’s the only city park conservancy in the country that manages not just a single centralized park site, but many across the city. Parks aren’t only about playgrounds, grass and trees, he added, "[They’re] really about equity, really about bringing people together."
Other speakers included Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor and commissioner of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.
"We’re doing it right. We’re getting it right," he said of the message the ArtPlace grant sends to Philly’s park system. Upgrading our public spaces with art projects "is not just for a handful of people…but for every single citizen of every neighborhood."
Laura Sparks, executive director of the William Penn Foundation
, said the organization was "thrilled, but not surprised" by the Conservancy’s selection. She touted Philadelphia's "incredible public spaces" as the number-one asset that has been raising the city's global profile, from the recent New York Times nod as a top destination
to September’s papal visit.
The session concluded with a panel moderated by Knight Foundation
Vice President of Community and National Initiatives Carol Coletta, and statements from three national leaders in creative placemaking.
ArtPlace Executive Director Jamie Bennett explained the concept of placemaking as "community development that is local, specific to a place, and is comprehensive," engaging local citizens in its planning. And if you want to understand the "creative" prefix to that, it means bringing artists in on the ground floor of planning for public spaces' infrastructure, design and programming.
Village of Arts and Humanities
co-founder and former executive director Lily Yeh (now of Barefoot Artists
, which she founded in 2002) gave a short presentation on the history of her work at the North Philly site, which has been a model of repurposed and revitalized spaces for almost 20 years, as well as her work designing a Rugerero memorial
to victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
"Through creative actions, we reclaim our lives," she insisted.
Scott Kratz, director of the 11th Street Bridge Park
project in D.C. -- which imagines a new public space spanning the Anacostia river; slated to open a mile and a half from Capitol Hill in 2019 -- also spoke about the importance of spaces like those managed by the Conservancy.
"Increasingly, cities are being defined by civic spaces," he said.
Lyz Crane, deputy director of ArtPlace America, explained that the organization is a national consortium of eight federal agencies, six banks and fifteen foundations, including the William Penn and Knight Foundations. "Strategic project development" for the Conservancy grant will get underway this coming winter and spring, she said, and projects may begin to manifest by summer 2016.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter and Fairmount Park Conservancy panel speakers