ARTICLE: Top Five Things to Know About Creative Placemaking in Higher Ed

August 9, 2017

According to The Alliance for Arts in Research Universities’ (a2ru) 2016 survey on creative placemaking, the third most significant obstacle to universities engaging with creative placemaking on their campus was the “articulation of value.”

This is one of the primary reasons that the Bolz Center for Arts Administration has joined forces with a2ru and Blackbaud to create The Hub for Creative Placemaking in Higher Education: to provide all kinds of partners with additional resources so that they can team up, make a case, and make things happen in their communities. We want to share stories about the challenges and the successes—the hard work and the enlightening moments—that make that work worth it. Artists and educators work to inspire audiences or students, trying to get them think about things differently. Imagine what can be accomplished together! So to get us going, here are five things you should know if you are a higher education institution considering a project or if you are hoping to collaborate with your local college or university.

1. We All Wear Multiple Hats

As nonprofit guru Vu Lee has said, we all wear many hats and juggle many balls—pick your favorite metaphor. Artists and nonprofit workers know the drill, and: universities are no different. We all have many internal and external relationships to manage. According to a2ru’s survey, the second most significant factor that has served as an obstacle to engaging with placemaking was “time and energy”: “competing interests leave little time for new endeavors, especially collaborative projects.”

2. Think about Stakeholders

All creative placemaking projects and partnerships involve a multitude of stakeholders: donors, community leaders, community members, elected officials...the list goes on. University campuses have their own plethora of interested parties, from different departments, faculty, administrators, and student groups.

3. Consider the Fundraising Landscape

Finding funding was among the top three reasons cited by participants in a2ru’s survey as to why they had not yet participated in creative placemaking initiatives taking place in their communities.


But there are some additional factors to consider, whether you are working within a university or higher ed institution or considering partnering with one. Most grantmakers will not support projects with a university as project lead and receiver of the monies. This is because most universities will charge a “Facilities and Administration” fee of upwards of 50% on grant funds received. (Our experience at University of Wisconsin and University of Michigan encountered fees of 52% and 53%, respectively.)

However, if you are taking advantage of all the university and its facilities have to offer, this might still be an OK direction to take! Universities are also, understandably, most interested in projects that contribute to student education and will sometimes waive fees for this kind of activity.

4. Think Outside the Box

Creative placemaking is about custom solutions: it is not one size fits all, and it doesn’t have to be all about the faculty and participants in a university’s arts program. Ultimately, it is about creativity and collaboration, so there are many more opportunities to bring together people from across departments. (This could also help significantly with points one, two, and three!)

5. It’s All About Education!

Collaborative projects that bring people together are educational experiences! Whether it’s because someone has never had an experience with a particular art form, or a particular person, or a particular place, there is a natural alignment between the idea of creative placemaking and the mission of universities to further education.

Find more resources to inspire creative placemaking at your higher education campuses on The Hub

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