Creative placemaking – necessary, not just nice to have, Matt Baker

I WANT to start by saying something about creativity, in general.

When I use using the word, ‘creativity’, I’m meaning a way of working that can be used by anyone… not solely by ‘professional creatives’, but also by people running community groups, planners, health professionals, council officers… To emphasise: anyone.

The concept of ‘co-creation’ is at the centre of ‘creative placemaking’.

Co-creation means working collaboratively with everyone who has a stake in a place or situation, to come up with an approach that everyone is agreed on; and where there is also a role for everyone to be part of delivering.

This means setting aside the way so many things happen in our world – i.e. with a pre-determined plan based on evidence gathered from previous situations that are supposed to be similar.

I’d argue that this ‘old logic’ of ‘top-down control’, based on evidence from elsewhere (and with the means of delivery already controlled by others) is what has led us into the crisis we find ourselves in, globally and locally.

We have to change the way we do things and empower people again to take responsibility for their own lives and places – the disempowering mantra of ‘someone else is in charge’ has been exposed as a dangerous lie that perpetuates inequality.

+ Hear Matt speak at the first of our weekly webinars, scheduled for June 21. Details below +

It is time for us all to act and, to do so, we need to collaborate, we need to take risks and we need to listen deeply to each other and understand our needs and our differences.

Nothing will be perfect first time, all solutions will need to be remade – that is the creative process – but we have to get started, not spend years waiting for the perfect plan to emerge.

Getting started is what creative placemaking is all about – small things at first but a gradual building of trust and alliances that will bring about powerful change for places and individuals.

Creative placemaking is about inclusion, the co-creation thing of genuinely involving everyone in all parts of the process. And, critically, creative projects work from the ground up – reaching out to everyone in the community and supporting often overlooked voices to be heard.

Creative thinking is fundamentally a ‘visioning thing’, projecting into the ‘what could be’. Creative placemaking supports communities to imagine ‘better’.

But not just the ‘better’ that you’d get if you sent people with clipboards into an area to ask people what they wanted. The creative process builds trust to the point where people feel empowered and inspired to speculate about what they ‘really want’. A great example of this is a project in Leeds where people turfed over their whole street for week (as reported, here) and experienced what it is like to have shared recreational space on their doorsteps.

Creative placemaking also initiates unexpected partnerships by drawing people and agencies into creative projects like the turfed street – partnerships that then persist because everyone gets something positive from being part of them.

It is inherently innovative – bringing forward plans that are different to the same, old solutions.

There is an age-old pattern with traditional place projects that an initial burst of energy and enthusiasm is often followed by a period of silence where ‘decision-makers’ disappear behind closed doors to ‘get on with the plan’ and everyone else is left wondering if this was really anything to do with them at all. 

Taking the ‘creative route’ means that maintaining the community momentum is actually as important as anything else – creatives will keep communicating about the process and understand the need for visible signs of progress – ongoing creative projects, small physical changes and / or ongoing groups and workshops are ideal to keep the energy live and people actively engaged as partners.

So my provocation is: Why does our traditional thinking persist in thinking about creativity as something ‘nice to have, but not necessary’, when its staring us in the face when we repeatedly shake our heads wondering how we can come up with new ideas to solve the seemingly unsurmountable problems that face us??

Matt Baker has been working in culturally-led regeneration for over 25 years. He was lead artist for the city centre of Inverness from 2006-10, following six years leading the arts strategy for the Gorbals (Glasgow) regeneration project.

Since 2011, he has focused on long-term activist strategies for integrating creative practice into the social, economic and political structures of his home region of south-west Scotland. He co-founded, and is based with The Stove Network in the heart of Dumfries town centre. He is also the vice-chair of the National Partnership for Culture and a member of Dumfries and Galloway Economic Leadership Group.

Picture credit: Galina Walls, for The Stove Network 

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