Grant funds continued artist-planner collaboration

Creative CityMaking project wins $1-million grant

Artists Witt Siasoco, left, and Ashley Hanson, center, with Wendy Morris, co-founder of Intermedia Arts' Creative Community Leadership Institute. Credit: Dylan Thomas

THE WEDGE — Intermedia Arts announced Monday a $1-million grant from the Kresge Foundation to continue its Creative CityMaking project in collaboration with the City of Minneapolis.

Creative CityMaking embeds local artists within city departments where they collaborate with city staff to develop new outreach tools and techniques. The goal is to invite traditionally underrepresented demographics into the city-planning process, including renters, youth and minority communities.

A $325,000 ArtPlace grant funded a yearlong “pre-pilot” of Creative CityMaking. Seven artists tested innovative engagement techniques — including a bicycle-drawn mobile theater, sculptures and a pop-up gallery — to solicit community feedback on five ongoing planning projects.

Poet Andrea Jenkins, who chairs the Intermedia Arts board of directors, said 80 percent of the community members who participated in one of the initial Creative CityMaking projects reported they’d never previously been involved in the city planning process.

Theater artist Ashley Hanson and photographer Wing Young Huie partnered with city planner Jim Voll to engage North Minneapolis residents in development of a small area plan for Penn Avenue North. The city and county are working with neighborhoods to envision transit and development goals for the thoroughfare ahead of its reconstruction.

Hanson said they developed mobile engagement strategies that are affordable and adaptable and that the city could continue to use. Community members wrote their goals for Penn Avenue on small chalkboards and were photographed by Huie; some encountered a troupe of actors who performed at Penn Avenue bus stops.

Huie and Hanson used a ping-pong table to draw a crowd and kick-start conversations. They even set out coasters in area bars with the question “If you could change one thing about your neighborhood, what would it be?” on the front and a blank space for writing responses on the back.

“Oftentimes, as artists, we raise questions; that’s our role,” Hanson said. Through Creative CityMaking, they helped others voice their own questions.

On the Penn Avenue project, she said, those included: “What are the questions, who gets to ask the questions and how are they asked?”

During the pre-pilot, artists were embedded in the Long Range Planning Division of the Community Planning and Economic Development Department. The Kresge grant funds that work for another three years and will expand the number of city departments working with artists to five, said Theresa Sweetland, executive director of Intermedia Arts.