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National Funders Boost Culture-Led Neighborhood Development in Chicago

$5M grant to @rebuildfdn + @PlaceLabChicago project powers up arts-led neighborhood revitalization Tweet This

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Artists remind us what is most significant about being human: creativity.

Creative minds have the power to re-envision our world, imagining equitable futures full of possibility. Queen Victoria recognized the power of artists, warning: “Beware of artists. They mix with all classes of society and are therefore most dangerous.” They build, construct, sculpt, speak, write, sing, dance, paint, constantly reinventing beauty and blurring the lines that too often divide us.

As we move forward from the struggles of our past in our ever-changing city, together we can repurpose our neglected spaces and fragmented human connections.

On September 8, Reimagining the Civic Commons awarded a $5 million grant to Chicago and the Chicago Arts + Industry Commons (CAIC), being led by Place Lab and ReBuild Foundation, who have been successfully repurposing space by using arts and culture as a vehicle to engage community.

Reimagining the Civic Commons is a partnership between The JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation that seeks to foster civic engagement, economic opportunity and environmental sustainability through revitalizing and connecting public spaces, including parks, libraries and community centers.

Behind the scenes of this effort is internationally renowned artist Theaster Gates, whose practice centers on repurposing property, materials and place through the lens of artistic programming and community engagement.

Gates is recognized as a thought and practice leader for bringing life back to myriad of properties in Chicago’s South Side: from the beautifully-restored Stony Island Arts Bank, a multipurpose gallery, library and gathering space; to a partnership with the University of Chicago to create the UChicago Arts Incubator, a formerly vacant transit-adjacent terra cotta structure that now serves as a hub for community-based artistic practice.

Arts and cultural assets such as these bring the vitality needed to support innovation and improve quality of life in neighborhoods. Artists, designers, entertainers and cultural activities create important anchors that are integral to reviving neighborhoods. Celebrating local history and promoting home-grown culture motivates people in the innovation-based creative sectors to stay and grow in areas where they feel supported and rooted. Their presence cultivates investments within communities and attracts others who seek to live and do business within a creative ecosystem.

Artists, designers, entertainers and cultural activities create important anchors that are integral to reviving neighborhoods. Their presence cultivates investments within communities and attracts others who seek to live and do business within a creative ecosystem.

Visionary leaders looking to the future of the City of Chicago released a Cultural Plan in 2012, 26 years after its predecessor. The plan elevates the importance of arts and culture in Chicago and is a bold call for short and long-term action to infuse culture in many aspects of city life not only as an economic driver, but a conduit for human development focusing on community building that recognizes art as a spark for neighborhood change.

The Trust is proud to support the work of Gates and the city’s Cultural Plan, but we know that there are untapped artists in all of our neighborhoods making a difference and impacting our futures by making connections and building community. We want to make them stronger and sustain their efforts by infusing more resources into their practice. There are many rich examples of this work taking root in the city, with a focus on the South side:

• Revival Arts Collective, a network of arts activists, and Preservation of Affordable Housing formed a collaboration to bring life to an underused lot to create Voices Park, located at 6100 S. Cottage Grove with a HUD Choice Neighborhoods Initiative implementation grant. This pop-up public arts venue and performing space gave way to the creation of a Woodlawn Resident Arts Council as a way to engage residents in ongoing arts planning and design. With support from The Chicago Community Trust, the Woodlawn Resident Arts Council will be hosting a bi-annual Sol Street Festival continuing the opportunity for local artists and residents to access to arts-based space that sparks creative change.

• archi-treasures recently launched the Front Porch Project at Germano Millgate Apartments, an artistic intervention into the isolated culture of subsidized housing with the goal of rethinking embedded poverty while creating more livable communities. With support from the Trust and the National Endowment for the Arts, archi-treasures is able to realize this project that fulfills their mission as an “arts-based community development organization reducing social isolation by creating grassroots partnerships to build public spaces, empowering individuals to shape their future and the future of their community.”

These efforts are helping bring creative solutions and interventions towards economic and community development efforts and, providing vital programming that enriches the lives of residents. Only with this kind of intention can the arts build community connections and creative networks that translate cultural vitality into economic dynamism in a way that ultimately benefits residents.

As we move forward from the struggles of our past in our ever-changing city, together we can repurpose our neglected spaces and fragmented human connections.

Solving the city’s most complex challenges requires each of us working together—investing our time and our resources to help lead the movement toward a peaceful, equitable, prosperous Chicago.

As a community foundation, we provide the greatest service to our donors when we maximize their charitable impact. And we provide the greatest service to our neighborhoods when we respond to strategic opportunities—when an investment of philanthropic leadership and capital holds the power to help them flourish. By creating coinvestment initiatives like this one, we invite donors to join us in collective philanthropy for truly transformational impact.