Creative placemaking has the power to illuminate what we value
Creative placemaking has the power to define and express what a community prioritizes and what it is proud of.
NEA describes this idea as “illumination,” or the potential of placemaking to “bring new attention to or elevate key community assets and issues, choices of residents, local history, or cultural infrastructure.” Creative Placemaking is our chance to shine a light on the parts of our community that we are proud of. By inviting people to the table that are differently abled, we send the message that they are a valuable and celebrated part of our community. The same goes for people of diverse cultures and ethnicities. We make room for our neighbors to experience empowerment and agency. We make room for people who are often left out of public discussions and experiences to offer authentic contributions. And we are declaring to everyone, everywhere, that people with diverse lived experiences matter in our community.
The arts are the perfect place to honor diverse human experience
What better way to make our communities more inclusive than by doing so through the arts? Creative expression is unique for each individual, yet it is also universal—a common language that can transcend what makes us different, bringing us together. I honestly can’t think of a better path for celebrating and honoring individuality than the arts. When inclusive, accessible arts are combined with inclusive, accessible creative placemaking, we generate events, performances and spaces that inspire authentic human connection across diverse populations.
The “unexpected benefit” of accessibility
At Peckham, we specialize in making jobs accessible for people with barriers to employment. Often, this takes the form of creating workplace accommodations for people with different abilities. More often than not, an accommodation created for one person’s unique ability will also prove helpful for others. In other words, inclusive practices benefit everyone. Some great examples of this come from Google, where their design team practices inclusive, responsive design. Google has a strong track record of increasing accessibility for people with disabilities in a way that has impacted probably everyone reading this post. For example, did you know that Google’s auto-complete function was first thought up to help people with disabilities complete their searching more quickly? Or, did you know that Google’s voice control technology was created to assist people with physical impairments? Accessibility and inclusion benefit everyone.
How can inclusive, accommodating practices benefit our creative place making efforts? It is hard to say, since the process is somewhat organic and responsive to the unique needs of a place or person. It could mean that making an outdoor space wheelchair accessible also makes it accessible to parents with strollers; to musicians who are transporting equipment for an outdoor concert; for emergency personnel who are responded to a 911 call, or to a person who temporarily is using crutches due to an injury.
People with different abilities WANT TO BE INCLUDED
People with disabilities are people. People have creative voices. People want to be included in their communities, they want to see themselves represented in their communities, they want art in their communities. People want to be involved. If our creative placemaking efforts really are about highlighting what makes our communities special, what makes them authentically “us,” we absolutely have to invite everyone to the table.
For real, why not? It costs too much? Not true. Most workplace accommodations that we put in place at Peckham are free or low cost, and a 15-year ongoing study conducted by the Job Accommodation Network has shown that the majority of workplace accommodations cost nothing. It costs nothing to ask someone what they need, or to ask how we could make a person feel more welcomed into a creative space. It costs nothing to invite people to participate.
Is creating accommodations an effort that only benefits a small number of people? Nope. The CDC states that 26% of the adults in the US have some kind of disability (check out this CDC website for more information on the demographics of disability). People with disabilities constitute the largest minority group in our country and the only one we could all join at any time. And don’t forget point number three—by including people with disabilities, we are also improving accessibility for others.
At this point, I sure hope you are as excited about inclusive, accessible creative placemaking as I am. You may be wondering where to start, or how to improve or maintain your inclusive efforts. That could be a whole other blog post. Honestly it could be a three-day conference! So, to keep it simple, start by inviting people to participate. Ask for what they need, what their experiences are, what they want and what ideas they have. When they share these ideas, listen. Be responsive. Make changes if necessary. And, be patient. Having an advertisement that features an image of a person with a disability--while important to do so—does not mean that all people with different abilities will flock to the event. Inclusion takes time and is always ongoing, especially when the folks we are trying to include have traditionally been left out.
1. “The Business Case for Digital Accessibility” Ed. Sharon Rush. WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative.
https://www.w3.org/WAI/business-case/ November 9, 2018
2. “Our Town: A Theory of Change and Logic Model for the National Endowment for the Arts’ Creative Placemaking Grants Program”, National Endowment for the Arts.
https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/Our-Town-Theory-of-Change.pdf April 2019.
3. “Benefits and Costs of Accommodation”, Job Accommodation Network.
4. “Disability Impacts All of Us” Center for Disease Control infographic.
Emily Chase, MSEd
Emily is Manager of Creative Experiences at Peckham, Inc. in Lansing, Mich.