HENNEPIN THEATRE DISTRICT // The power of Creative Placemaking

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September 26, 2011
By: Tom Hoch
Tom Hoch
Using the arts and cultural development to transform a community is not new thinking. We have seen the positive impact of the arts time and again across the country and around our city. But the transformative power of the arts has recently been more formally embraced under the moniker of “Creative Placemaking.”

More than just a trendy title, “Creative Placemaking” is the concept that the arts can be called upon to create livable, sustainable and vibrant communities by encouraging innovative, cross-sector solutions to the challenges facing towns, cities and the arts community.

Creative Placemaking has been boldly adopted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which recently provided Hennepin Theatre Trust a $200,000 “Our Town” grant. In conjunction with the Walker Art Center, Artspace Projects and the City of Minneapolis, the Trust will used the award to lead the development of a plan for a ‘cultural corridor’ extending from the Walker and Minneapolis Sclupture Garden to the Mississippi Riverfront.

On Sept. 9, the Trust hosted a panel discussion with the Minneapolis Central Library which attracted an overflowing crowd of more than 230 people to Pohlad Hall to hear a discussion about arts, artists and creative placemaking. The panel included Rocco Landesman, chairman of the NEA and a strong proponent of arts-based community development, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who continues to advocate for creative solutions to building a better city.

The lively conversation explored creative placemaking in the context of the ongoing revitalization of Hennepin Avenue. As Betsy Williams of the Library pointed out during her welcome as co-host, Hennepin Avenue has come a long way from its origins as an American Indian foot trail following the logical path from Lake Calhoun to St. Anthony Falls. It has moved full circle over the decades from being one of the nation’s foremost sites for theatre in the 1900s to economic depression and misguided development and now back again to reclaim its former grandeur as an entertainment mecca.

The afternoon conversation was additionally fueled by the participation of Sarah Harris, leader of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District and Tom Borrup who specializes in Creative Community Building and guided by the intelligent moderation by Tom Fisher, Dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Design. Landesman explained why the NEA has rallied under the banner of creative placemaking. He added that they are trying to further its arts goals by partnering with “sister agencies” in government such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation to maximize arts access to funding for such projects as artist housing or transportation to better serve cultural patrons and organizations.

This panel sparked a community conversation and we’re seeking your input. As we develop a more formal way to hear from you, we’ve created a temporary portal through which to gather your ideas. Please participate by going to hennepintheatretrust.org/culturalcorridor to give us your thoughts.

Even though we are just initiating our creative placemaking planning, we remain committed to acting as we plan, including converting vacant or underutilized space for arts purposes. One example of this, particularly thrilling to me because of my involvement with Hennepin Theatre Trust, is the upcoming September opening of our New Century Theater, an up to 300-seat flexible use black-box theatre that we’re developing in a long-empty City Center storefront.

In addition to the New Century Theatre, the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts and the relocation of the Brave New Workshop to the former Hennepin Stages building are adding significant, additional vitality to the Avenue. We are already well on our way to creating the cultural destination we have envisioned and our planning efforts will move us to fully realize the Avenue’s potential.

Together, the community can reshape Hennepin Avenue into a nationally acclaimed, year-round cultural destination from end to end. Attaining this goal requires input from all sectors and the resulting vision is a city which is more dynamic and culturally vital that enriches individuals and all of us collectively.

Tom Hoch is president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, the non-profit owner of the historic Orpheum, State, Pantages and newly developed New CenturyTheatres, is devoted to enriching the vibrant cultural atmosphere of the Twin Cities. Please visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org for more information.