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Arts on Chicago encourages stakeholders to own the dirt

A $200,000 grant from the Bush Foundation could dramatically transform the Chicago Avenue streetscape over the next decade. The two-year Community Innovation Grant, awarded to Arts on Chicago, will fund existing artistic placemaking projects on Chicago Avenue between 32nd and 42nd Streets.

The corridor sits at the intersection of the Powderhorn, Bancroft, Central and Bryant neighborhoods, and local Arts on Chicago stakeholders include the Pillsbury House & Theater, Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, Upstream Arts, Wing Young Huie’s Third Place gallery and local artist/MCAD professor Natasha Pestich.
The Bush Foundation grant will also facilitate the development of a Creative Community Development Plan, to be finalized in 2016, that dovetails with the City of Minneapolis’ 38th & Chicago Small Area Plan. According to Mike Hoyt, Pillsbury House & Theater’s Creative Community Liaison, the grant will provide direct support for 8 to 12 artists engaged in creative placemaking projects around the neighborhood. The subsequent CCDP could build on this foundation, offering equity in development projects to local artists and other community members, though discussions are still in the early stages.
Thanks to a $150,000 grant from Artplace America in 2012, Arts on Chicago has already begun or completed about 20 small-scale placemaking projects along the 10-block corridor. “Since they last for just one year, ArtPlace grants compel you to sprint to accomplish everything you’ve planned,” says Hoyt, adding that the 2012 grant allowed Arts on Chicago to chart an ambitious path forward.
“We used to envision ourselves as a creative and cultural hub for the community,” he adds. “We’re now in the process of building a web of artistic assets across the area.” Arts on Chicago, and any initiatives that arise out of its Creative Community Development Plan, may eventually broaden to include the entire area bounded by 35W, Lake Street, Cedar Avenue and 42nd Street, with funding for creative placemaking projects throughout.
The overarching goal is to use art-focused placemaking to empower the entire cross-section of community members, including those whose agency and input has been limited until now. As the area’s character changes, says Hoyt, Arts on Chicago aims to turn local creatives into stakeholders, providing equity—“owning the dirt,” he says—so that they can’t easily be displaced by development.
“We’re trying to create a growth and development plan that doesn’t force people out,” he says, “but there’s still a lot we don’t know.” Conversations with Twin Cities’ policy makers and traditional community development efforts are ongoing. Arts on Chicago is also funding temporary research assistant positions, awarded to four Humphrey Institute students in late September, to canvas the community and get a better sense of locals’ needs and wants.
More ambitiously, Arts on Chicago is exploring hybrid approaches beyond traditional nonprofit models to facilitate sustainable development that empowers and enriches current residents. Hoyt cites the Northeast Investment Cooperative’s model, as well as “social venture” models in use elsewhere. Such plans could be particularly attractive in the Central neighborhood, which Hoyt says has a housing vacancy rate of more than 10 percent.

“A surplus of housing creates more opportunities to keep people in place” using existing assets, says Hoyt. But these efforts would require buy-in and support from other organizations, he cautions, and could take years to bear fruit.
“The most important thing now is tracking, measuring and assessing” Arts on Chicago’s initial placemaking work, and putting plans in place to build on its successful elements, says Hoyt. “It might take 5 to 10 years to see a real impact on the communities we serve.”

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