What is Creative Placemaking?

“Creative placemaking is when artists, arts organizations, and community development practitioners deliberately integrate arts and culture into community revitalization work—placing arts at the table with land-use, transportation, economic development, education, housing, infrastructure, and public safety strategies.”

National Endowment for the Arts

The Good Fellows Show Wagon hosting a youth talent show in Gifford Park in the early 2000s. Image courtesy of the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association.

Creative placemaking is a facilitated process that starts by giving artists, creative entrepreneurs and arts and culture organizations a seat at the table. This is a simple gesture of inclusion that is often overlooked in revitalization work. 

Creative placemaking not only produces empathy, respect and validation, but also social capital, innovation, new partnerships and increased funding opportunities that benefit all. 

Projects facilitated with this process become magnets—gathering points for all—and springboards for further community revitalization work.

Engaging creatives at the onset allows the broader group of traditional stakeholders to learn firsthand from the experts about how to mobilize arts and cultural resources to build, heal and celebrate community.

Our Creative Placemaking Goals

As the pandemic has dragged on, cities have seen a collapse in the cultural and commercial activities that make urban life exciting. The pandemic has created a vacuum in cultural districts and severely impacted employment in the live entertainment industries, which have retreated online. While physical distancing has saved lives, social isolation and loneliness have emerged as serious public health concerns. 

Now that a vaccine is available, the creative and public realms have a unique opportunity to work together to breathe life back into cities. To this effort, we have identified five creative placemaking goals:

  1. Increase vibrancy & intergenerational social connection in public space
  2. Increase access to the performing arts
  3. Promote an arts-based response to public health concerns
  4. Support performing artists and neighborhood businesses
  5. Build social capital among designers, performers & public space advocates

Omaha Mobile Stage will deploy three simple strategies to further these goals: create intergenerational gatherings, leverage existing anchor institutions, and leverage arts audience spending.

Create Intergenerational Gatherings

Intergenerational social engagement is a key indicator of vibrancy and social cohesion of a community. Informal mixing between age groups has a weaving effect on the social fabric. 

Omaha has a unique legacy of using mobile performing arts to build social cohesion. Beginning in 1952 and lasting for 59 years, the City of Omaha Parks Department operated the Good Fellows Show Wagon as a youth talent competition. In its heyday in the 1970s, the Show Wagon drew hundreds of contestants and thousands of audience members from the Omaha area and beyond.

Among many who grew up, raised families and aged in the city during this time, it was a memorable and cherished feature of community life.

In 1966, the Lincoln Recreation Department dedicated a Show Wagon, a “theater on wheels” that was taken to schools around the city.

Leverage Existing Anchor Institutions

As we emerge from the pandemic, parks, gardens and schools are positioned as resources for improving public health. As traditional institutions, they are already embedded in communities and are anchors in the physical setting. They already provide accessible open and green spaces that are essential for combating isolation during a public health crisis. Learn about our Artists Return to Schools program and our 2022 Performance Tour.

Leverage Arts Audience Spending

Omaha Mobile Stage events will create opportunities for neighborhood-based businesses, pop-up vendors and food truck operators who will benefit from event-related spending before, after and during performances.

Before the pandemic, the U.S. nonprofit arts industry generated $166 billion of economic activity each year—$63 billion in spending by arts and cultural organizations and an additional $103 billion in event-related expenditures by their audiences.

The average arts attendee spends over $30 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission.