Here at Levitt, we’re reminded year after year that free, high-quality arts programming gives communities so much more than free entertainment. It empowers people of all backgrounds to come together and strengthen the social and economic fabric of their communities.
The collaborative work of creative placemaking pioneers—like the visionary folks at the National Endowment for the Arts—show us all just how catalytic a role the arts can play in strengthening communities.
In 2011, the NEA’s primary creative placemaking grants program, Our Town—which “invests in projects that contribute to the livability of communities and place the arts at their core”—was born out of our nation’s need to elevate communities through the arts.
In a recent interview, Jason Schupbach, Director of Design Programs for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) traced the start of the NEA back to the mortgage crisis our nation experienced during the Great Recession. He recalled Auston Goolsbee, Head of the Council of Economic Advisers observing that homeowners were essentially stuck, unable to sell their home and move to a place that might improve their economic situation. “He asked all the agencies to think differently,” says Schupbach. “How can we help Americans where they already live? Because they can’t move.”
The answer: to work with the resources they already have! As executive director of ArtPlace America Jamie Bennett explains, “Not every community is lucky enough to be anchored by a hospital or a waterfront. But every community has artists, it’s the one asset already present in every community.”
Since launching in 2011, the NEA has awarded 379 Our Town grants, totaling over $30 million to projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The program has helped towns and cities across the country to foster innovation, tap into local talent and develop cultural districts and destinations. 2016 Our Town grants supported projects ranging from the development of a master plan for a diverse arts district in Durant, Okla.; to the creation of a program that uses apprenticeships, youth arts classes and cultural programming to address systemic community issues in Pacoima, Calif.; to the transformation of an unkempt highway underpass and parking lot into a public park with improved lighting and art installations in Holyoke, Mass.
Click here to explore some of the inspiring projects communities have brought to life through the support of Our Town grants.