Kaid Benfield, Director, Sustainable Communities, Washington, DC
A little-known but very interesting government agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, is quietly leveraging small amounts of financial assistance to make a big difference in helping communities across the country become stronger and more alive. Whether in Portland, Maine, Pendleton, South Carolina, the Kewa Pueblo in New Mexico, or another of the scores of locations that its Our Town program is assisting in all 50 states, the agency believes “creative placemaking” can strengthen “community identity and a sense of place, and help revitalize local economies.” I couldn’t agree more.
Indeed, music, film, the visual arts, and even design tend to get us gathering and talking together, frequently in the same place. Sometimes they reinforce a shared sense of culture; sometimes they provoke us (and others) to think of our communities in new ways; sometimes they are just fun. (Do not discount happiness as important to sustainability.) Often they create vital, new identities or “brands” in cities, towns, and neighborhoods.
Among big-time examples, Bilbao, Spain and Sydney, Australia have become world-famous in no small part because of those cities’ famed, high-concept Guggenheim Museum and Opera House, respectively. In the US, New Orleans without its strong musical culture is almost unthinkable. Growing up in my hometown, you could count on the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival kicking off “’long about sundown” every year on a weekend in August.