Arts and Culture as Catalysts for Renewal:
From Cultural Districts to ‘Creative Placemaking’
By Carrie Blake
Editor’s note: The concept of concentrating arts and cultural activities within a specific area – such as downtown Fort Lauderdale’s successful Arts and Entertainment District – has taken hold across the country. The benefits are far-reaching and highly meaningful, as Carrie Blake, Consultant, Webb Management Services, explains below.
In recent years, much discussion and research has focused on the ever-shifting cultural climate. Audience behavior has evolved as our leisure time is increasingly spare, new technology affects how and when we choose to spend arts and entertainment dollars, and our desire for more social experiences inspires demand for more hands-on and interactive arts participation. Large-scale, multi-venue cultural facilities are not as viable as they once were given all of these changes as well as the significant costs required to construct and sustain them.
At the same time, broad economic and technological factors have inspired varying degrees of migration in communities of all different shapes and sizes. Resulting civic challenges include “brain drain,” suburban sprawl and others that significantly affect levels of diversity and resources.
All of these issues have inspired public, private, and cultural sectors to come together to work to change their communities, revitalize challenged areas and animate public and private spaces in ways that create a sense of place, augment quality of life, improve business sustainability and bring diverse communities together.
View Riverwalk A&E District
In many places, the results of these efforts include newly established or newly branded cultural districts. The districts decentralize activity that is often found at a single arts center or number of adjacent cultural institutions and integrate with private sector business, restaurants and mixed-income housing in such a way that arts and culture function as an integral element of the life and future of a place.
In basic terms, an arts district includes a critical mass of cultural activity taking place in a defined geographic area. From there, the definition varies widely. Arts districts are located in urban, suburban or rural areas. They can include the traditional performing and visual arts as well as other cultural activity such as culinary arts, fashion and creative industries. Sometimes one or more cultural facilities or attractions serves as an anchor for the district. Other districts are made up of small galleries, studios or public areas that host live performance or artists. They can be simple branding tools or formal, publicly designated funding mechanisms.