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Culture: How Art and Entertainment Helps Makes Communities More Livable

Public art and performances enhance social engagement, creativity and a sense of place

Where We Live, Story, Layout, Philadelphia, Art And Making Livable Communities

Photo by City of Philadelphia, Mural Arts Program

The Philadelphia skyline as seen in the Culture chapter of "Where We Live."

Public art installations, arts education in schools, exposure to music, dance, theater and the visual arts: Culture in our com­munities fosters creativity and enhances recreational opportuni­ties for citizens of all ages.

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Expanding access to cultural offerings creates a more vibrant, interesting community for local residents — whether it's taking a painting or dance class, watch­ing a play, listening to a concert or enjoying a new sculpture in a public park.

Public art also gives communities a sense of place, making them destinations where people of all ages want to stop for a moment rather than rush through on their way to a meeting, a job or an appointment. Taken together, investments in the arts can help increase social engagement and creativity among residents of all ages.

The Takeaways:

  • Public art and cultural centers enhance communities: Across the country, mayors are using the arts to enliven their communities and create new destinations for community events.

  • It's never too early — or late — to get engaged in the arts: Arts programs in schools foster creativity and an appre­ciation for culture at an early age. But learning and exploring the arts shouldn't stop with graduation. Residents of all ages benefit from access to classes, exhibits and events.

Here's What Mayors Have Been Doing

Salem, Massachusetts

Mayor Kim Driscoll

(Term: 2006-)Public Art Master Plan

Cities don't happen by accident. They take careful, thoughtful planning and a pro active approach," says Mayor Kim Driscoll. "For our city to thrive, we have to plan the work and work the plan."

This analytical, nose-to-the-grindstone philosophy is a hallmark of Driscoll's approach. So when community feedback identified public art as an important component to revitalize Salem's Essex Street pedestrian mall, Driscoll put the pieces in place to "plan the work." The Public Art Master Plan is a blueprint for how the city will incorporate art into the plan­ning and development process for Essex Street and beyond.

Excerpt From Where We Live, Artist, Layout, Story, Arts And Making Livable Communities

Photo by John Edwards/Creative Salem

Muralist Ruben Ubiera, working in Salem, Massachusetts, and Mayor Kim Driscoll, as seen in the Culture chapter of "Where We Live."

As home to the Peabody Essex Museum, numerous cultural organizations and several public arts festivals, Salem already had a strong history of supporting the arts. The Master Plan builds on this foundation, helping the city manage growth of its art initiatives and solidifying Salem's identity as a regional hub for culture and creativity.

To cultivate ongoing community support, developers of the master plan engaged local organizations and a working group of residents, arts professionals and other stakeholders. Two community workshops were held to solicit input and feedback on the plan's recommendations.

Unveiled in 2013, the final plan is compre­hensive and action-oriented, with recommenda­tions ranging from administrative — such as how to structure solicitations, select art projects and manage the city's art collection — to substantive, including recommendations for public art sites and criteria for each potential installation.

Driscoll has moved quickly to put the plan's ideas into action with the appointment of a public arts planner and seven-member Public Art Commission.

Carmel, Arts And Design District, Street Festival, Daylight,Outdoors, Event Tents, Crowds Of People, Street, Arts And Making Livable Communities

Photo courtesy City of Carmel

The entryway to the Carmel Arts & Design District

Carmel, Indiana

Mayor Jim Brainard (Term: 1996-)
Arts & Design District

Arts and culture are no longer just for urban areas. That's the thinking behind Mayor Jim

Brainard's move to create an Arts & Design Dis­trict and new City Center in Carmel's suburban downtown. Working in collaboration with com­munity leaders and investors, Brainard created public and private grant partnerships to generate funding for new theaters, public spaces, galleries and more. The emphasis on artistic offerings simultaneously spurred economic growth, increasing tourism and creating a hub that gives residents of all ages new opportunities for social and cultural activity


Columbus, Ohio

Mayor Michael B. Coleman (Term: 2000–2016)
Arts Classifieds

For more than a decade, Mayor Michael Coleman has cultivated a vibrant arts and culture scene in Columbus. In partnership with local organiza­tions, the city's digital database of arts programs, ARTS CLASSifieds, allows residents to quickly find arts education classes and activities offered by more than 300 different providers. A follow-up initiative created a grant program that funds public art projects. Taken together, Columbus's focus on the arts is designed to build community spirit and bring about a culture of creativity that benefits residents of all ages.

Gary, Indiana

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson (Term: 2011- )
ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen

"I believe that public art — combined with design, community engagement and private and government investment — can transform the way we imagine a city," says Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

This vision is becoming reality with the ArtHouse project that's transforming an underutilized 15,000-square-foot building into a cultural center showcasing visual and culinary arts. Funded in part by a grant from the Bloom­berg Philanthropies' Public Art Challenge, the city is partnering with artist Theaster Gates to develop creative design solutions for the building. When completed, ArtHouse will feature three commissioned works of visual art and serve as a hub for cultural programs and culinary arts train­ing. Freeman-Wilson hopes that in the long-term, the new public space will kick-start additional economic development in the downtown area.

Sidewalk Chalk Art, Drawing, Illustration, Art And Making Livable Communities

Photo by Melissa Stanton

A flamingo sculpture and sidewalk chalk art add tropical colors to Loveland, Colorado.

Loveland, Colorado

Mayor Cecil A. Gutierrez
(Term: 2009-)
and former Mayor Ray Reed
Art in Public Places

Through successful public-private partner­ships and generous donations, artwork is now embedded in the Loveland community through creatively designed benches, bike racks, bridges and landscaping that enhance the lives of all residents.

In 1985, during then-Mayor Ray Reed's term, Loveland became the first Colorado city to pass an Art in Public Places Ordinance, designating one percent of the city's capital investment budget to purchase and maintain art installations. Local leaders and sculptors came together to create the Loveland High Plains Arts Council — and later the Visual Arts Commission — to showcase neighborhood artists, promote local foundries and organize festivals and parks that engage the community. Subsequent mayors con­tinued to nurture Loveland's love of public art.

In 2015, when the Art in Public Places program celebrated its 30th anniversary, Mayor Cecil A. Gutierrez could boast that his city was home to 465 sculptures and 2-D pieces.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Former Mayor W. Wilson Good (Term: 1984-1992)
Mural Arts

Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program — featuring several thousand works of public art — has gener­ated high-profile new public artwork for decades. Begun in 1984 as the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network by then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode, the program started as an innovative way to curb the problem of rampant graffiti.

Jane Golden, a young artist hired by Goode, built relationships with graffiti artists and channeled their creativity toward planning public art projects instead of defacing public and private property. The first mural project, which covered both sides of a pedestrian bridge linking West Philly to Center City, was completed in 1985.

Today, financed by a combination of public and private funds, the program has expanded under Golden's continued leadership into an organization that includes youth art education and re-entry programs along with a dedicated community murals department that focuses on public projects in partnership with community organizations.

A sculpture called The Herd, as displayed during the Suwanne, Georgia, SculptTour.

Photo from

The Herd, a sculpture by Phil Proctor, as displayed in Suwanee, Georgia.

Suwanee, Georgia

Mayor Jimmy Burnette (Term: 2011-)
Suwanee SculpTour

Jimmy Burnette is supporting the arts in his city through the annual Suwanee SculpTour, a series of original outdoor sculptures displayed downtown. SculpTour offers the community an affordable and family-friendly way to incorporate art into daily life, encouraging residents and visi­tors to explore the small city (population 16,000) by viewing the installations along a one-mile walking tour.

In partnership with local artists and private sponsors, Burnette is helping create beautiful, communal public spaces for neighbors to spend more time outside while encouraging economic activity in downtown restaurants and shops. When the temporary exhibits end, the city works to add at least one SculpTour piece to its permanent art collection.

Learn more: Website for the City of Suwanne
Summary published June 2016

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