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Placemaking is the act of people coming together to change overlooked and undervalued public and shared spaces into welcoming places where community gathers, supports one another, and thrives. Places can be animated and enhanced by elements that encourage human interaction – from temporary activities such as performances and chalked poetry to permanent installations such as landscaping and unique art.

Cities and neighborhoods need creative thinking. Particularly when communities are facing big challenges, artists see opportunity in challenge, beauty in chaos and have practical skills and creative thinking that can draw people and attention to an issue or a place.

When you mobilize local artists to connect and invest their energies in their own communities and neighborhood, you can impact:

-Neighborhood vibrancy and livability

-Neighborhood identity and community narrative

-Engagement among diverse members of the community

-Local economy and business visibility

-Transit-oriented development

-New, lasting approaches for creative problem solving

Based on a 3 year initiative created by Springboard for the Arts with the City of Saint Paul and Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation in response to disruptive construction of a light rail line through the urban core, Irrigate is a community development strategy that mobilizes the skills and creativity of local artists to create innovative, meaningful, authentic solutions to local challenges. Artists are a resource that all places have, but are typically left unrecognized and undervalued. Irrigate is a mechanism for cities, neighborhoods and small businesses to engage with artists to benefit the whole community through multiple artist-led collaborative projects.

The goal of artist projects that come from Irrigate is that by creating multiple small moments of surprise and joy and relationships, we can signal to neighborhoods that change is possible, that the people who live there can engage in and direct this change, and that their place is valuable and worth tending. Together dozens or hundreds of small projects build ownership and agency for the people who share a place. Irrigate is about revealing what’s possible and providing an outlet for positive and productive action.

There are three primary impacts when you engage local artists in addressing community challenges:

1. CHANGE THE NARRATIVE: By supporting multiple small projects you create opportunities for people to have positive experiences of a place and for increased positive media coverage and visibility. Projects led by local artists show a community that they themselves have agency and impact. Multiple media stories about fun, exciting and curious activities change the narrative from how difficult or challenged an area is to how much it has to offer – to its own residents and to people and businesses you want to attract.

2. BUILD SOCIAL CAPITAL: By connecting neighbors in new ways and engaging residents with local businesses through collaborative processes, Irrigate builds a stronger network of social capital amongst a wide diversity of people.

3. INCREASE SMALL BUSINESS VISIBILITY AND PROSPERITY: By creating projects that draw people and attention to small businesses and commercial nodes, Irrigate helps these important independent businesses remain viable and helps attract new businesses.

A free, step-by-step toolkit is available on the Creative Exchange, Springboard’s national platform for storytelling and resource-sharing around artists, creativity & community.

For more info about Irrigate, please visit out YouTube Playlist, or see project photos, on our Flickr site.

Springboard Staff

Associate Director, Programs

Site Manager
Handbook for Artists Working Community

This handbook is a practical manual for individual artists who would like to begin or deepen this kind of artistic practice – work in and work with community. The stories, tools, and wisdom shared here were gathered from creative practitioners who regularly do this work.

Get the toolkit