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All-around art: City of Hamilton uses 'Creative Placemaking' grant as a tool for development

Conference in April to stress collaboration
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Posted at 12:00 PM, Mar 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-15 12:00:23-04

HAMILTON, Ohio -- Local representatives are leveraging visual appeal to further revitalization with the help of a federal grant.

Members of Hamilton’s arts community will partner with city leaders next month to host an event through the National Creative Placemaking Immersion Program. The city was selected to receive funding through the yearlong program in 2016.

“Creative placemaking has been about sharing ideas and sharing education,” said Ian MacKenzie-Thurley, executive director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts.

The program enables members of the arts community and government leaders to attend and host conferences through which they share ideas and learn from representatives of other communities.

The discussions facilitated through the conferences delve into the logistical, artistic and financial aspects of implementing arts programming and integrating art into city settings.

"Being involved I’ve learned more than I’ve taught,” MacKenzie-Thurley said.

The Fitton Center for Creative Arts provides opportunities for community members to engage in arts in a variety of ways.

The upcoming conference in Hamilton will take place April 11 at Fitton Center, bringing together representatives for the Fitton Center, ArtsWave, the Ohio Community Development Corporation Association and the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations.

The event will include a walking tour of Hamilton highlighting the city’s murals, amphitheater and Artspace lofts. Discussion topics will focus on which government officials need to be involved when putting art in a city setting, how to present ideas to those leaders and what barriers might arise.

From Fitton Center’s outreach efforts through the StreetSpark program’s urban mural paintings to attractions like Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum, art is a visible part of the city’s fabric.

“City council feels strongly that one of the keys to revitalization in Hamilton is in creating an arts identity in the city,” said Eugene “Bud” Scharf, Hamilton’s director of community development.

Creating opportunities for people to engage in the community by presenting exhibitions, offering art classes or hosting concerts can help drive community development.

There’s more to creative placemaking than immediately meets the eye, though. Murals and painted fire hydrants can make the city more attractive, but the broader intent is to engage people in conversations, arts and community.

“With the murals, it’s not been about decorating the city. … The conversation has been about creating art and creating conversation,” MacKenzie-Thurley said.

Members of the arts community and city leaders hope to fuel more community development projects like StreetSpark through Hamilton's participation in the National Creative Placemaking Immersion Program.

Integrating art into the community can also be a matter of strategically selecting lamp posts and city benches that appeal to pedestrians.

“These things become part of the fabric, not just an add-on,” MacKenzie-Thurley said.

“For us, it’s been about quality of life,” he added.

When it comes to choosing the best street lights or determining size limitations on sidewalk sculptures, it’s key to have a partnership between the local government and the arts community.

“It’s not just about artists,” MacKenzie-Thurley said. “It’s about community leaders.”

Members of Hamilton’s arts community already share what he described as a “true partnership” with local government leaders. However, the program’s conferences are helpful in guiding future projects by offering insights into which projects have worked and which haven’t in other cities.

“We think … that we’ll be able to kind of harness that energy and perhaps create more opportunities, more spaces, more economic development projects that incorporate the arts,” Scharf said.