What comes first, the chicken or the egg? In a rapidly growing era of new job creation, one could argue that it is often the chicken which comes first. At least as far as new job creation in the field of Creative Placemaking, we can make this case. The term “Creative Placemaking,” coined by former Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Rocco Landesman, was used to define a longstanding practice of utilizing the arts and culture to help revitalize communities. Landesman became the “promoter-in-chief” of Creative Placemaking in 2010 by commissioning Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa to write a white paper for the Mayor’s Institute on City Design. The paper defined the term and was a seminal work in making a strong case for adoption of the practice.
According to the authors of the paper, “Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.” Landesman wisely set forth to create a funding mechanism for the practice separate from dependence on federal funding. Instead, he brought together the leading executives from a dozen foundations Kresge, Surdna, Mellon, Irvine, Knight, McKnight, Bloomberg and others – to partner in this pioneering work. Luis Ubiñas of the Ford Foundation was the first chair to drive the collaboration, resulting in the creation of ArtPlace America.
From our nation’s largest urban centers to the most quaint hamlets, in these relatively short eight years, the scope and practice of Creative Placemaking has grown faster and, I imagine, far beyond what even the early dreamers could have envisioned. Over the years, as the field has spread across sectors of planning, engineering, technology, health, sustainability, governance, community and economic development, and further, the practice has been redefined and refined.
Professionals from all of these sectors are locally engaged in one or more aspects of their creative community planning primarily through volunteerism, as jobbers or within the capacity of their current job mandates. Yet their resumes do not reflect recognition of professional expertise in the field. Perhaps in a CV, one can expand on a description of their experience, but in the format of a resume, one cannot identify themselves as “Creative Placemaker” without accompanying professional certification.
Why is “now” the right time for an institution of higher education to offer this professional Creative Placemaker certification? Simply put, recent job openings describe the need for those qualified in the field of practice. For example, from senior to entry-level positions, here is a random sample of recent descriptions of desired qualifications for job candidates:
From a Real Estate Trust company: …”is seeking an experienced Development Manager, to lead the visioning and development of a unique historic rehabilitation effort central to the placemaking of the..mixed-use project”
From a leading foundation: …”The Senior Program Officer will…create and provide intellectual support to networks of individuals and organizations working to embed creative placemaking theory and practices.
From a leading community development organization: “Primary responsibilities will include: providing technical assistance to company’s local program staff and
community based-organizations; evaluating the start-up process and the effectiveness of the implementation of the various creative placemaking ventures…”
From a local arts organization:” …one of the leading creative placemaking practitioners in the country is currently seeking an individual to join its growing team.”
From a national smart growth and transportation organization: “seeks a personable,
detail-oriented and creative individual to serve as an Arts & Culture/Outreach Associate…(who has) knowledge of creative placemaking practices and experience implementing creative placemaking, public art, and/or tactical urbanism projects.”
Furthermore, communities are actively recruiting consultants or leaders who have this expertise. Additionally, those who have already been successful practitioners want to become both more proficient in this vast multi-faceted area as well as add the professional designation to their own resumes. They want to be able to say: “I am a Creative Placemaker.” It makes the work “real” and allows one to take ownership of this title.
For the past two years, the Alliance for Arts in Research Universities has been examining the need for Creative Placemaking education in institutions of higher learning. Because the practice is already so robust in municipalities throughout the state of New Jersey, the need to move forward in providing professional certification to the practitioners, and those who strive to be, is evident.
NJIT, at first glance, might not seem the most obvious university to take on the establishment of this certification in the field of Creative Placemaking. Why would the state’s top science and technology university with a STEM-centric mission be the best place for this to land? One need look no further than at Vision 2020, NJIT’s strategic plan for growth in all areas of the university:
“Scholarly research, creative work and related activities constitute the third strategic priority. NJIT aims for prominence in these areas, and they will be pursued with ever-increasing excellence… NJIT also aims to break down barriers to multidisciplinary collaborations…” ( a critical component to a successful Creative Placemaking process)
The University is ideally situated in the heart of New Jersey’s largest city. Civil engagement by faculty, administrators and students serves as an integral part of the university’s culture, harmonizing academic learning, personal development, and community benefit. NJIT boasts a world-class faculty of scholars and researchers in its Honor’s College and the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Computing, Management, Engineering and in NJ’s only public college of Architecture and Design. The New Jersey Innovation Institute is an NJIT corporation located on campus which helps businesses recognize and develop their possibilities. Leadership within NJIT, NJII, and the city of Newark provide extraordinary available teaching resources in order to maximize learning for course participants.
The Continuing Education Division of NJIT has a long history of providing excellence in workforce training. Most recently, through a competitive process, NJIT/CPE has been awarded three of New Jersey’s seven Talent Networks .
Over the past five years, as I have experimented with and developed the curriculum for the Professional Certificate in Creative Placemaking, I have learned that in order to provide comprehensive training and allow for essential hands-on practice, this course of study must be delivered in-person. Correspondingly, we are limiting class size so that diverse sector practitioners receive the individual attention that such a complex field of study demands. Within NJIT/CPE, we have the opportunity to provide the intimate classroom experience. And the vibrancy of the practice in communities throughout the state provides ample opportunity for course participants to have real-world practice.
So, the time is indeed “now” for professional recognition in the field of Creative Placemaking. Based on the obvious needs, the ongoing significant practice and substantial state, organizational and foundational support within New Jersey, it is laudable that NJIT and its institutional partners are stepping-up and taking the lead in providing a ground-breaking Professional Creative Placemaking Certification experience. In other words, the time is here for this chicken to start hatching some eggs!