In July 2014, IDEAS and YouthBuild Louisville received a $250,000 national arts creative placemaking grant from ArtPlace America to develop a unique Creative Innovation Zone (CIZ) to fuel citizen engagement in the Smoketown neighborhood. The CIZ will advance economic, educational and environmental infrastructure development in the Smoketown community by placing artist/innovators in advisory and supporting roles in revitalization efforts. The initiative is a partnership between IDEAS, YouthBuild Louisville, and other community partners.
The Creative Innovation Zone consists of four primary focus areas:
Workforce Development (Culinary Arts)
Environmental Design (IDEAS UrbanGreen)
Job Skills Training (STEAM Exchange)
Cultural Production (Smoketown Arts)
What is the Creative Innovation Zone?
The ArtPlace America grant to foster a Creative Innovation Zone in Smoketown (Louisville, KY) provides seed funding to allow IDEAS, and its partner YouthBuild Louisville, to develop prototypes demonstrating new ways that artists can help support systems for generational sustainability centered primarily around job creation, job skills development, and green spaces.
The Creative Innovation Zone approach focuses on a “community assets” – its people – rather than “community deficits”. The initiative, created by Theo Edmonds (IDEAS) and Lynn Rippy (YouthBuild Louisville), is a holistic approach combining human, economic and environmental development.
What makes this creative placemaking approach different from others?
Traditionally, much creative placemaking focuses on urban planning/real estate development. IDEAS’s approach is different and unique. It is entrepreneur-focused and encourages arts inclusion as a tool for workforce development and job skills training. IDEAS’s partner is YouthBuild Louisville (YBL). YBL is located along an important connector corridor in Smoketown (Preston St) and YBL has a proven workforce development model. The Zone’s focus will remain on workforce development: job creation, job skills development, and green spaces.
IDEAS re-imagines the artist’s role in supporting positive social and economic change by offering experiential courses, coaching and on-site support for local leaders and organizations engaged in workforce development. At the same time, working with community institutions to co-create cultural programming.
How does this benefit residents of Smoketown?
At its core, the Creative Innovation Zone project is about attracting resources to support job creation and to develop educational infrastructure where it is needed. The Creative Innovation Zone’s work force development approach attempts to enhance Smoketown’s economic stability and prosperity by focusing on people’s needs. It is essentially a human resource strategy. The project is a holistic approach that considers participants’ many barriers to job markets and the overall needs of the neighborhood. Our collaborative approach with community members and institutions, non-profit organizations, private foundations and Metro Government underscores our emphasis on the improvement of the lives of the people who live, work, worship or learn in Smoketown.
The Quality of Life Action Plan developed by New Directions Housing Corporation in 2010-11, along with Smoketown residents, institutions and businesses, identified (1) Education, (2) Greenspaces/Health/Safety, (3) Jobs, (4) Business Development, and (5) Housing as “pillars” upon which residents wanted to build the community. The Creative Innovation Zone uses and focuses on the first four pillars as the framework for developing all of its programming.
In 2011, the Louisville Metro Housing Authority (LMHA) received a Federal HOPE VI grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish Smoketown’s deteriorating Sheppard Square public housing project and redevelop it as mixed-income, energy-efficient, residential housing.
There are 310 total units on the footprint of the former Sheppard Square housing development, including 228 public housing and tax credit rental units, 59 market-rate rental units, and 23 homeownership units. About half will be low-income young adults, less than 25 years old. They are returning to a neighborhood with no formal community center. The Presbyterian Community Center (PCC) which had long served Sheppard Square was forced to close in 2013 due to financial reasons.
IDEAS 40203 and YouthBuild Louisville’s partnership to develop the Creative Innovation Zone was an important first step to building a new community support infrastructure. Now, we are working together with other community institutions and organizations to provide some of the educational, cultural and workforce skills needs that PCC had once provided as well as put into place new resources that can support the community.
What is the point or purpose of art in socioeconomically challenged communities (where people sometimes assume money could be donated to other things)?
Artists are good at re-framing issues. Engaging audiences. Causing people to think about things in brand new ways. Connecting different types of people together.
IDEAS is a unique arts organization whose focus is supporting just and equitable economic growth in many parts of Louisville. This means that we must participate in addressing some of our most pressing systemic needs such as poverty, education, safe neighborhoods and healthcare.
We believe that there is untapped potential for the arts to identify and ignite the ideas and passions of a community in unique and compelling ways that is different from what we have seen in the past. Whenever possible our projects are developed in a co-production/co-creation model to help foster community empowerment. History has proven empowered people take charge of their lives and communities and inspire others to do the same. As a group of artists, our approach is to encourage people to be an active part of shaping their future, not just the subject of help.
Our specific approach in the Creative Innovation Zone is to use art and workforce development as tools to help people realize their strength and their potential to solve problems and improve their life by increasing their income.
Empowered people can help to achieve a sustained economic growth and sustainable development, through education, employment and healthy lifestyles. Empowered people also have the potential to integrate economic, cultural and social policies into community development and achieve a better life for all.
The Creative Innovation Zone is not just about cultural production. It is also about teaching. Teaching people to think creatively and critically. Teaching people use their own knowledge and abilities. Teaching people the skills they need to do the job at hand will always be the best remedy for preparing people to take charge of their community and to build their own version of the best life possible