Listening Tour Concept (page 1 of 3)
behind the prosperity of the 1990's, there are countless American
neighborhoods and millions of workers, children and families
that were left behind. The old industries are long gone and
the absence of stable, well-paying industrial jobs has contributed
to the gradual weakening of the economic, social and cultural
infrastructures that support a healthy vibrant community life.
Most of these communities are looking for new activities to
replace the old.
A variety of strategies and approaches often
separated and isolated from one another are in play in most
"rebuilding" urban communities. Driven by local public planning
and spending, many communities have tried to stimulate new economic
growth by devoting considerable resources to new activities
like industrial parks, convention centers, airports and sports
facilities. For several decades, at the neighborhood level,
community development practitioners have successfully engaged
in revitalization of housing and physical infrastructure, supported
the development of small businesses, and attempted to rekindle
a sense of community "connectedness." In most of the same communities,
a cadre of organizations and individuals are engaged in cultural
activities such as the visual and performing arts, historic
preservation and museums of all kinds. Another focus of considerable
attention currently found in many revitalizing urban neighborhoods
is that of public space places where a mix of people of different
ages, incomes and ethnicities gather and interact.
Each of these strategies or "fields" economic
development, community development, arts and culture, public
space have made significant contributions to the redevelopment
of communities across the country. However, the intersection
of these strategies and the proactive collaboration of organizations
across them has not received adequate attention. There is considerable
evidence that practitioners in distressed communities across
the country are using art, culture, and public space-oriented
community development approaches to revitalize downtowns, attract
jobs, create housing and re-invent themselves.
With support from the Ford
Foundation, the "Downside UP" Listening Tour is attempting
to gain a better understanding of the factors and forces at
work in these situations and to explore the potential for articulation
of a collaborative strategy to urban revitalization that can
be embraced by other communities.
The Tour includes visits to communities
across the country, where "Downside UP" has been screened and
community leaders have explored how art and culture have or
are anticipated to contribute to community improvement, including
more active public spaces. Practitioners in the selected communities
are engaged in a variety of art, culture and community economic
development activities that typically have sprung from local
residents and institutions. The projects that the Listening
Tour hopes to highlight and learn from typically involve a community's
sense of artistic and cultural pride cultivated as a communal
asset. Many also demonstrate the value of arts and culture as
economic generators. Some have used tools to address issues
of gentrification and displacement.
The "Downside UP" Listening Tour has been conceived
as a research and exploration vehicle focused on the following
• To learn about and document existing
and nascent local efforts at collaboration across the fields
of community economic development, public space, arts and
culture. Collaborations of most interest to this exploration
are those that explicitly focus on producing tangible "place-based"
• To engage a diverse range of local practitioners in
dialogue about the value of collaborations across these fields;
the challenges and opportunities involved with their local
efforts; and the resources needed to make such collaborative
• To offer opportunities for these practitioners, who
often work in isolation, to learn from one another.
• To produce a set of observations and recommendations
to the philanthropic community regarding the potential for
development of a national support base for this type of collaborative
• To articulate additional research and exploration
that may be needed.