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Listening Tour Concept (page 1 of 3)

Lingering 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 objectives:


• 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" community outcomes.

• 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 approaches work.

• 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 work.

• To articulate additional research and exploration that may be needed.

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