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Creative Placemaking Strengthens the Cultural and Economic Backbone of Georgia


By Carol Badaracco Padgett

Georgia’s creative economy received a springtime injection of insight in a potent three-day dose this past week at Woodruff Arts Center in Midtown Atlanta. The occasion? The Creative Placemaking Summit: South and Appalachia, a gathering of active and influential placemaking professionals focused on strengthening community connection, environmental sustainability and economic viability in 21st century cities and towns.

Co-producers of the March 5-8 summit included the organizations Creative Placemaking Communities and South Arts. The former is focused on helping develop creative, sustainable, healthy, just, inclusive and profitable communities in five regions across the United States. While the latter is a regional arts nonprofit devoted to empowering artists and increasing access to arts and culture within communities.

Among a sea of regional supporters, Georgia Entertainment served as the event’s 2024 promotional sponsor.

Fresh off the Creative Placemaking Summit, some 495 attendees went back to their jobs this week, working to create a more community-sustainable sense of place in the Southern region.

The audience breakdown by job title includes 25% executive directors, 20% creative entrepreneurs, 10% cultural affairs directors and more.

The concept of creative placemaking merges the arts – music, public art, theatre and other statements of artistic community expression – within an area’s unique contemporary urban landscape. The director of organization and community initiatives for South Arts, Jessyca Holland, described it this way: “Creative Placemaking connects people to the built and natural environment. The outcomes may be economic or social. In 2024, we will explore creative placemaking through the lens of sustainability, or the intersections of people, planet, and prosperity.”

The event’s keynote speaker, urban designer and author Ryan Gravel — a Georgia native, Georgia Tech alumnus, and founder of urban design consultancy Sixpitch, based in Atlanta – painted a picture of the big aspirational idea behind the concept of creative placemaking. “We are working to reframe cities and communities,” Gravel noted, citing the long-running Atlanta Beltline project as a prime example. “We’re making a way of life that was not possible before.”

To illustrate his point, Gravel shared, “I grew up [in metro Atlanta]among the sprawl,” where people had to drive to get everywhere. “But not my kids. They ride their bikes to school, and I walk the Beltline to work. Now I pass my son on his bike on the way to school.”

In his address, Gravel elaborated on the importance of placemaking in the transformation of cities and communities from dormant and predominantly drivable into thriving, creative spaces where people commune outdoors. “We’re transforming communities, but it’s a challenging process,” he noted.

Of the Beltline in particular, the urban design consultant added, “The public and private sector have merged to rethink infrastructure … for greenspace and business development.”

Following the keynote, attendees chose between conference sessions that covered topics such as day one’s “The Power of Free, Live Music to Build Inclusive, Thriving Public Spaces” and day two’s “Amplifying Reach and Deepening Community Engagement Through Partnerships and Marketing.” Other sessions included “Creating a Welcoming Atmosphere and Win-Win Fundraising Strategies,” “Adaptive Reuse for Arts and Entertainment,” and “Atlanta’s Transformation Through Trails: Placemaking, Engagement, Health, and Equity.”

The Creative Placemaking Summit: South and Appalachia also took attendees out into the field to see prime examples of Atlanta’s city-reframing efforts in action.

Day one offsite tours included the Atlanta Beltline, with a focus on creative placemaking and economic development for Beltline businesses.

Another day one offsite opportunity included “MARTA Train Station Public Art and Station Soccer Tour.” Day two tours included visits to art studios and the Sweet Auburn neighborhood.

A highlight of the summit’s offerings was an unprecedented immersive musical performance at Krog Street Tunnel on the Atlanta Beltline the afternoon of March 7. Called “Resurgens Requiem: History, Heritage, Harmony,” the event featured the Spelman College Glee Club, a renowned 44-voice choir conducted by Dr. Kevin Johnson, performing a cappella inside the tunnel.


Inside Krog Street Tunnel during the performance, attendees were visibly moved—smiles, expressions of awe, and grateful tears seen upon their faces.

Find Georgia Entertainment’s video capture of the performance here.

See a full list of the sponsors, speakers and supporters of The Creative Placemaking Summit: South and Appalachia here.

Catch a full feature on the work of Creative Placemaking Communities and the big-picture role of placemaking — its architectural, social, cultural, historical, and economic significance — in the June 2024 edition of Georgia Entertainment’s Creative Economy Journal.


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