"Creative Placemaking" and "El Sistema" are relatively new terms referring to strategies for transforming communities and changing lives. These strategies have been in use for decades, but only in recent years have these two terms emerged to identify these established ways to address community and social issues. The Kresge Foundation and ArtPlace America (a grant-making fund with numerous contributing funders), among others, are investing very heavily in creative placemaking. The El Sistema USA 2014 census found that there were well over 100 El Sistema-inspired programs in the United States, working with close to 30,000 youth.
Despite the popularization of creative placemaking, and the widespread growth of El Sistema-inspired programs, the conversations surrounding these two fields have been, with few exceptions, held in different realms. I believe not only that there is significant overlap, but also that reciprocal learning could enrich both conversations. By using music to empower vulnerable or marginalized populations, El Sistema-inspired programs can be effective drivers for equitable community development and community building. These programs can open the doors for creative placemaking work not only to gain the participation of these populations, but in fact to have the work initiated and led by them. This is especially true for neighborhoods where the voices of marginalized residents are not being heard in the community development process.
From 2011 to 2015, I was the Director of MYCincinnati, an El Sistema-inspired youth orchestra in Cincinnati that I founded through Price Hill Will, a non-profit community development corporation. This past year, I have been working for the same organization as Director of Creative Placemaking, a new position that is funded by the Kresge Foundation through a two-year grant. Having worked in both these realms, I am motivated to write about their relation to one another, and their overlap. What are the goals of each? What key elements make them successful? Are there lessons that can be learned, or translated, from one field to the other? Are El Sistema-inspired programs examples of creative placemaking? Are they a viable strategy for positive community change, and if yes, what makes them work?
In the following article, I will share definitions of creative placemaking, and El Sistema-inspired programs. Next, I will discuss my experience this year learning about and experimenting with creative placemaking strategies, including roadblocks, and goals for the future. Following that I will give some specific examples of El Sistema-inspired programs around the country, and an in-depth reflection about the first five years of MYCincinnati. This will include how being a part of a community development corporation shaped our El Sistema-inspired program, and some distinctive aspects of the program, such as the Ambassador Ensemble. I will conclude with lessons learned, and some opportunities for both strategies going forward. I believe that the work being done in El Sistema-inspired programs has the power to greatly benefit the field of creative placemaking, and it is my hope that those doing creative placemaking work will understand, and harness the potential of these programs.
To continue reading, download my complete article here. (10 MB)
Laura Jekel, Sistema Fellow '11