A Placemaking Journal
Placemaking: Preserve, repair, intensify
Placemaking often comes down to preserving, repairing, or intensifying urban or rural landscapes with public spaces at the heart of each neighborhood. Creative placemaking can take that to another level, helping to tease out the character of a place and celebrate it in an unusually insightful and invigorating way. A way that reaches deeper into the culture and adds nuance to the ways we gather. Tonight, I went to an art opening that I found particularly consoling and uplifting. In conversation, the artist pointed out:
I don’t add anything. I don’t take anything away. I just accentuate what was already there.
We’ve talked about creative placemaking extensively and how it not only captures value locally, but it also drives value. Many cities have long been investing in art and culture, marrying it to placemaking, and generating extraordinary local transformations.
William’s quote drove this point home. Creative placemaking is largely about accentuating – and paying attention to – what was already there. In another conversation tonight with Wanda Koop, one of the Canada’s most important contemporary artists and long-time friend of William Eakin, she talked at length about how he observes an object for days and weeks before ever photographing it. Turning it over and over in his hand in all hours of the day and night, at all levels of light and dark, until he really knows it.
This process of observing and honoring is exceptionally similar to what a great placemaker does. To listen to the people. To immerse ones’ self in the place. To observe and measure and absorb long before the first pencil touches paper for a master plan. Long before the first word is typed in a policy or regulating by-law.
The subject of William Eakin’s show on at Actual is time. In this show, he meticulously photographs wristwatch faces, or their backs, and by modifying the exposures, transforms a watch into a burning sun complete with solar flares or almost microscopic observations of the faces themselves. The three underlying themes to the show are time as solar, time as process, and time as nostalgia.
Any effective community engagement must take on all of these elements of time, and work through them to a complete current and forward looking picture. The plans that we talk about here on PlaceShakers are often 20-year plans, not made to reach climax condition anytime soon. Time is an essential.
None of these conversations or ruminations would have happened without Actual itself, a new gallery that opened this summer at the border between Winnipeg’s Chinatown and Exchange District. A recent review by Steven Leyden Cochrane in the Winnipeg Free Press points out “What Actual gallery – enormous and beautiful – means for city’s evolving cultural landscape. … The city’s most innovative artists in a first-rate gallery the likes of which it’s never really had before.”
Creative placemaking isn’t just great artists generating soulful work. It’s also the urban forms and cultural spaces that can house, nurture, and connect them to each other. And to us.
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