Published on January 14th, 2015 | by Rebecca Solverson


What does Creative Placemaking mean to Tacoma?

Back on December 4, the City of Tacoma, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, and Artspace hosted an event called Creative Space Tacoma, which was a launch for Artspace’s most recent survey in Tacoma, and “a conversation about creative vitality and its relationship to space.”

The main presentation of the night was given by Michael Seiwerath, Executive Director of the Capitol Hill Housing Foundation, and leader of the charge to fund the brand-new 12th Avenue Arts in Seattle. The project combines a theater with affordable housing, retail, and community space, all while preserving the original use of the site (as parking for the Seattle Police Department). It will create a stable center for theater companies in Capitol Hill, both for resident companies and short-term renters, and will bring much more vibrant activity to what was essentially a dead space.


Seattle’s 12th Avenue Arts

Although it’s a useful example to consider, no such project is one-size-fits all, and Tacoma has its own unique set of needs and opportunities.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) defines creative placemaking as, “leveraging the arts and engaging design to make…communities more livable with enhanced quality of life, increased creative activity, a distinct sense of place, and vibrant local economies that together capitalize on their existing assets.”

Sounds like a good idea, right? The difficulties and opportunities lie in defining what that actually means in real terms, and how we make it happen.

Like many other cities and towns, Tacoma has been circling the idea of creative placemaking and what it can/should mean in our context. Although the survey that Artspace launched at the December 4 event will help clarify what our needs are, and what some reasonable goals might be, this is worthy of Tacoma’s serious consideration, public conversation, and debate.

The 28,500 square foot City of Tacoma Maintenance Building on South Holgate Street is an available property.

The 28,500 square foot City of Tacoma Maintenance Building on South Holgate Street is an available, empty property.

To me, the key to good creative placemaking is including the arts and creative fields in planning, design, public policy, and neighborhood organizing.

This includes everything from permanent, physical elements (like dedicated buildings, public art, or parks with elementslike built-in amphitheaters for summer performances) to temporary activities (like festivals, fairs, parades, performances) to more nebulous things like enabling creative location-based businesses and neighborhood groups (through funding, training, or other support).

Each city has its own needs. 12th Avenue Arts makes sense in Seattle, a city that is experiencing crazy growth, ever-rising rents, and aggressive development – they need to create dedicated cultural places so that existing organizations literally have the space they need to survive.

Here in Tacoma, we still have plenty of empty buildings and lots, and space is, at least for now, relatively cheap.

I believe our current challenge is just as much about finding new, creative uses for our spaces as it is about finding spaces for our creatives.

Bank of California

the 7.700 square foot main floor of the 1928 Bank of California Building in downtown Tacoma has been available for lease since at least 2009.

Creative placemaking is already being done here; by Spaceworks, by the City of Tacoma, by organizations like the Broadway Center, by private businesses like Kings Books, and by individuals. But we need more and we need to make sure we are taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Tacoma is expected to increase by 127,000 people by 2040 – that’s about a 60% increase in population in 25 years. Just to put it into perspective, from 1990 to today, the city’s population increased by approximately 23,000 people. That means we’re poised for rapid growth, and have an amazing opportunity to learn from other cities and be intentional about the way we integrate the arts and creative uses into our city’s physical, economic, and cultural infrastructure.

What do we want our city to be, and how can we lay a groundwork that encourages creative activity to happen?

Could Tacoma support a building dedicated to artist live/work spaces for professional artists?

Could we support a sustainable, shared makers space or incubator kitchen?

What spaces are really in demand, and what is the other support needed to make these projects actually sustainable?

What can we learn from past projects in Tacoma and other cities, and what can we do differently this time around?

What resources do we already have here?

What do we want to preserve and build?

creativespacetacomaThe first step in answering these questions may be taking the Artspace survey. Data from the survey will help the City of Tacoma, developers, and property owners decide if there is a demand for creative space in Tacoma, and how that demand can be best served.

This information will only be useful if enough people participate. If you are an artist or creative, please take a few minutes to make your needs known. The deadline for completing the survey is February 9.


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One Response to What does Creative Placemaking mean to Tacoma?

  1. Abby Mishko says:

    Hello! Your survey appears to be for individuals only, so I didn’t complete it.

    I am the site relocation committee chair for Tacoma Waldorf School. Our tagline is “Nurturing the Creative Thinkers of Tomorrow’s World”. A Waldorf curriculum is fundamentally arts based, teaching academics through art, music, story-telling, movement, and lots of outdoor activity at developmentally appropriate stages.

    TWS is trying to find an affordable location that can accommodate our current Pre-K through Grade 5 students and also allow for growth to 8th grade. We would love a space where we could partner with like-minded individuals and businesses in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

    If this idea fits with your vision, we would love to hear from you!

    Thank you for your time and consideration!

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