Artful, Collaborative Summit Planning = Happy Participants

By Andrea Orlando

Community Director

The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking

Every once in a while, an unseen current carries a concept to success by the sheer force of its power. In our case, the current is a movement across the country, a recognition that creative ideas and artful strategies are needed to address long-standing challenges.

The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking has been organizing Creative Placemaking Leadership Summits since 2014 around the idea that practitioners and leaders in the field want and need to meet face-to-face to inspire, learn, and connect with each other.

But rather than the big, once-a-year conference that so many organizations do, NCCP worked to build a friendly, relaxed and collegial environment where people could both think deeply about serious issues and also enjoy themselves. It's a simple concept that was incubated in New Jersey from 2014 to 2017, and has now criss-crossed the country.

Unlike traditional conferences, each Summit is a boutique experience that attracts approximately 200 leaders from the fields of social practice art, arts administration, urban planning, engineering, public service, community development, economic development, environmental science, and philanthropy. Participants range from students to seasoned executives. The common thread is that everyone believes that arts and cultural strategies of, by and for the people improve communities.

"I only produce events that I would want to go to," said NCCP Executive Director Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP. "And I've been to too many of those gigantic industry gatherings where hundreds of people are packed into rooms to hear thinly-disguised pitch sessions and superficial, self-promotion stories, or where it's the same people talking about the same things in the same ways.

"It turns out a lot of other people did too."

In 2018, NCCP, in collaboration with ArtPlace America and other partners, organized four regional Summits and a National Summit in College Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C. Together with hundreds of passionate volunteers and local partners, the two organizations held 3-day Summits in Denver, Charleston, WV, Chattanooga, TN, and Madison, NJ.

In 2019, CPL Summits crossed the country with events in Columbia, SC, Albuquerque, NM, and Los Angeles. Upcoming Summits are in Cincinnati (Oct. 10-12) and a nationally focused event in Phoenix (Nov. 14-16)

Since 2017, the Summits have been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as more than a dozen other grantmaking organizations and businesses.

In survey after survey, participants tell us they learned a lot--even more than expected in many cases---, enjoyed themselves, and made valuable connections. We crunched the numbers for the past year and found that more than 95 percent of survey respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that they enjoyed the Summits. More than 85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they learned a lot, and nearly 63 percent reported that they even learned more than expected. Approximately 90 percent agreed or strongly agreed that what they learned was useful to them. Some 85 percent also agreed or strongly agreed that there was a good mix of learning experiences, high quality instructors, and plenty of time for networking.

In 2019, nearly 1,000 people participated either as volunteers, teachers, participants or all three. From July 2018 to July 2019, 121 volunteers were engaged in planning 4 Summits. Participants represented 545 organizations from 46 states and territories.

We value and practice a highly collaborative process in planning the Summits and engage an impressive number of people and organizations in that process.

Want to dive into more statistics? Here are some more insights from the surveys:

WHO ATTENDS? (Percentage of those surveyed does not add up to 100 percent, as participants were allowed to check more than one box.)

By Industry

18% in government-based entity

26.8% in arts production (such as painting, sculpture, etc.)

41% in arts administration or advocacy (including public arts council)

14.2% in grantmaking organizations

1.6% in real estate development organizations

40% in community development organizations

13.7% in economic development organizations

18.6% in architecture, engineering, planning, or design organization

7.2% in destination marketing or CVB organizations

16% in school, college, or university

19.1% in other (including environmental advocacy, community engagement, leadership development, housing organization, indigineous tribe, education nonprofit, curator, writer, business improvement district, festival,  teaching, landscape architecture, community programming, museum employee, arts and culture nonprofit, city manager etc.)

By Position

52.5% are executive/key decision maker/elected official

53.6% are manager or coordinator

21.9% are self-employed

28.4% are volunteer or advocate

26.2% are consultant

6.4% are student or intern

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