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Macon Embraces Creative Placemaking with Maker Movement and Festival

June 5, 2015

This story originally appeared in the June 2015 edition of Georgia's Cities.

Creative Placemaking Defined
ArtPlace America, a 10-year project supported by a partnership of 14 foundations, eight federal agencies, and six financial institutions, is working to position art and culture as a core sector of community planning and development.
 
“To date, ArtPlace has invested $56.8 million in 189 creative placemaking projects in 122 communities of all sizes across the United States,” explained Executive Director Jamie Bennett. “Each of these projects has done four things: (1) defined a community based in geography, such as a block, neighborhood, city or even a county; (2) articulated a change the group of people living and working in that community want; (3) proposed an arts-based intervention to help achieve that change; and (4) developed a way to know whether the change occurred. In each project, arts and culture are working to help achieve a place-based change, which means that it is the interventions that are creative, not necessarily the outcomes.”
 
In creative placemaking, “creative” is an adverb describing the making, not an adjective describing the place.
 
“Successful creative placemaking is not quantified by how many new arts centers, galleries, or cultural districts are built,” Bennett said. “Rather, its success is measured in the ways artists, formal and informal arts spaces, and creative interventions contribute toward community outcomes.”
In 2014, ArtPlace awarded the College Hill Alliance $125,000 to support its effort to host Central Geor­gia’s first maker festival. The event aims to position Macon regionally as a leader in creative placemaking and innovation.
 
The College Hill Alliance assists the community in creating positive change to the physical, social and economic fabric of the College Hill Corridor, a two-square mile area between Mercer University’s campus and Ma­con’s downtown business district.
 
Nadia Osman, director of Revitalization & Business Initiatives for the College Hill Alliance, said the hardest part of transforming the College Hill Corridor is the "work" element.
 
“You can’t have a community that is stable and at­tractive without well-paying jobs to retain young tal­ent,” she said. The Alliance realized that it needed to cultivate the entrepreneurial eco system but it found that the word "entrepreneur" and its forms did not resonate with the community nor did entrepreneurs even identify with the word.
 
“We wanted to foster a culture of risk-taking as we found that peo­ple in the community were risk-averse,” Osman explained. In 2013, Osman and other Alliance staff members attended GeorgiaForward’s conference in Atlanta and heard a keynote presentation from SFMade (a nonprofit that supports city-based manufacturing in San Francisco) Executive Director Kate Sofis.
 
“We stumbled upon the Maker Movement,” Osman said. “Makers can be a range of people. It is an inclu­sive term. Makers can be artists, engineers, tinkers, DIYers; they can range from small scale craftsman to large scale manufacturers. It is a nice tie between the technology community and the arts and crafts world. You are able to communicate with those artists who may not have latched on to the word entrepreneur.”
 
Last year, the Alliance issued a call for "Macon Mak­ers" in an effort to survey the existing movement and gauge local interest. More than 200 local makers re­sponded to the survey, indicating an interest in the Maker Movement.
 
The Alliance followed up the survey by asking those interested how it can help them grow and fos­ter their talent.

“The response was people were craving a connec­tion with the community, other makers and access to shared equipment, as a lot of people were operating out of their homes,” Osman said. “Access to increased technology and knowledge cultivates innovation.”
 
The Alliance began hosting networking events and small maker markets to promote their services, talents and products and then partnered to develop three components to help cultivate the Maker Movement in the city.
 
The first is SparkMacon, a maker space that opened in November 2014 in downtown Macon.
 
“The space is a gym for your mind,” Osman ex­plained. “It is a space that is filled with equipment that members of the space share. The space gives people a way to get out of their homes and garages and spark new innovations, business growth and talent retention and acquirement.”
 
“The Alliance also developed an entrepreneurial speakers program. “The idea is to bring in entrepreneurs to the com­munity to explain how and why they started their own company and inspire people to follow in their footsteps,” Osman explained.
 
The third component is the up­coming “Make-End” Maker Festival that the ArtPlace grant is funding.
 
“It will be a two-day event celebrating the makers themselves, technology and an art exhibit. Makers will be invited to show work with emphasis on interacting with the community, not just selling work. The markers will show how they created a piece and all the time and effort that went into creating it.
 
The idea is that people would get excited about maybe creating some­thing or understand why a piece would cost a certain amount.”
 
The festival will also have a wow factor with large scale attractions including a fire breathing 30-foot ro­bot. “We will show the science behind that,” Osman said.
 
The call for makers opens this month. Tickets for the festival will go on sale on September 15 and the event will be November 14-15. For more information visit make-end.com.
 
“We are pursuing this because we intend to cre­ate a sustainable event that happens annually,” Os­man said. “Each year we want to showcase to Macon residents and makers all the talent that we have lo­cally. We also want to inspire and amaze them by bringing in outside makers. We want people to see Macon as a place that fosters makers and where one can make a living here as a maker and as a creative entrepreneur.”
 
“Investing in and supporting the arts have a pro­found impact on the social, physical and economic fu­tures of communities,” said ArtPlace Executive Direc­tor Jamie Bennett. “Projects like Macon’s demonstrate how imaginative and committed people are when it comes to enhancing their communities with creative interventions and thoughtful practices.”
 
 
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