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Creative Placemaking Reminds Denver: P.S. You Are Here

The collaborative "Iconic Colfax: Where People Meet the Street."

In 2014, artist Nikki Pike made trees sing when she installed a series of "sound totems."

Birdseed Collection painted over 50 dumpsters in Sun Valley.

The 2016 iteration of Denver Arts & Venues' P.S. You Are Here program will award $70,000 to projects that create and connect.
Creative people in Denver add a dimension of delight.

In 2014, artist Nikki Pike made trees sing when she installed a series of "sound totems" into the trunks of grand old oaks in three parks across the city. In Elyria-Swansea and Globeville, Birdseed Collective beautified six bus stops, a project that brought community groups, RTD and the city together in a conversation about identify, transit and connection.

In 2015, Deborah Jang installed kinetic sculptures, based on Tibetan prayer wheels and built with community input, into the La Alma/Lincoln Park, Westwood and Five Points neighborhoods; each contained visions, affirmations and wishes from residents of each area. In east Denver, Environmental Learning for Kids received funding to deepen the educational landscape of the Montbello Open Space and Park, which will open in 2017, with sculptures and nature-based installations that invite visitors into a deeper understanding of the prairie.

Each of these projects was funded through P.S. You Are Here, which provides modest grants to individuals and groups that use their imaginative powers to bring people together, solve problems, enhance the built environment and address community needs. Launched in 2014 as part of the City of Denver's Imagine 2020 Cultural Plan, P.S. You Are Here is a kind of incubator for ideas that, though small in scale, have potential to spark changes in Denver. 

P.S. You Are Here is now open for proposals; applications for 2017 projects are due Saturday, September 30. Grants range from $2,000 to $10,000; the total available pool is $70,000 this year (up from $65,000 in 2016). Applicants must match funds one-to-one.

Lisa Gedgaudas, who directs the program for Denver Arts & Venues, offers prospective applicants some insight into the vision for P.S. You Are Here.
More than 20 artists designed art for Birdseed Collective's dumpster project in Sun Valley.
Confluence Denver: What makes a really great P.S. You Are Here project?

Lisa Gedgaudas: The 2014 and 2015 projects have all been unique concepts built by community input, based on their interest and needs for activating space around social, structural or revitalization needs. Community engagement is crucial to the program; activating community members as problem solvers helps further dialogue on improvements that could be implemented in more permanent or long-term ways. We hope for quality projects that the community helps to develop; demonstrating what a community can do when it works together to honor history, diversity and sense of place.

CD: The considerations go far beyond the aesthetic to encompass community impact. What do projects need to "do"?

LG: See above, really. Also, the more robust partnerships the better. We really like to see neighborhood associations, district leaders or other stakeholders working with strong and diverse organizations to tackle a project. A great example of that has been the 303 Artway project, along the 40th and Colorado light rail line, that will finish this fall. It's run by Urban Land Conservancy in partnership with PlatteForum, RTD, Dahlia Center for Mental Health Care, Northeast Transportation Connections and more. The station project, which is the first of many other projects along what will be a five- to nine-mile trail) will be the connection/gateway to northeast Park Hill and Elyria Swansea.

CD: What's a story of impact you've observed since the program launched, that lets you know it's working?

LG: Birdseed Collective has done an incredible job or revitalizing Globeville/Elyria Swansea with their bus bench beautification project, which then led into their latest project in Sun Valley, where they painted over 50 dumpsters in the neighborhood with support and designs of over 20 artists.

Recently, the Colfax crosswalk murals were implemented when three business improvement districts [Bluebird, Colfax and West Colfax BIDs] joined forces for safety. They are all installed and now the city is looking at more long-term ways to do this type of work. RiNo may be the first to try this.The collaborative "Iconic Colfax: Where People Meet the Street."

CD: Who does the program benefit most: the artists, or the community, or is it both simultaneously?

LG: P.S. You Are Here is meant to benefit the community and our city as a whole. These projects truly inspire long-term dialogue and change.  The artists' contributions can vary and are an integral part of the processes but not without outreach to the communities, to understand their needs and values. This is where we really flex the Imagine 2020 Cultural Plan's goals around integration, accessibility, economic development, collective leadership, etc.  We can meet the community where they are.

Art and culture plus community leaders often have an inherent awareness about social good which, more and more, is the conversation both locally and across the globe. The arts play a role to help connect people to each other, their history and their future while building social capital, pride and cities.

Read more articles by Laura Bond.

A former editor and staff writer with Westword, Laura Bond has written for Rolling StoneUSAA and Spin, among others. She is the principal of Laura Bond, Ink., a content and communications strategy firm that serves nonprofits across metro Denver.
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