NEFA Award Recipient

Burlington, VT

Contact Name
Sara Katz
Project Dates
August 2011- July 2012 and September 2014- May 2015
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2015
Municipal government and planning, Policy, Placemaking/placekeeping, Land conservation/use
BCA has been the recipient of two NEA Our Town grants focused on engaging the public through the arts for the purposes of planning. Now on the home stretch of the most recent project, Plan BTV South End in partnership with the City of Burlington’s Zoning Office, BCA Executive Director Doreen Kraft and Assistant Director Sara Katz share how they have approached planning through the arts and in collaboration with artists, what they’ve learned about the true impact of in-depth partnerships, the balance between quality products and quality experiences, and some of the unexpected circumstances that required them to adjust approach and recalibrate expectations throughout the project.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
While vastly different in scale, the goals of both projects were to investigate needs and problems within the City through the arts and address them in part through design.

The goal of Imagine City Hall Park was to develop an inspired and functional master plan for City Hall Park, a green space at the heart of Burlington’s economic and civic life that is suffers from aging infrastructure and disruptive behavior.

The goal for PlanBTV South End was to support the digestion of foundational information through exhibition and arts engagement so that the visioning and planning process would be grounded in reality, to protect the arts and industrial identity of the district, and to identify locations for public space and arts development that is well-coordinated with planned multimodal transportation projects.

If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Goals remained consistent over time, but approach needed constant readjustment throughout both projects.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
City Hall Park-
Partners were all members of a task force for City Hall Park, and included: -Burlington Business Association—Mission: to advocate for Burlington business and to assure that Burlington continues to be the cultural, social and educational center of Northwestern Vermont. Continue to work as a fundraising partner to expand City Hall Park cultural activities and work with BCA and the Police Department to create an ambassador program. -Flynn Center for the Performing Arts—Mission: to be a full-service home for the performing arts in the region; offer a wide range of cultural and educational experiences; and nurture the creative development of performing artists.The Flynn connected promoted arts events in the park, including expanding activities during the ten day Discover Jazz Festival. -Merchants Bank—The Merchants Bank is one of Vermont’s few locally owned banks. Their Burlington branch is located on the north side of City Hall Park. They have been advocates for the park and cultural activities in Burlington for many years and have committed funds to the City Hall Park master plan. -Preservation Trust of Vermont—Mission: to provide technical and financial help to support preservation projects with an emphasis on revitalizing Vermont's downtowns and village centers. They have worked with BCA in the past in the renovation of the historic Ethan Allen Firehouse into its current home, the BCA Center, and will advise the committee and designers. City of Burlington--Parks and Recreation, Burlington Police Department, The Department of Public Works, Planning and Zoning, the Church Street Marketplace, Community and Economic Development Office. Departments will work together under the mayor to ensure planning meets existing guidelines, is sustainable, and includes broad public input.

PlanBTV South End
BCA and the City of Burlington Planning and Zoning Department were the two primary partners for this project, working together closely on to procure a master planning team and develop a comprehensive list of engagement offerings including design charrettes and arts-based activities. BCA worked as the liaison with the artist community, while Planning and Zoning managed the overall budget, the contracts for master planning consultants.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Both projects contributed too long-term planning documents adopted by the City as priorities, based on a set of principals for sustainability called the Burlington Legacy Plan that was created in 1998 and continues to be updated every few years.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Matthew Perry's project in Starksboro, VT as their artist-in-residence for the Art & Soul Civic Engagement Initiative was one of the projects that inspired the development of Imagine City Hall Park, which served as a baseline for PlanBTV South End.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
BCA launched Imagine City Hall Park with a four-month engagement plan with activities facilitated by artists. The process invited residents to explore what they hoped the park would become, using photography, drawing, and interactive sessions to make the process more creative and engaging. BCA also developed a series of programs—lunchtime concerts, movie screenings, and temporary exhibitions—to help the public “imagine” possibilities for the future park. Working with a selection committee comprised of local business owners, they then hired a landscape architect, H. Keith Wagner Partnership, to translate this community input into an initial design. Once the designs were produced, BCA coordinated a community feedback phase, inviting residents to comment on the proposal.

PlanBTV South End instituted a steering committee of stakeholders (Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, NPA Reps, City Councilors, South End Arts and Business Association members) to guide the project, with their first task to select a consultant team to work with the City team. The selected consultants, Goody Clancy and Civic Moxie, helped devise a timeline for public engagement and project deliverables, and consulted with BCA to create a process for artist involvement in public engagement. Events were created and artist's project integrated into events to draw participation in surveys and charettes.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
While City Hall Park developed a plan for implementation that moved fairly smoothly once constructed, Plan BTV had to be continually refined as neighborhood anxieties, particularly from artists, intensified. Artist meetings, both to orient them to the function of artist engagement in community processes, and to dispel myths about City plans to destroy artist space in favor of more lavish, above-market-rate space, took the first three months of the timeline and much more personnel resources than originally anticipated. In an effort to build trust, fewer projects were curated than commissioned through a community RFP process than originally planned.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
There were internal and external obstacles in PlanBTV South End. PlanBTV was a complicated project to launch internally, because unlike City Hall Park, where BCA was the lead and could make decisions very quickly, the Planning and Zoning Department and BCA had to work together much more seamlessly than either department had ever done before, and also coordinate with consultants running two different businesses in Boston. Decision making moved much more slowly. In addition, it was a much more comprehensive and complex planning process than City Hall Park, and BCA staff had to take a crash course in planning, while planning staff had to develop an appreciation for the richness that the arts were adding to the quality of the project. Externally, a number of artists in the South End revolted against the project, believing that the intentions of the plan were to gentrify the area rather than protect its unique characteristics. While it was a small group, it created confusion about the purpose of the plan, and our communications efforts were too behind to head-off the initial derailment.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The Mayor had worked from the past three years on developing a collaborative approach among department heads, and as a result their problem solving relationships and commitment beyond their own departments grew. Two departments that typically function very differently were able to develop success through joint leadership. The participation of Susan Silberberg of Civic Moxie was also key, because she has been researching and working in the creative placemaking field for so long she was able to offer excellent guidance in managing artist relationships and uncover emerging national trends related to project obstacles.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Develop a communications plan that makes the mission of the project very clear BEFORE THE PROJECT STARTS.
Offer professional development opportunities for artists on community engagement on an on-going basis so you have a pool of trained artists to work with when opportunities arise.
Ensure that you still find ways to connect community to quality experiences in spite of the obstacles.

Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
City Hall Park:
The project yielded a masterplan that will guide decision-making about City Hall Park, enhance accessibility, and create a diversity of year-round programming. Several components of the masterplan have already been implemented, including a banner program advertising upcoming events, alley lighting, and new cultural programming, including a summer concert series and an outdoor sculpture exhibition. The summer concert series with 28 events activates the Park with local performers and welcomes downtown workers and residents to lunch in the park. The series is bolstered by local food vending carts and preschool programs.
PlanBTV South End will develop a master plan where the arts are core to the process of community engagement and that defines opportunities for artists, local start-ups and innovative small businesses to grow and develop. The project is engaging citizens in a meaningful dialogue about their neighborhood and its future, encouraging excellent design and arts inclusion in pedestrian/multi-modal and public spaces, and creating new artwork that brings visibility to the process and to outcomes.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
BCA considers City Hall Park successful because it was able to develop a concept that excited community members and leadership and place its renovation at the top of the list of capital priorities for the City. The organization has also seen a change in the park's "vibe" and gotten many positive comments from the public about their experience, which is corroborated by data from the police department.
PlanBTV South End--still in process!
How did you measure this success or progress?
BCA implemented a rigorous analysis of the different effects the plan had on City Hall. They reported a decreased number of fights and disturbances, with a 33% overall reduction of incidents in the park for the period between May and August in 2012 (98 total incidents in 2012 versus 149 in 2011). There was a reported decrease in alcohol use, increase in patrols, and an increase in positive activities occurring in the park (concerts, events, etc.). Another survey revealed that 38% of respondents felt safer in the park than they had in the past, and that 43% are more likely to spend time in the park since the year before. In 2016, the park will see the next round of substantial infrastructure changes.

Plan BTV South End-- Still in process! Immediate performance indicators will include the number of citizens engaged in the process, the diversity of demographics engaged as data allows, the number of artists contracted to conduct engagement activities, and the number of temporary public art works created.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The City Hall Park project began a larger conversation about the quality of the built environment in the city and how design contributes to that quality. Nearby businesses have been pleased with the change the redesign has affected. Bill Dodge, a St. Paul Street business owner said, “we benefit directly from the public art and cultural programs in the park that increase the number of tourists and citizens attracted to this community space.” Though it can never be guaranteed at the outset, the project provides compelling evidence for the role of art and design in transforming the socioeconomic conditions of a neighborhood. As Dodge remarked, “we see tremendous potential for BCA to promote more broad-based uses of this civic space and to continue expanding the cultural heritage and function of City Hall Park as a town common.”
The conversation about design has transferred into many other city projects and paved the way for PlanBTV South End's commitment to enhancing the public corridor along a highly contested highway project.

PlanBTV South End--still in process!
CCX Workshop Handout