Providence, RI

Contact Name
Kate Holguin
Project Dates
September 2013 - October 2014 (ongoing)
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2015
Real Estate, Business Planning, Policy, Design
The Creative Mile is a temporary use public art program in Providence, Rhode Island. It was first organized in 2014 by the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, an entity responsible for the development of twenty acres of land known as "The LINK" that were freed up by the relocation of Interstate 195. The Creative Mile is part of a long-term goal to transform The LINK into a dynamic center in the heart of the city. Twelve proposals were selected for a 1-year installation period in the Creative Mile. It gets people out walking, looking and valuing the city and its creative residents. The Creative Mile celebrates the rich mix of local design talent, enhances the value of the surrounding communities, and promotes economic development—not just in The LINK, but in Providence as a whole.
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:
The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission was created in late 2011 to serve as the responsible authority for the sale, marketing and oversight of The LINK, twenty acres of land freed up by the relocation of Interstate 195. The LINK is in a great location and has fully-equipped infrastructure. The Commission has competitively positioned The LINK for redevelopment because of a tactical branding and marketing strategy for increasing interest in the District and the established transparent, expedited path to development. However, since the completion of The LINK could take decades, part of the Commission's task has been to figure out a temporary use for the land in line with the overall goal for the space: something that enriches the surrounding urban environment, generates excitement for The LINK, and promotes economic development. The Creative Mile accomplishes all these goals and also acts as a very visible space for local artists to showcase their creative talents.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
The Commission continues to be committed to its original goals for The Creative Mile, which are to enliven the urban landscape with temporary artistic interventions and thereby generate enthusiasm for the future development of The LINK and the economic development of the land—and Providence as a whole—that will follow. However, as the first 6 pieces were installed in May 2014, the Commission saw an opportunity to succeed in helping transform Providence into a more walkable and bikeable city. Wayfinding signage and a map of the installations were distributed to key businesses and cultural points-of-interest in the city in an effort to encourage residents—on foot or by bike—to see The Creative Mile and explore Providence.
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):
The Commission staff has been the central organizer and executor of The Creative Mile. However, in the early stages of the program, a group of interested creative parties and stakeholders from the city helped shape the overall goals and vision of The Creative Mile. In addition to Commission staff, this group was comprised of Commission board members and staff from The Steel Yard (a community arts and technical training school), the city’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism, Jewelry District Neighborhood Association, and the Children’s Museum. Once a Call for Submissions was issued, this group also acted as a jury to review and select proposals for installation on The LINK. Additional funding came from local nonprofits Providence Foundation and Rhode Island Foundation. Actual installation was done with guidance from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, resources from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and the technical skill and expertise of engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill. Finally, a partnership was formed with The Avenue Concept, a local nonprofit targeted at producing public arts programming for the city. The Avenue Concept provided funding for The Creative Mile as well as marketing and promotional resources in pursuit of greater goals for Providence, like the activation of public space and increased civic engagement with the arts.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The Creative Mile plays into some of the goals outlined in the Commission Developers’ Toolkit, which describes methods through which private developers, public agencies, and other investors can collaborate to build a unique district where people from all backgrounds can work, live and enjoy Providence. One of these goals is specifically interim parcel programing, which promotes walkability, public amenity, and economic development, especially in areas of The LINK where development will not begin for one to three years. With the implementation of The Creative Mile, the Commission has set a standard for future collaborators in The LINK that demonstrates the importance of interim use programming in redevelopment of the land.

The Creative Mile also achieves the more sweeping, citywide goals. One is to create a more walkable and bikeable city, and another is to establish creative temporary use programs as a standard in Providence. The arts and design culture in the city is an important component of what makes the city such a great place to live and work, and The Creative Mile is a piece of a greater movement to organize a comprehensive approach to creative interim use and artistic neighborhood intervention programs in the city, which in turn can inspire residents discover and connect to Providence.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
The Creative Mile is modeled off of the Convergence International Arts Festival that ran for sixteen years in Providence until 2003. Considered one of the premiere arts festivals in the country, Convergence was a three-week statewide festival centered in downtown Providence with sites spread throughout Rhode Island. It featured large-scale public sculpture by nationally and internationally recognized artists. While The Creative Mile is smaller and scale and exclusively features local talent, the vision of a free outdoor art exhibition accessible to the public 365 days a year has been the foundation of The Creative Mile as much as it was the foundation of Convergence.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
A group comprised of the 195 Commission's staff and board members, staff from The Steel Yard, the Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism, Jewelry District Neighborhood Association, and the Children's Museum initiated The Creative Mile in late 2013. Productive meetings in the fall led to the creation of guidelines and an application for installation in The Creative Mile. In this Call for Submissions and subsequent information sessions, individuals and groups in Rhode Island were encouraged to submit proposals for original, temporary art installations to be displayed on the parcels for up to one year. Only one design per individual was considered. Selections will be made by a jury appointed by I-195 Redevelopment District. Submissions selected for installation demonstrated they were unique and engaging works that were appropriate in concept, materials and scale for The Creative Mile.

The Commission allocated $20,000 to this program and sought additional support to match this commitment. The funds cover participants' costs for materials, fabrication, transport and installation of projects as well as a modest stipend. The Commission agreed that The Creative Mile should feature artists and creative individuals who were perhaps young or not well-established, and were looking for a very visible space in which to showcase their work and launch their artistic careers. Since The Creative Mile was designed to feature multiple burgeoning artists and through them demonstrate the design talent in Providence, a project budget not to exceed $2,000 was set for each participant. Limited additional resources were also available for installation purposes (such as producing and setting a concrete base or footings). Due to contamination on the I-195 parcels, the Commission selected specific locations within The LINK on which work could be installed for up to one year and formulated guidelines with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on how to install work while minimally disturbing the contaminated soil of The LINK.

Six proposals from talented young Providence artists were selected in January 2014 for May 2014 installation, and six more were selected in July 2014 for October 2014 installation. The selected installations mimic the rich mix that defines Providence. Some echo the built environment, such as a sculpture that draws upon the Jewelry District's rich history and others draw from nature, such as a colorful birdhouse community. In the months between the selection of proposals and the actual putting in place of the pieces, the Commission staff coordinated the fabrication, transport, and installation of Marketing strategies were implemented and promotional materials were printed, all in line with the original goal of creative placemaking in order to spur interest in the land and economic development in The LINK. This included an opening celebratory event with city and state dignitaries in attendance, informational flyers, maps of The Creative Mile, and interviews with New England art magazines, local network news outlets and cable channels. In the process, the Commission also added encouraging walkability in Providence as a major goal of The Creative Mile.

Further talks with the Departments of Planning and Arts, Culture and Tourism resulted in wayfinding signage for The Creative Mile. The Department of Planning initiated a program called PopUp Providence, a placemaking project that introduces interactive, artistic and cultural displays and interventions throughout the city's neighborhoods. The Commission though similar wayfinding signage for The Creative Mile would be an effective way to direct viewers to the installations. By having uniform signage up around the city, the Commission and city jointly accomplished similar goals of promoting walkability/bikeability in the city and showcasing the artistic flair of Providence.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
Looking forward to the next iteration of the Creative Mile for 2015, the Commission will most likely be considering tweaks to the timeline. Rather than having specific submission periods, a rolling submission deadline is being considered, which could potentially make The Creative Mile more exciting as the overall landscape would continually change and flow. In the spirit of this goal, rather than just 1-year installations, the Commission will also consider performance pieces and very temporary (1 day or 1 week) installations. The Creative Mile may not necessarily have exactly twelve installations again—selection depends increasingly on the caliber and merit of the proposal, in which the artist demonstrates the ability to more or less independently fabricate and install their work will be looked upon more favorably. The Commission might also explore looking for installations that are more site-specific. Installations closer to Interstate 95 could be large and designed more with vehicular viewing in mind; installations near the riverfront could be more interactive.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Funding was the most obvious obstacle for completion of The Creative Mile. The Commission committed $20,000 to The Creative Mile, but in order to meet the set artist budget, ensure proper installation of the pieces and print quality promotional materials, the Commission needed another $20,000. Though the Commission ultimately received donations from local foundations and partnered with The Avenue Concept, it was difficult to find additional sponsors and partners for The Creative Mile. While there are multiple organizations committed to public art and creative temporary use programs in Providence, these organizations are disconnected from one another, which results in a limited scope of funding for individual projects.

The installation of pieces in The Creative Mile also proved a difficult task. While the artists were all very talented and skilled in working with their respective mediums, not all had experience with public art programs and outdoor installation. Additionally, it proved much more costly than we anticipated to pour cement foundations for the pieces that required bases. To compound this, the Commission faced a very tight schedule and looming deadline (about 3 weeks) to solve these installation issues.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The Avenue Concept was the most instrumental in overcoming the funding obstacle for The Creative Mile. The Commission was able to identify common goals with The Avenue Concept, those being the activation of public space, greater civic engagement and promotion of important areas of future development (including The LINK). Because of these identified common goals, The Commission and The Avenue Concept were able to partner to complete The Creative Mile. The Avenue Concept contributed $10,000 necessary for installation and promotional materials, as well as past experience and expertise with public art and creative temporary use programs. An additional $3,000 from Providence Foundation and Rhode Island Foundation closed the gap in funding for The Creative Mile and the Commission was able to execute our high-quality interim use program.

The installation of the pieces could not have been done without the Commission’s pre-existing, strong cross-sector partnerships. Fuss & O’Neill, an engineering firm the Commission had already been hired for environmental assessment and stormwater management planning in The LINK. Because of their expertise and experience, they were able to quickly consult with the artists and draw up a reasonable budget for pouring cement foundations and installing pieces on these bases, all within the Commission’s tight schedule. Additionally, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, which had been tasked for many years with road and utility infrastructure in The LINK, as well as the construction of 8 acres of park space and a pedestrian bridge across the river, provided the initial funding necessary to pour cement bases, which will be reused for future installations in The Creative Mile.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Vision: For months before a Call for Submissions was even drafted, the Commission developed a clear vision for what The Creative Mile would be. Starting with the Convergence Arts Festival as a template, The Creative Mile was shaped through many productive and insightful discussions with those that already had experience with public art and programs. Interested parties were consulted on what kind of creative temporary use initiative would be most effective specific to The LINK’s location. City and state agencies were also part of these first talks to give an idea of what kind of protocol would need to be followed, and what obstacles the Commission might encounter in executing The Creative Mile. By developing a clear vision for The Creative Mile, the actual organization of the temporary use program—guidelines, timeline, and promotion—was precise and ran smoothly overall.

Persistence: By sticking closely to the timeline developed for The Creative Mile, the Commission had to do quick problem solving in order to meet deadlines set for the interim use program. Funding and installation were the Commission’s major obstacles and were overcome by relentless asks in the community for more resources and expertise in completing something like The Creative Mile. When the Commission got a “no,” an alternate plan was immediately conceived and implemented, and so on.

Cooperation: Strong partnerships were the overall determining factor for The Creative Mile in its final form. Without strong partnerships with other arts organizations and community stakeholders, a clear vision for The Creative Mile would not have been shaped and implemented. Problem-solving would have been much less efficient, and The Creative Mile as initially planned and imagined would not have been feasible. Continuous transparent and honest dialogues with other organizations in the city and state interested in public art and creative neighborhood interventions will allow The Creative Mile to evolve and adapt for years to come.
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?
The Commission aims to make The LINK into a cohesive, vibrant center of Providence, but good development can take years, even decades. The greatest challenge the Commission faces in the interim, as many other cities do, is how to turn this vacant land into a dynamic space, so that community members want to connect with The LINK, and thereby activate The LINK. As a city with an enormous pool of creative talent, from the critical making artists at the Rhode Island School of Design, to the food innovators at Johnson & Wales, to the entrepreneurs at Brown, The Creative Mile has given these skillful individuals a connection to Providence. Providence thrives because of its small-scale, and programs that involve small creative interventions in the community allow this talent, with their design flair and fresh vision, to constantly reinvent Providence in different and meaningful ways. Through their work, these artists have engaged with the urban environment. Through their work, these artists have engaged community members by enlivening The LINK. The Creative Mile will continue to be a space to persistently and positively augment sense of place in the city.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The Commission has been able to generate enthusiasm for The LINK because of The Creative Mile. For the first time since The LINK was freed up by the relocation of part of Interstate 195, residents can see and talk about activity that is happening on the land right now, with the twelve installations up. These community members can interact with the land at present, and participate in its future. By getting out and walking or biking along The Creative Mile, individuals have direct access to the shape and transformation of The LINK. With The Creative Mile, the Commission has demonstrated that it is crucial that Providence embrace temporary use programs that engage residents through enlivening urban spaces. Economic development is sparked when creative individuals (and the others that make up the city's imaginative population) are given a real stake in the city. The Creative Mile gives individuals this role in Providence—not just in design and planning, but in place-making as a whole.
How did you measure this success or progress?
Upon the second Call for Submissions, there was an immediately noticeable buzz around The Creative Mile that had not been there when the Commission began the program. Due to the success of the first round, there were many more artists in attendance at the information session, as well as many more calls and emails during the application period. Once the second round proposals were chosen, it became clear that the Commission had succeeded in its goal of attracting a diverse pool of artists, from young students at RISD to retired sculptors with years of experience. In this second round, the Commission was able to build on its lessons learned from the first round, and from start to finish, the program ran more efficiently and smoothly, particularly because the obstacles of funding and installation had been mostly eliminated. This allowed the second round to be focused on improving on our initial goals, particularly in how to promote The Creative Mile. The press around The Creative Mile grew, with more attention on the artists in the second round. Magazines and local cable networks reached out to the Commission wanting to do segments on The Creative Mile. Wayfinding signage and The Creative Mile map were highlighted, which also helped promote a larger citywide goal of making Providence a more pedestrian and bike-friendly city. With this kind of momentum, the Commission sees the 2015 Creative Mile as increasing its presence as a creative temporary use initiative and engaging more city and state residents.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The Creative Mile has demonstrated the positive effect that creative interventions can have in place-making in Providence. On the organizational side, as the Commission and many arts nonprofits and agencies have been kickstarting creative temporary use programs, there has been more of a widespread effort in Providence to have these groups talk more to each other, to establish common goals and methods to implement more interim use programming in the city. Even more, the exploding activity around temporary use arts programs continues to demonstrate to political figures the importance of arts to economic development in the city. More funding through state bonds has been allocated to the arts, and the city is seeking more grants to put together larger-scale art initiatives.

The Creative Mile has inspired community members to do creative neighborhood interventions of their own. On the individual side, at least 2 miscellaneous installations not connected to the Commission or The Creative Mile have appeared on The LINK. This is a true, tangible impact upon the community: that residents have seen and taken an opportunity to meaningfully engage with the urban landscape.
CCX Workshop Handout