Creative Placemaking and Portsmouth's Percent for Art Ordinance

Portsmouth, NH

Contact Name
Nancy Pearson
Project Dates
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2019
Municipal government and planning, Policy, Placemaking/placekeeping
The city of Portsmouth, NH, established a Percent for Ordinance in 2006, but with two tries, had yet to see a completely funded public art project through to completion. Until 2018, when two works were selected, funded in full, and installed as part of the city’s second municipal garage at Foundry Place. Learn how Art-Speak worked with elected officials and city staff to educate the public on creative placemaking, build support for public art, and made history.
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 goal of this project was to see a fully realized Percent for Art project to fruition. Previously, there wasn’t enough political will among the city council to do this, but through education and advocacy, Art-Speak was able to see this project through the proper channels to stunning success.
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):
Art-Speak board members and staff
Community members on the project planning committee (made up of designers, policy makers, residents, artists, abutters, city staff, and the person overseeing the construction of the garage)
The community via public input sessions
Local and regional artists via the call to artists
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
This project fits into the city of Portsmouth master plan which includes place-making, creative place-making, public gathering spaces, pubic art, and special consideration of the city’s rich historic and cultural identity.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
We learned a lot about community involvement and buy-in from the success of the the African Burying Ground, which is just a few blocks away.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
Art-Speak created a comprehensive set of guidelines for the city to follow, that was adopted by the city council. (2015)
Art-Speak formed a committee, per the specifications of the guidelines. (2017)
The co-chairs of the committee (Nancy Pearson and Cathy Sununu) put together a team, a project timeline, and worked with the city staff to be in on the decision-making process at the start of the construction of the new garage. (2017)
As co-chairs, we held public input sessions where we provided historic information about the area where the garage would be built, including an archeological study. (2017)
Using the input from the community, the committee created an RPF from artists that spoke to the historic, cultural, geographical aspects of the site, plus the abstract not looking toward the future while honoring the past. (2017)
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
The project did not change over time.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
We knew going into the project that past attempts at a percent for art project had failed twice. We started early and demanded a seat at the table right at the beginning of the process, which was instrumental in getting all the other parties on board.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
To be perfectly honest, when I ran for city council and won a seat, that was a game-changer for how the city staff and city council viewed this project, and public art in general. Suddenly, Art-Speak had a voice, and commanded a level of respect that had been elusive in the past. As a city council member, I was able to hep other city council members with no background in the arts see public art as something worthy of consideration and investment.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Work WITH your policy makers and elected officials. They can champion projects better than anyone.
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?
Public art is always available to anyone, at any time. This is the most impactful connection to the community. Anyone can engage with it, in his or her own way, and visit it as many times as they wish.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
This project wasn’t just successful because it was funded. It also drew over a dozen local and regional artists to submit proposals that were creative, interesting and thought-provoking. We think the RPF, informed by the community, allowed the artists to think bigger and more creativity than they would have if we had left it more open-ended. The quality of the submissions is another important indicator of the success of this project.
How did you measure this success or progress?
This isn’t applicable to our project.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Our project committee reviewed and interview several local artists whose work did not get selected, but we now have them in mind for other projects. These are largely the next generation of makers and designers living in Portsmouth, and we believe that this experience elevated their work, gave them incentive to invest in, and consider Portsmouth and seacoast NH, a good place for artists and makers.
CCX Workshop Handout