Building Relationships

Emerging Creatives Meetup, Indiana, 2017
Before the work begins, there are a few questions to ask. LaShawnda Crowe Storm, artist, activist, and community builder, led a presentation on working in the community based on her work with the Spirit and Place Festival and working in United Northwest Indianapolis. She explained that self-evaluation is an essential first step. One must look at themselves before looking out into the community. Here are some questions to help set the stage:

What do I need to ask myself?

  • What is my relationship with the community?
  • How am I perceived in the community?
  • What are my intentions?
  • Am I making any assumptions about needs and my community’s environment?
  • Can I commit the time to invest in this work?

When these questions have been answered truthfully, it’s time to think deeper about the community. Remember, community building takes time and patience, so what comes next? You can’t do this by yourself. But how do you get people on board? And who should you be talking to? Here are some questions to prompt conversation as you start to plan for building a team, making connections, and earning trust:

How do I think about my community?

  • Who’s in my community?
  • Who’s not in my community, and why not?
  • Who is on my team?
  • Who are the gatekeepers? Are they willing to introduce me? Why or why not?
  • Who are my community advocates? Can they help introduce me? Why or why not?
  • Have I asked my community what it needs before? If yes, how did I ask them? Was I successful? Why or why not?

Now that you’ve asked yourself to think about your community, you’ve probably made a pretty long list of assets without even knowing it. It’s easy to forget that people are a community’s primary assets, and spaces are assets to those people. LaShawnda reminds us that communities are built of blood and bone not sticks and stone. With your team in place and community advocates on board, it’s time to start imagining. The next big question to consider is:

Where does my community like to gather?

This is where Creative Placemaking begins. There are almost always places and spaces for gathering. A local park, waterway, church, school, or even a street corner counts. By figuring out those spaces first, you’ll have an easier time finding and then engaging with your community.

It’s also important to take note of all of the physical assets and the community events that contribute to local culture. Asset mapping helps to draw connection points between people, places, and events. There’s no formula for this kind of mapping because every community is different. More to come on resources for asset mapping, but here are some places to begin:

Asset Mapping Resources:

So, how does Creative Placemaking fit in to all of this? It strengthens relationship building through that feeling of place so that we can all experience quality of life. But how do we even start that conversation with our communities? Thankfully, LaShawnda and Wild Style have learned a lot from working in the field, and they had some great ideas for getting the conversation started.

How do I start a conversation in my community?

There are many exercises that can help get conversation going. One great example was inspired by Candy Chang’s “I Wish This Was” participatory public art project, which gave residents of the city of New Orleans an opportunity to voice their hopes for spaces in their city. Now, the Neighborland Project is expanding across the United States, and it found its way to Indianapolis, thanks to LaShawnda and others.

You can get stickers from the Neighborland Project here!

Whether or not you use stickers, it’s important to ask your community about their needs, hopes, and dreams. As your conversations circle around spaces and places, ask your community:

  • What else could it be?
  • What do you wish this was?
  • What would you like it to be?
  • What could we use to make it so?

Evaluating Relationships

Even after the conversations have been had and the community need is understood, the work is still not yet done. We have to keep going to back to the table to make sure that we are being equitable in our pursuits.  Engaging every single person is difficult, but LaShawnda puts it simply, “When I get the community together, who is at my table? What does it look like? Does it look like me? Who is missing?”. Keep going back to the drawing board to make sure that everyone is welcome at the table.

The work is never done when it comes to building relationships, but anything is possible when you consider your community, become a part of a community, and remove all the barriers to participation.

By learning to building relationships, you are ready to do the work and set some goals. Head on over to Communicating Impact!

5 Lessons Learned from the Field

  1. Get out of the office.
  2. Introduce yourself to anyone and everyone who will talk to you.
  3. When you hear “no”, don’t give up. Try again later.
  4. Be personal and allow yourself to be vulnerable.
  5. Visit people in their place or work, or schedule visits to schools, churches, and community centers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Nobody understands Creative Placemaking. How can I get my supervisor(s) to support me?

  • Invest the time that it takes to build relationships with your community and with your supervisor(s).
  • Get the community to advocate for you. Your supervisor’s time is influenced by the community’s voice.
  • Identify examples of people doing this work already and use their success as leverage.
  • Have a plan for the outcomes and impact that you hope to achieve.

Set up pathways for your supervisor to see the impact in the community. Send out communications, invite them to events, and always try to stop by their office to share great news.