Local Gobioff Foundation puts up cash to spur creative placemaking in Tampa

The concept of placemaking isn’t new.

St. Paul MN launched Irrigate, a nationally recognized artist-led creative placemaking initiative pioneered along the Green Line (light rail transit) during the years of its construction.

Tacoma Park MD nurtured The Dance Exchange to engage seniors and younger citizens along with professional dancers in evocative community engagements that demonstrate the power of the arts to promote values such as social capital and civic dialogue.

Philadelphia PA created The Village of Arts and Humanities (The Village), a multifaceted arts organization dedicated to community revitalization through the arts. Among its projects, one that helps ex-inmates legally expunge their records to help them start fresh in a new life outside of prison. One art project created a symbolic exercise enabling the visualization of turning over a new leaf, i.e. begin a fresh start.

Those are just three of many examples of how the arts are shaping placemaking and community building efforts in cities across America, says Jamie Bennett of ArtPlace America, a Brooklyn NY-based ten-year collaboration among 16 foundations, eight federal agencies and six financial institutions that “works to position arts and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development in order to help strengthen the social, physical and economic fabric of communities.’’

Bennett is in Tampa this week helping to kick off a new Treasure Tampa (T²) creative placemaking opportunity funded by the Gobioff Foundation, a local private foundation designed to support human rights around the globe and the arts in the Tampa Bay region. Bennett spoke to about 60 local arts, community and business leaders attending Treasure Tampa's kickoff Monday morning at The Vault in downtown Tampa.

Tampa Treasure will include up to $30,000 in seed money for creative placemaking projects within the City of Tampa or the neighborhood area served by the University Area Community Development Corporation.

By focusing on areas within the City and the University Area, the Gobioff Foundation “strives to inspire businesses, non-profits, and artists to implement creative place-based projects through collaborations with the public and private sectors to forge the identity, character and experience of those areas with the members of those communities.’’

The idea is to spur the kinds of projects that other cities are doing to engage the arts as practical tools in the ongoing development of communities, the transformation of emerging neighborhoods and creating a sense of place or civic pride -- placemaking.

“We want to make sure the arts are at the table when we as a community are talking about economic development,’’ says Neil Gobioff, President of his family’s foundation. “The arts help create more stable communities by connecting people to places and creating community attachments.’’

A good example of the arts driving placemaking on the local level, Gobioff cites, is the Music Box Tampa Bay, an arts project installed at Community Stepping Stones in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood of Tampa earlier this year. The Music Box, a project led by the Contemporary Art Museum at USF, was an interactive public artwork and performance space that allowed visitors to participate in creating sound and music through a temporary village of musical structures.

Getting to yes through ties that bind

The Music Box attracted sold-out audiences of walk-up visitors from the lower-income neighborhood as well as higher-income arts and music patrons from all over the Bay area. 

Similarly, people who participate in the arts most often do so together, whether its attending the theater or singing in a church choir or making pots in a ceramics class, the arts “create a bond that goes beyond social networks,’’ Gobioff continues. The result of those bonds is higher volunteerism, voter turnout and further community engagement. 

Successful placemaking projects are defined within a geographic community, say a specific urban neighborhood, identify a desire for change, engage the arts as change makers and establish a way to measure transformational change, adds Bennett. 

“Using the arts and culture together to spur economic development is something of a ‘campfire moment’,’’ Bennett says. Just like around a campfire, people connect over shared experiences, gather data and find solutions to local problems. Relationships built through the arts help create the emotional ties that bind people to their communities and encourage collaborative efforts.

Along with The Gobioff Foundation, the Treasure Tampa (T²) initiative is partnered by Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture & the Arts; the City of Tampa, Art Programs; the Arts Council of Hillsborough County; the Tampa Innovation Alliance; the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay; the Tampa Downtown Partnership; the Westshore Alliance and the Tampa Bay Foundation for Architecture & Design

"We really want members of all sectors -- public, private, non-profit -- to collaborate as a whole community and put a creative thumbprint on Tampa," says Neil Gobioff. "It’s not merely a way to showcase Tampa to people from other parts of the world. This is for everyone. This area is our home, and we want to encourage everyone to creatively make it look and feel like home." 

Project applications for a Gobioff grant must involve the arts, creativity, artists or culture. Each must engage the community in the design, creation or implementation of the project. And each must be a multi-sector partnership between public, private and/or non-profit sectors.

Local groups, organizations and other doers have until October 17th to submit a letter of interest. Invitations to submit full applications will go out a month later. Full applications will be due mid-December and finalists chosen by Feb. 1, 2017.

“This just might be the most creative, most thought-provoking project ever to come to Tampa,’’ enthuses former City Council member Linda Saul-Sena.

For more information, visit the Gobioff Foundation website.

The eight-year-old foundation was founded by Gobioff’s brother, Howard Gobioff, a Google employee, before his death in 2008. Howard's directive to "make the world a better place'' though charity guides the donations they choose to make from the foundation's more than $2 million in assets.

Read more articles by Diane Egner.

Diane Egner is an award-winning journalist with more than three decades of experience writing about the Tampa Bay region. She is a member of Leadership Florida and the Athena Society, and serves on the board of The Institute for Research in Art (Graphicstudio, the Contemporary Art Museum, and USF’s Public Art Program) Community Advisory Council. A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism, she won the top statewide award for editorial writing from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors while at The Tampa Tribune and received special recognition by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists for creative work as Content Director at WUSF Public Broadcasting. Past accomplishments and community service include leadership positions with Awesome Tampa Bay, Arts Council of Hillsborough County, Alpha House of Tampa Bay, Florida Kinship Center, AIA Tampa Bay, Powerstories, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. She lives in South Tampa, is the mother of two adult daughters and grandmother to two amazing grandchildren, and travels whenever possible with laptop in tow.
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