A new partnership between the University of Chicago's Arts + Public Life initiative and the Harris School of Public Policy brings together artists, policymakers, faculty, and students to design and implement new approaches to urban development. The expanded Place Lab advances arts and culture projects that directly engage communities and enable cities to develop in more mindful and equitable ways. "Through an innovative combination of research and practice, the newly expanded Place Lab will provide local, state, federal, and international policymakers with effective, creative alternatives to current development strategies. In particular, Place Lab will focus on approaches to community development in which the arts and artists play a prominent role," says Theaster Gates, professor of Visual Arts and director of Arts + Public Life.

The process of community-led development inherently includes and must contend with the unruly nature of art and the missteps of previous redevelopment initiatives along with historic suspicions of transformation and resistance to change by community residents. Place Lab's efforts in the context of "city building" reach beyond focusing on buildings themselves by following an ethos of transparency and reestablishing residents’ social trust in community institutions and in each other. Gates observes, “Place has to do with people and not buildings.” 

The partnership intends to create new synergies between artists and public policy practitioners, allowing for increased intellectual inquiry about how cities change and improve through the integration of arts and culture. Daniel Diermeier, dean of Chicago Harris and Emmet Dedmon Professor of Public Administration, says "By combining our strengths, Place Lab and Chicago Harris are uniquely positioned to be a catalyst for change in current cultural policy practices, while training the next generation of policy leaders how to develop more vibrant cities in the future."


Going forward, Place Lab will facilitate public convenings, symposia, and leadership development for professionals interested in the role arts and culture can play in the transformation of urban neighborhoods. Chicago Harris students will assist with ongoing analysis of existing projects to evaluate benefits of integrating cultural and economic redevelopment policies to accelerate local change. 

In June 2016, Place lab kicks off a monthly social learning network and peer-mentorship program aimed at promoting knowledge exchange among artists, community organizers, and development and planning practitioners from across the nation. The convenings will be used to imagine different types of "city building" that depart from conventional models of development. Discussions and strategy sessions will explore the emerging principles of "ethical redevelopment," developed from Gates' expanded practice, which includes space development, object making, performance, and critical engagement with many publics. 

Place Lab was established in 2014 by a Knight Foundation grant to Arts + Public Life. In addition to defining ethical redevelopment principles, Place Lab is committed to fostering a network of like-minded artists, urban planners, design professionals, developers, community members, and policy experts. Both Place Lab and Arts + Public Life are part of UChicago Arts.  

Chicago Harris' Cultural Policy Center, founded in 1999, serves the arts and culture sector by researching critical issues, facilitating interdisciplinary conversations, and educating a broad range of graduate students about policy issues in the arts. Its 2007 study of cultural building projects in the United States, "Set in Stone: Building America's New Generation of Arts Facilities, 1994–2008," has been used by cultural leaders around the country to guide major construction and renovation projects. 

The merger elevates UChicago's global profile and enables a uniquely powerful combination of research and praxis unparalleled by any other major university or city. It builds on the success of past collaborations between Place Lab and Chicago Harris, which first began working together in 2015 on ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen. The project is transforming an underutilized property in Gary, IN, into a workforce training kitchen, culinary business incubator, and cultural site. Place Lab is leading project management, design support, public programs, and engagement with artists and other creative partners, while Chicago Harris is focused on developing training programs for culinary entrepreneurs and those engaged in the food service industry.

Looking for the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy’s Cultural Policy Center archive of publications, Digest, and events archives? Link here.