The Future of the Field: Resourcing Practitioners, Not Professionals

This post is part of the series, Future of the Field: Cross-Sector Creative Placemaking Series.

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When I think about the current state of creative placemaking, I worry about the professionalization of the field. Because I am learning that resources are being diverted from practitioners and communities to professionals and institutions.

I recently learned that an art consultant was paid $170,000 by my local arts agency to write a public art plan. This month, I received an email inviting me to apply for a creative placemaking certificate program because it would give me access to powerful and influential people. And this month, I was invited by a powerful wealthy institution (PWI) to teach a two-hour workshop on the role of community engagement, race, and equity in the arts for…$300.

After the triple murder of Sammarre Daniel, 5, Samaii Daniel, 7, and Robert Payne, 70, in 2018, our neighborhood in Nashville was reeling. The two sisters were playing in their front yard on a snowy day when an argument between their mother and stepbrother erupted in violence. He shot their mother in the face, murdered Samarre and Samaii, then drove down the major corridor in our neighborhood, car-jacked two seniors, pistol-whipped one and murdered Mr. Payne.

Despair hung in the air, and I couldn’t sleep for a week.

After my husband connected with the youth violence strategist at our local health department and a senior official in our public school system, we organized a neighborhood meeting. From that meeting, we learned that we need to foster belonging for youth as our neighborhood changes. And we — a loving group of neighbors — decided to respond to youth violence with youth employment and engagement.

We titled the project: Art Against Violence.

We collaborated with an organization that diverts youth from the justice system through paid apprenticeships. The youth built a wood-cut mosaic to honor Curlie McGruder, a Black woman and non-violence advocate from our neighborhood. The mosaic was installed on a boarded up window of our neglected community center. This summer, we are completing the project and commissioning four additional mosaics to honor Black women.

I didn’t know that we were doing Creative Placemaking.

My neighbors and I are simply trying to do something, trying to survive…trying to move forward. But as I read the community development themes I learned, there are mechanics to our work. The Art Against Violence project is:

  • centering people
  • generating resources
  • facilitating collaboration
  • transforming public space
  • ensuring cultural continuity and,
  • reflecting community identity

Not to mention, this project is, in large part, contributing to healing community trauma, something this loving group of neighbors is uniquely equipped to do with each other.

Art Against Violence Community Bike Ride Group By LeXander Bryant.

The Difference Between Practitioners and Professionals

Herein lies the difference between practitioners and professionals. Professionals are armed with surveys and certificates, and they will parachute in — for the right price — often with solutions already in hand. Practitioners have a plan rooted in listening to their communities. Professionals will asset map. Practitioners know the assets are the people, and they are seeking to uplift and invest in… the people.

The wealth of practitioners isn’t captured in credentials, but in the trust and social capital they’ve built in their communities. That wealth. That community trust. Those years of being a good neighbor are what the professionals seek to extract.

Practitioners are funding their dreams for their communities: one fish fry, one side hustle, and one temp job at a time. Because we bear the weight of a system built to break us.

“I know that June Jordan was talking to me, a Black woman, worrying about her family and kids and the kids on the block and the people and the prisons.”
   Imany Perry, You Are Your Best Thing

“There are people waking up every morning thinking about how they will solve the problems facing their community.”
   Danya Sherman, Building Community Wealth

I feel both sentiments in my soul. Before my feet hit the floor, my mind is often racing: thinking about the shootings, school closures, the developers, and vulture-like investors that prey on us, the reading crises that are fueling the prison economy and, and, AND… I often feel like I just can’t run fast enough.

A Way Forward: Support Practitioners, Simplify the Process

“What would you do with $100,000?” asked the woman on the other end of the phone. I knew the answer immediately.

“Pay off property taxes for my neighbors. Nashville’s property taxes are going up drastically this year, and some people will lose their homes over a few thousand dollars. Some which have been in their families for generations,” I said.

“I don’t believe that Black people should pay property taxes,” she replied.

My new justice-minded friend went on to explain her position on college, reparations, the historic harm the U.S. has wrought on Black people, and how wealthy White individuals — like her — should be redistributing their wealth.

A few weeks later there was a bank account that I was offered complete access to for paying my neighbors’ property taxes. There was no 30 hours spent on crafting the perfect proposal, asking for recommendation letters, or updating my portfolio. There was no application or the emotional quicksand of waiting to hear back. There was no trying to prove that I am worthy! And, there were no strings attached.

The entire process was built on trust.

This friendship with my justice-minded friend has transformed me. It’s helped me realize the value of my time, it’s increased my capacity to serve my neighbors, and it’s given me the fortitude to amend or reject collaborations that are extractive.

I’m learning there is an opportunity cost to my time. Spending 30 hours applying for grants and fellowships is 30 less hours I can spend working on solutions to help heal my community.

My hope is that arts and culture funders will adopt a trust-based approach and simplify the process for practitioners, individual artists, and non-profits to meet their own self-identified community needs.

Mercifully, my justice-minded friend isn’t the only one thinking about how to redistribute wealth and root philanthropy in trust. The trust-based philanthropy initiative points to six key principles:

  • Do the Homework (Funders Bear Responsibility of Researching Potential Grantees)
  • Give Multi-Year Unrestricted Funding
  • Offer Support Beyond The Check
  • Be Transparent & Responsive
  • Solicit & Act on Feedback
  • Simplify Paperwork

We witnessed these kinds of shifts in grantmaking practice in response to the multiple disasters overlapping in 2020. We see this from my justice-minded friend who recognizes her own role in trust-based redistribution of wealth. We know this is possible, and we know practitioners and communities are ready.

Resources are not scarce, in fact they are abundant, they just need to be directed to the right people. The practitioners, not the professionals.

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M. Simone Boyd dreams of a day when her neighborhood will be free from violence, and as a novelist, neighbor, and speaker, she is working towards that day. Visit her online at: