As a middle school student in the late ’70s, Roger Cummings’ field trips took him to Dinkytown.
He rode the bus with Marshall University High School students and frequented its record shops and pizza places.
He also spent time in Dinkytown as a University of Minnesota student.
Now, 30 years later, Cummings is one of a handful of local artists teaming up with Minneapolis city planners as part of the Creative CityMaking initiative to apply a creative approach to city planning — and engage students in the process.
The artist-planner teams, which include actors and graphic and urban designers, will collaborate on five different planning projects throughout the city in 2014.
Among those projects is Dinkytown’s upcoming small area plan, which in part aims to preserve the town’s character and guide future developers of the area.
The small area plan, which would need Minneapolis City Council approval before becoming city policy, would define Dinkytown’s stance on issues like land use, transportation and parking.
Developing a small area plan involves lengthy discourse between residents, business owners and the city, city planner Haila Maze said.
Not all important stakeholders take part in that conversation, said GÃ¼lgÃ¼n Kayim, director of arts, culture and creative economy for Minneapolis.
“In the past, planning has utilized straightforward meetings as the way to gather information,” she said. “Because of this previous formula of meetings, what has ended up happening in the past is that some people just don’t show up.”
Because students are living in the area transitorily, Cummings said there’s little incentive for them to get involved with the neighborhood.
“To take time out to create or give input on a plan that you might not be here in its implementation in the next three, five to 10 years doesn’t seem tangible,” he said. “We have to make that angle relevant.”
Doug Carlson, president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, said he’s had trouble getting students involved, although MHNA offers a board seat for students.
“A lot of times our board seats are empty for sometimes a year at a time because we can’t find anyone to come to meetings,” he said. “So even though we’ve tried valiantly, we haven’t had much success.”
Now a team of artists and planners is looking to find creative ways to engage students in those discussions through Creative CityMaking.
“This is the attempt to get as many different voices in the planning process as possible so that it’s not all the usual suspects saying all the usual things,” Kayim said.
Artist Samuel Ero-Phillips, who will be working on the small area plan, said those ideas include partnering with students from student organizations and surveying the University’s College of Design.
He’s also working on plans to create mobile art that would travel around campus and raise awareness about the small area plan discussions.
Kayim said using social media, photography and mobile units to interview residents are other methods being devised by artists.
Modern art’s practicality
After receiving a $325,000 grant from ArtPlace America, Intermedia Arts approached Kayim, and together they established Creative CityMaking, she said.
Four teams of artists were chosen from 60 applicants to work with planners.
Maze said collaborating with the local artists proved to be a natural fit.
“A lot of artists … [are] looking for ways to engage folks and to tell important stories and to address important issues, and we do that too, in a very different way,” she said. “Even though there’s different media, there’s some common interest.”
For Cummings, it’s just an example of modern art’s practicality.
“When you think of art, you think about a painting on a wall at the Walker somewhere,” he said. “[This] is the potential to transform society, neighborhoods, youth and environment.”
This will mark the pilot year of a program Kayim said she hopes to see expand to other city departments in coming years.
“We have our goals and our ideas of what will happen,” she said, “but this kind of thing hasn’t really ever happened before.”