Skip to content

Photo by Kit Castagne: Opening Keynote & Conversation 

On November 2, artists, thought leaders and academics from around the country came together at Northeastern University’s Curry Center for the 5th annual National Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) conference. Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media and Design (CAMD) was thrilled to host this three-day event, to foster such an impressive exchange of ideas, knowledge, and skill.

Using the City of Boston as a backdrop, this year’s conference, Arts in the Public Sphere: Civility, Advocacy and Engagement, sought to address how creative placemaking and placekeeping can be used to bring forth positive changes in local communities and society as a whole. Session themes ranged from research and funding to communication, trust and culture within communities. Speakers such as Kent Devereaux, President of the New Hampshire Institute of Art (NHIA), emphasized the impact that institutions can have on the communities in which they are housed, despite the challenges that come with creative placemaking and placekeeping.

“We had a lot of frank discussions about issues of equity, opportunity, and promise. We realized our goal of having partners invigorate their commitment to seeing how the principles of creative placemaking can influence their work regardless of discipline,” said Maryrose Flanigan, Associate Director of a2ru.

At the heart of the conference were discussions about the positive evolution of creative placemaking and social practice. One powerful example was presented during an evening session entitled Embedding Artists: Residencies, Creative Placemaking, and Social Justice. Robert Blackson, Curator and Director of Temple Contemporary at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, demonstrated the power of creative placemaking through his project Funeral for a Home, which commemorates the slow decline and gradual rebirth of Philadelphia’s housing stock and the lives each home contained. This was just one example of the innovative and inspiring projects attendees had the opportunity to hear about throughout the conference.

Both a2ru and Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media and Design were thrilled and energized by the conference’s success. “The conference exceeded our expectations to discover and drive interdisciplinary work, particularly in the areas of creative engagement between research universities and their communities. Our alliance partners connected with leaders in the field to contextualize, re-frame and energize work with communities,” Flanigan concluded.

Bree Edwards, Director of the Northeastern Center for the Arts, who led the planning on Northeastern’s end, shared a similar sentiment. As she put it, “It was an honor to host over 300 arts leaders from universities across the country at Northeastern. There were so many brilliant presentations, and inspirational models of arts-led community engagement shared throughout the conference.