The Negev region is about a 60-90 minute drive south of Tel Aviv. It has historically had a somewhat negative reputation, as a place you would not want to live in unless you had to. Back in the 50's many Russian immigrants were settled there after World War II. Later, it became the home of the Ethiopian Jewish population when they emigrated to Israel, and it is also home to many Bedouins. Coincidentally, the New York Times recently ran a story on the Bedouin population in the Negev and its economic challenges.
|LtoR - me, Jane Golden, Mayor of Netivot Yechiel Zohar|
Two factors have since focused even more heightened attention on the Negev region. First, the population explosion through the country and the skyrocketing cost of both residential and commercial space in Tel Aviv have driven individuals and businesses to look to the relatively undeveloped and more affordable Negev region. In addition, the Ministry of Defense has started a process of moving all their centralized military operations (intelligence, training, technology, etc.) to the Negev region. They have had to face the fact that the senior military officers and their families who will need to relocate do not have a high opinion of the region and this is something that must be changed (both the actual livability of these communities and the perception). Here is an interesting article on the importance of how a community is perceived.
So a coalition has formed - something they are calling the "Smart Partnership" between a group of seven local Jewish Federations from the Jewish Federations of North America (each of which has a relationship with a Negev community), the Negev Development Authority, and the Ministry of Defense. This coalition has embarked on a multi-faceted creative placemaking effort targeting the Negev region. A masters degree program in creative placemaking has been launched at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in their urban planning school. And a similar undergraduate training program has been created at Sapir College, a Negev college with very strong arts training programs. Guiding this work has been Boaz Israeli of the planning and strategy firm, Praxis. A good overview of this entire effort is available here.
Another key component of this effort has been something they called the Creative Placemaking Master Class, which I was asked to lead. This was actually a series of talks to different audiences, as well as site visits and meetings designed to stimulate thinking around creative placemaking. My work began on December 26th, with a preparation meeting with many of the organizers of the program, followed by a personal meeting with Yossi Sharabi - who I had met on my last trip when he was Director, Culture, Society and Leisure Administration, Jerusalem Municipality (where he was doing really innovative work!) - who is now Director-General of the Ministry of Culture and Sport; also at the meeting was the new Director of Culture for the agency. The key goal of the meeting was to persuade the national cultural agency to join this partnership, and embrace the role of creative placemaking in the Negev, which they agreed to do.
I also met with a class of middle school Orthodox Jewish girls who were working on a project to help creates some context for the mural. The mural, which engaged many in the community in the process - their faces were painted and then photographed - had inadvertently created some negative backlash. To satisfy Orthodox concerns about including recognizable faces/people in the mural, all the images were distorted and rearranged to create an abstract pattern. The citizens, however, were disappointed to not see their faces in the mural. The students are learning stop motion animation skills and making films that describe different aspects of the process in fun, engaging ways, Lively signage will then be installed in the plaza below the mural that will connect to an augmented reality app that will allow visitors to view the animated films projected onto the water tower. It was exciting to see these young girls who had never been exposed to the arts getting deeply engaged in both art making and connecting that art to a civic objective. They were inspiring...
|Chatting with Ben Gurion University President, |
|Carrying the flag for ArtPlace America!|
I also covered the challenges of creative placemaking - issues of measurement and outcomes, the danger of being an agent of gentrification, needing to respect and value the local culture and community. The hostility shown by some artists and arts organization towards the role they might play in community transformation, feeling that it somehow diminishes their artistic purity.
|Later in my trip I was able to visit the Fringe Theatre|
|Speaking to funders in Tel Aviv|
|Talking creative placemaking to the tech folks...|
And that completed my Creative Placemaking Master Class work in the Negev - an exhausting - but very rewarding - few days. Got to meet so many dedicated, passionate and interesting people. I was particularly struck by the uniqueness and exciting opportunities of having a nation's defense department embracing the value of creative placemaking. I was also struck by the potential of creative placemaking to play an important role in bringing together different communities that can be more fractious and divided by race and religion than even we are in America. The pace of development and change taking place in the Negev region is unlike anything I have ever seen before and I look forward to following what flows from this work I was a part of.
|Yes, that is Abraham's Well in the foreground!|
A copy of my full "Creative Placemaking: What Is It" Why Does It Matter " presentation can be found here.
|Esme "performing" at the Caesarea Roman Coliseum|