College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

Leadership & Policy


artistic communities, urban renewal, arts policy, community redevelopment, urban planning


Art has been shown in the academic literature to have potentially transformative effects on urban neighborhoods. Artistic communities in particular strengthen community participation and leadership, create a nightlife that can support business, low crime, and attract tourists.

Policy makers, however, often lack understanding of how artist communities function and how these enclaves can enhance the development and sustainability of neighborhoods. Many policymakers lack technical understanding of the differing outcomes that a “top-down approach” and “bottom-up” approach have on the creation, expansion, and evolution of artist communities.

This research attempts to develop insights into the strengths and weaknesses of differing approaches to the development of artist communities through case-study analysis of four post-industrial cities: Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Through intensive site visits to these Midwestern cities conducted over a six-month period in 2011 as well as interviews with artists, community leaders, and urban planners with expertise in the field, the study develops perspectives on the role of planning in shaping the character of these places.

The results show that as post-industrial cities undergo a transformation in government, culture, and policy, artist communities have the ability to revitalize decaying neighborhoods in a variety of ways. Each city has cultivated a different approach to promoting art through a lengthy process of trial and error. Detroit has a vibrant grassroots based artistic community emerging with visible impact on urban renewal of the city. Grand Rapids can be summarized as developing an artistic community that is heavily reliant on corporate and philanthropic funding with minimal government interaction, and less direct impact on urban renewal. Pittsburgh features a central planning approach to create an emerging artistic culture, and contains heavy government and philanthropic involvement in cultivating urban redevelopment. Chicago features elements of all three cities, but is also experiencing artistic communities developing at a much faster rate and has greater autonomy than the other three cities studied. In each case, however, art has shown great promise in restoring the cultural fabric of cities that had been lost due to decades of divestment.