‘Change agent’ Maria Rosario Jackson shows ASU students how to strengthen communities through design, art

April 5, 2017

What is creative placemaking?

Celina Tchida has thought about this question more than most people. A graduate student in community development in Arizona State University's School of Community Resources and Development, she’s worked with a nonprofit in the Valley on “a few light creative placemaking projects.” Creative placemaking expert Maria Rosario Jackson is the newest Institute Professor in ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Creative placemaking expert Maria Rosario Jackson is the newest Institute Professor in ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Download Full Image

But, Tchida said, it wasn’t until this semester and her class with Maria Rosario Jackson that she realized that “creative placemaking is much more than murals and artistic bike locks — though they can count too!”

Jackson is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the phenomenon known as creative placemaking, with expertise in comprehensive community revitalization, systems change, the dynamics of race and ethnicity and the roles of arts and culture in communities. She is also the fourth and newest Institute Professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, with an appointment in The Design School. Jackson joins three other Institute Professors already teaching at ASU: dance legend Liz Lerman, composer and multi-disciplinary collaborator Daniel Bernard Roumain and theater artist and civic innovator Michael Rohd.  

Jackson's position is a cross-appointment with the ASU College of Public Service and Community Solutions, part of a larger effort to build a more integrated working relationship between Herberger Institute and the college, according to Greg Esser, creative placemaking project director in the Herberger Institute.

“We’re excited to have somebody with Maria's record as a scholar and a change agent at ASU,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. “She is a perfect bridge between Herberger Institute and the College of Public Service. ASU is one of very few universities that see the strong connection between the arts and the strengthening of communities. So that partnership is vital.”

In 2016, the Herberger Institute received close to $900,000 dollars from the Kresge and Surdna foundations to design an initiative that will make ASU a center of research and activity around creative placemaking and design- and arts-led community development.

“The idea that designers and artists are critical assets for building more resilient and equitable cities and communities is the most important innovation in arts and cultural policy over the past decade, with close to $200M being committed to creative placemaking projects across America," said Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute. "Maria’s appointment will help ASU lead in this area, just like we have led in sustainability, biodesign and educational technology. Maria is widely known as a deep thinker and gifted scholar who has persistently challenged conventional ways of thinking about culture and community.”

A senior adviser to the Arts and Culture Program at The Kresge Foundation and formerly adjunct faculty at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California and also at the University of Southern California, Jackson led research on arts and culture and comprehensive community revitalization at the Urban Institute in Washington DC for close to two decades, writing field-defining reports on cultural indicators and systems of support for artists and creative workers. She was appointed to the National Council on the Arts by President Obama in 2013 and serves on the advisory boards of the Lambent Foundation and L.A. Commons and on boards of directors of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts and The Music Center of Los Angeles County. She holds a doctorate in urban planning from UCLA and a master’s degree in public administration from University of Southern California. 

This semester, Jackson is teaching a graduate seminar titled “Arts/Culture in Communities: Revitalization.” With Phoenix as their focus, the students are researching issues such as how art, culture and creativity manifest in low-income and historically marginalized neighborhoods; how a community’s cultural assets contribute to community development, efforts to improve health, address environmental issues and catalyze and deepen civic engagement; and what systemic changes are required for the sustained integration of arts and culture in community revitalization and equitable development.

“I think that what is exciting about Herberger Institute is that it starts in a place where a lot of other folks may need to catch up: thinking in a manner that puts the design, arts and culture in a central position in how we think about the world and equity issues and places where all people can thrive,” Jackson said. “I think it has the opportunity to position activity that has too often been relegated to the margins in a way that is strategic and impactful.”

“Before I took this class,” Tchida said, “I saw creative placemaking as people claiming place by creative or cultural means. I also believed that community planning and development ‘experts’ were unwilling to explore the more difficult questions like 'who does creative placemaking?', 'for whom?', and 'at whose expense?'”

Thanks to Jackson’s insights, Tchida says she’s learned that creative placemaking “is about incorporating our diverse ways of seeing and understanding the world into the way we plan and make decisions.”

Tchida says the students in Jackson’s class range in their interests, from art entrepreneurship to theater, sustainability, design and community development — the seminar is structured that way intentionally — but that regardless of where they come from and where they hope to go, “this class is pushing us to think about how creativity and culture can impact how we deal with the world. I could talk all day about how refreshing it is to work with a professional and a scholar who maintains a critical perspective and dedication to equity, particularly as it relates to race and class.”

Jackson believes that art is “a big umbrella,” one that includes aspects of everyday lived experience that we don’t always fully value as part of our cultural life, and that good creative placemaking honors the cultural assets of a place, rather than imposing or wholly fabricating something without local resonance.

“I think placemaking at its best doesn’t start with a tabula rasa approach,” she said in an interview posted to the NEA website. “It in some ways presumes that there’s something there already and something there that is potentially valuable.”

To hear more of the interview with Jackson about creative placemaking visit https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/maria-rosario-jackson-podcast-final-012215.mp3.

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


The search for life in the universe to be focus of national conference in April

April 5, 2017

For the first time, Arizona will be hosting the nationally recognized Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon), bringing together scientists from across the country to report on new discoveries and to share insights in the search for life on other planets.

“We're excited that the search for signs of life in the universe is increasingly geared towards exoplanets, which is a central part of our research at ASU,” said School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) Professor Steven Desch, who is chairing the conference. “And of course we're thrilled to be hosting the meeting in Arizona, to showcase the Southwest and ASU to our colleagues.” AbSciCon Conference 2016 Download Full Image

The conference, which will be held at the Mesa Convention Center April 24–28, will feature a variety of astrobiology topics including the possible habitable conditions on Europa and other icy worlds, whether extreme environments on Earth are valid analogs to sites on Mars, the evolution of biogeochemical cycles and environment on Earth and other planets, and if habitable “water world” exoplanets are good places to look for signatures of life. 

Highlights of the conference include a public discussion from the Origins Project at ASU and ASU Planetworks on how astrobiology informs our perspective of Earth as a planet, a panel discussion on alien life from ASU’s BEYOND Center, and a "Meet the Scientists" session, featuring experts who combine geology with organic chemistry to understand how life might have originated here on Earth, and how it might look if encountered elsewhere.

“For those who have never looked at ancient rocks, touched meteorites, or seen pieces of the Moon and Mars, this is your chance,” said Steve Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution.

In addition to the main conference, AbSciCon is offering an “Early Career Scientist” Pre-Conference School on the ASU Tempe campus April 22 and 23. Instructors will teach short “primer” classes on astronomy, planetary science, and biology to help early career scientists specializing in one field get up to speed on other fields. The pre-conference will also include workshops on science communication, proposal writing, and how to apply for jobs in academia.

AbSciCon offers graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in the student poster competition, sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Posters will be judged on originality of research, the impact to the field, and the quality of the presentation, with awards ranging from $500 to $1,000.

High school and community college students have also been invited to participate in the AbSciCon Student Mentorship Program. Up to 30 students from underserved areas of Arizona have been selected to shadow a faculty mentor and participate in the conference.

“While AbSciCon is an important event to communicate our research results to other scientists and to hear what progress is being made in the search for life in the universe, we also want to prepare the next generation of scientists to step into the role of 21st century research,” Desch said. “We're proud to be able to offer this training through the Student Mentorship Program and the Pre-Conference School.”

AbSciCon annually provides a forum for reporting on new discoveries, sharing data and insights, advancing collaborative efforts, planning new projects, and educating the next generation of astrobiologists. The conference will feature plenary sessions on current and thought-provoking topics, topical sessions, evening programs, and public and educational events.

Along with Desch, the scientific organizing committee also includes SESE’s Ariel Anbar, Hilairy Hartnett, and Sara Imari Walker, and colleagues from George Washington University, UC Riverside, Georgia Tech, Harvard and NASA, among others. 

AbSciCon sponsors include the Earth Life Science Institute, Blue Marble Space Institute, SmartSparrow, ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, SESE, and Qwaltec. The conference is supported by the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the Universities Space Research Association, NASA.  

For more information on AbSciCon and the pre-conference for early career scientists, visit: www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/abscicon2017.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration