Image from the Walls Project's 2018 MLK Day of Service
Image from the Walls Project's 2018 MLK Day of Service

East Baton Rouge Parish has found success in redevelopment through implementation of comprehensive master plans. One prime example is Plan Baton Rouge, which led to the revitalization of Baton Rouge’s downtown core. Plan Baton Rouge’s successor, FUTUREBR, promises to drive development in downtown-adjacent neighborhoods like Downtown East and the Mid-City corridor. With both plans, city planners are tasked with connecting a patchwork of development into a cohesive creative space. In addition, city planners must also ensure redevelopment is sensitive to the diverse community each patch in the plan aims to serve. In their search for a stitch to bind each redevelopment project to the rest, city planners should look to cities that incorporate public art programs into private development like Portland, OR; Los Angeles, CA; and Arlington, VA. 

Why public art? In using public art, cities reinvigorate communities and bring a new perspective to addressing urban challenges. This is done by engaging a large swath of citizens, city officials and private or nonprofit groups with local artists to create collaborative art pieces. The art pieces must speak to the community as a whole and connect them to a redevelopment project, ensuring the redeveloped space makes sense for the community’s various needs. Artists also shape their work by listening to what the community is saying, which in turn can shape the development itself.  

In those cities with vibrant public art installations, the development of public art programs is essential to driving redevelopment efforts. Municipalities offer a tradeoff or incentive to private developers for including public art in their projects. When done well, programs consider the physical community and its neighborhoods, land values and land use policies; the community’s economic history, development patterns, trends and forecast; the local arts community and whether individuals in the arts community and their organizations will support a program; and public sentiment on arts support in general. 

In cities like Portland where urban density must be considered, development projects which commit 1 percent of their total construction costs to public art may receive a floor area ratio bonus of 1:1. That is, the relationship between the total amount of usable floor area that a building has, or has been permitted to have, and the total area of the lot on which the building stands. Additional commitments receive bonus floor area ratios.  

In Arlington, planning staff use the local arts center and county cultural affairs division as resources for public art. Staff members from the arts center and cultural affairs division meet with developers to encourage them to include public art in development projects. These discussions most often occur during the site plan review process, when developers are negotiating with county staff on the location, size and use of a project. Discussions during the plan review process increase the chances of projects adding a public art component to the finalized plan.  

In Los Angeles, public art programs are not optional. They are advanced by a local redevelopment authority working with private developers. Developers are required to commit at least 1 percent of costs for new commercial and market-rate redevelopment projects to involve artists in the project.  

In Baton Rouge, many of the structures and resources necessary to build a public art program into private development are already in place. Building on the momentum surrounding FUTUREBR and the steady redevelopment of Downtown East and Mid-City, the City-Parish planning commission and redevelopment authority are both poised to partner with organizations that offer connections to local artists and communities through their work with local schools. Such organizations include the Arts Council of Greater Baton RougeThe Walls Project and The Red Stick Project 

In line with BRAC’s Think Bigger five-year strategic plan, public art is a major component of placemaking efforts. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration and potential with the intention of creating public spaces that promote quality of place and talent attraction – central to economic development. 

By utilizing its readily-available resources to implement a public art in private development program, Baton Rouge can easily stitch together its patchwork of redevelopment to unite its diverse communities.

Written by Jonathan LeMaire

As the Policy and Research Project Manager, Jonathan LeMaire provides leadership on initiatives and policies, project management, research analysis and administration for initiatives that advance BRAC’s annual policy agenda, specifically focusing on transportation, workforce development, education, crime, health care and other economic competitiveness factors.