The UC Placemaking Initiative is a multi-campus network and public platform created in 2018 to support, study and amplify place-based research of UC artists, designers and media practitioners who are working across disciplinary fields in collaboration with multiple stakeholders to enact environmental and social change. This work brings visibility to UC’s core public research mission as a land-grant institution, committed to pedagogy and scholarship that directly serve the needs and interests of California’s diverse publics. As a cultural practice, placemaking engages the core values of diversity and equity as guiding principles to advance access and participation by those often underrepresented or excluded from the public process. In a 2010 White Paper, the National Endowment for the Arts describes the field practice of placemaking as “partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shaping the physical, social and economic character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.” [Markusen, 2010]. Placemaking, as a cultural practice, distinguishes the catalytic role of artists and designers as key agents and partners in the co-creation and stewardship of place. 

The unfolding global pandemic has triggered an existential reckoning over our conceptions of place and human encounter. The escalating political, economic, environmental, and public health crisis have revealed a tenuous, yet insistent desire for connectivity across space and time. The making of place has become ever more palpable and urgent as civic life remains in lockdown and the state’s vital public sectors are left abandoned, overcrowded or foreclosed. Among key institutions, the place of our university faces equal scrutiny and redefinition at every level. Covid19 has exposed the human toll of a deeply embedded foundation of structural racism across this country and our state, built upon stolen lands, colonization, enslavement and inequality.

Paradoxically, California’s built and natural spaces have emerged as places for both communion and protest. Amid this crisis scenario, how will individuals and institutions respond to the pandemic landscape? Could our UC campuses support surrounding neighborhoods to become potential sites for research innovation that serve in the renewal of a post-Covid commons? How can creative placemaking research projects at the UC play a key role in improving everything from public safety to health? How can we unite and strengthen communities socially, physically and economically with UC artists and designers to incentivize sustainable development across the state with local governments and non-academic organizations? What are the hybrid forms of new and innovative placemaking research that effectively navigate speculative futures, as both a virtual (screen-as-portal) and embodied (street-as-stage) practice?