Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

The Power of the Arts to Transform

Written by
Vanessa Silberman, Senior Director of Communications & Strategic Initiatives, Levitt Pavilions, based in Los Angeles.

Neglected, crime-infested parks. A dormant downtown. The nation’s largest brownfield. A problematic landfill. What do all of these have in common? They all happen to be public spaces that were transformed into thriving, family-friendly places through Levitt’s pioneering approach to creative placemaking—harnessing the power of free, live music to bring people together year after year and strengthen the social fabric of a community.

Levitt fans having a great time at a Levitt show
Levitt fans having a great time at a Levitt show

As the national nonprofit behind the largest free concert series in America, Levitt Pavilions is deeply committed to creating citywide destinations—places where people of all ages and backgrounds feel welcome. We believe vibrant public places are key to creating strong, healthy communities in our nation’s cities. Yet too often, what was originally envisioned to be a public place, filled with people and amenities, often has the opposite effect due to a lack of resources. Without effective management, ongoing investment or programming, places have the strong potential to turn into dead spaces and attract crime, become eyesores and ultimately make a negative impact on a city’s livability.

What’s more, the fast-paced demands of our daily lives often pull us away from one another and into our own cocoons, hindering any sense of connection and fueling a lack of civic engagement.

Our solution? Create a reason for people to come together. The arts, and live music especially, have always been social connectors. And when that live music is presented for free, is of extremely high caliber, and in a beautiful, outdoor public setting amidst a wide expanse of grassy lawn, people will take time out of their busy schedules to rediscover that space they’d previously avoided.

Levitt SteelStacks in Bethlehem, Pa., (located at the base of the monumental blast furnaces of the former Bethlehem Steel plant) is a potent symbol of this steel town's rebirth through arts and culture.
Levitt SteelStacks in Bethlehem, Pa., (located at the base of the monumental blast furnaces of the former Bethlehem Steel plant) is a potent symbol of this steel town's rebirth through arts and culture.

They’ll come together for the free concert, bring their family and friends, picnic blankets and lawn chairs, and activate the public space, transforming it into a gathering place for that one evening. And when this experience occurs repeatedly—as it does with each Levitt venue, which presents 50+ free concerts every year, that positive sense of place becomes ingrained in the community mindset.

A couple enjoys a picnic before a free concert at Levitt Los Angeles
A couple enjoys a picnic before a free concert at Levitt Los Angeles

At Levitt, we believe in the power of the arts to transform. Through our signature program of permanent Levitt venues—each of which is managed and programmed by a local Friends of Levitt nonprofit in partnership with the City—more than half a million people experience the joy of Levitt every year, injecting new life into pockets of Los Angeles and Pasadena, Calif.; Arlington, Texas; Bethlehem, Pa.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Westport, Conn.

The ripple effects are impressive, making communities more livable: reducing crime, breaking social and economic barriers, boosting local economies and creating more green spaces. Cities and engaged citizens across the country have caught on to the impact of Levitt, and we’re thrilled by the heightened demand for the Levitt program in additional cities. New pavilions are in the works in Denver and Houston, and we’re in conversations with nearly a dozen other cities.

A beautiful evening at Levitt Pasadena in California
A beautiful evening at Levitt Pasadena in California

Seeking to expand the geographic footprint of our impact even more, earlier this summer we launched the Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant Awards, an exciting, new matching grant opportunity that will bring free concerts to 10 small and mid-sized cities across the U.S. every year. Reflecting our commitment that all Levitt projects be community-driven, we opened up the process of selecting the Top 20 finalists to online public voting (happening now through November 30!).

What’s incredible, time and again, is that Levitt fans—Levitteers as we affectionately call them—often speak about how their pavilion provides more than a place for free concerts. Sure, people flock to experience the free music under the stars featuring GRAMMY-winning artists like Booker T. Jones, Quetzal and the North Mississippi All-Stars as well as rising stars like John Fullbright, Nina Diaz and The Dunwells—each Levitt venue presents a wide range of music genres, everything from R&B, country, rock and Latin to jazz, children’s, World and beyond. What strikes me is that they consistently share how the Levitt in their city has become their community destination, a place where everyone belongs.


Community Outreach Programs

Housing Opportunity Grant
Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing

Smart Growth Grant
Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The Smart Growth Program offers state and local REALTOR® Associations to way to engage with government officials, community partners and the general public in planning and designing community’s future.

Planned diversity initiatives makes good business sense. REALTOR® Associations with well-planned diversity programs create a stronger sense of community, particularly in neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreign-born and minority residents who are moving up the socioeconomic ladder and are buying homes.

NAR Placemaking Resources

Placemaking Guide: A Guide to Transform a Public Space into a Community Place
REALTORS® and state and local association staff can learn the details of Placemaking, the kinds of projects placemaking entails, how to organize them, and where to go for assistance and resources.

Placemaking Webinar Series
Our Placemaking Webinar Series will provide more in depth information on the various types of Placemaking and how REALTORS® were involved in Placemaking activities in their communities.

Placemaking Grant
The Placemaking Grant funds the creation of new public spaces, like pocket parks, trails & gardens, in a community. The grant focuses on “lighter, cheaper, quicker” placemaking projects, which can be built under a year and cost less  than $200,000.

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Smart Growth

The healthier a community, the better the environment for REALTORS®. Keeping a community attractive, livable and functioning well is a complex task.