A Study of the San Diego Gathering Place Initiative

Resource Details
Publication Date: 
March 2015
William Cleveland
Number of Pages: 

The San Diego Foundation has a long history of support for community cultural development. It has also actively supported the idea that investment in the purposeful growth of civic engagement can stimulate both social entrepreneurship and committed community leadership. Over the past two decades the Pomegranate Center, based in Issaquah, Washington, has become an established leader in the practice of what is now referred to as “creative placemaking,” working with “communities to imagine, plan and create shared public places.” It is not surprising then, when spurred by the interest of a major donor, that the Foundation enthusiastically joined with the Center in a partnership to stimulate civic engagement and leadership in San Diego neighborhoods using their “gathering place” methodology in the latter part of 2012.

Initiated in the summer of 2012 the San Diego Gathering Place Initiative had two core aims:

  •  “To implement a demonstration project in San Diego County to train and mentor a nonprofit arts organization and a cohort of fellows to implement community-build projects utilizing the Pomegranate Center’s methodology.”
  • “To test Pomegranate’s community-build training and mentoring strategy as a new business model for the Center.” 

The Center for the Study of Art and Community conducted an eleven month evaluative study assessing the impact of the Initiative on participants, partnering organizations, and the community. Tis study confrmed both the efectiveness and the power of the Pomegranate Center’s work and training. Highlights include:


  • Community members describe multiple positive benefts from Pomegranate’s work in their community. In particular, they noted a strengthened sense of community identity and a renewed belief in their neighborhood’s resourcefulness. A signifcant majority said they communicate and collaborate more with their neighbors since the project’s completion. There was also a marked sense of ownership over the project areas. More than three out of four participants agreed that the community has “assumed full responsibility” for the gathering space. Community members also noted an increased feeling of security and safety.


  • Participants in the Pomegranate’ Center’s training program gave it very high marks, with an overall rating of 3.5 on a 4-point relevance scale. Nearly all participants report that they are integrating aspects of their training into their ongoing practice. Three out of four say that they have a greater appreciation of the efectiveness of an arts-based approaches to community development.


  • The partnering organizations that participated in the San Diego Initiative expressed positive outcomes similar to the community participants. Organizations came away with networks and strategies useful for their own work, including strategies for community engagement, civic discourse, volunteer coordination and education. The report determined that the Pomegranate Center model can be successfully learned and applied by teams of local organizations and creative leaders. 


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