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Assaf Weisz to lead our Creative Placemaking Lab

Artscape is pleased to introduce Assaf Weisz, the new Managing Director of our Creative Placemaking Lab. Starting today (April 23, 2018), Assaf will manage a team of people to understand and leverage the power of the arts to be a catalyst for change in urban and community development.

A successful entrepreneur and change maker, Assaf started his career as a visual artist. He has an extensive background in building innovative impact investing initiatives, as the co-founder and Managing Director of Purpose Capital, a leading impact investment advisory firm, and as National Director of Canada for Nexus Global, a network of emerging philanthropists and impact investors. Most recently, he led the creation of a $10 million venture philanthropy fund that launched social entrepreneurship hubs at 20 universities. Concurrently, he contributed to the education of undergraduate, Master-level and executive students as an instructor of social entrepreneurship at York University and University of Toronto, and the Studio Y Fellowship at MaRS Discovery District. He has held a number of public positions with organizations such as World Economic Forum, Laidlaw Foundation, Ariane de Rothschild Foundation and Brookfield Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

Artscape CEO Tim Jones welcomed Mr. Weisz, saying, “Assaf has demonstrated an outstanding ability to unite ideas and people around innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to advancing social progress. We’re delighted to welcome him to Artscape, where he will continue to develop our city-building practice and help us to bring creative placemaking from the margins to the mainstream of urban development.” 

Learn more about Assaf Weisz, his unique professional background and personal mission to “reprogram the operating system of society in favour of equity, sustainability and justice” in our Q&A.

Meet Assaf Weisz

Artscape: Your career history demonstrates a commitment to changing society for the better through philanthropy and social impact investing. How do you see your new role fitting into this?

Assaf: I started life in a tiny agrarian village on the other side of the world and ended up most recently in the investment advisory space. I learned from these experiences that you can tell a lot about what a society values by looking in two places: how we design our budgets and how we design our neighbourhoods. My recent experiences have given me an opportunity to work on one of these dimensions, and Artscape is an opportunity to weave both together in service of something very close to my heart.

Now more than ever, embedding arts, culture and creative spirit into city-building is incredibly important. There is a movement afoot to create ‘smart’ cities, but smart design has to go beyond efficiency and infrastructure. Smart design ought to create fertile ground for artists, artisans, musicians, filmmakers, fabricators, designers and tinkerers. These pursuits are the soul of urban life and make cities playful, equitable, neighbourly, mentally healthy and civically engaging places to live in. I want to do my part to ensure we make space – physically and otherwise – for the people who make such important contributions to our community.

You have written about “possibility thinking” versus conventional wisdom. What is possibility thinking and how does it come to bear on your work?

Possibility thinking starts with the recognition that the social systems around us were created by people, and so they reflect their values, biases and incentives. There are no laws of physics dictating that neighbourhoods have to be designed for car traffic rather than pedestrians, that profit must be the singular criteria for finance that artists have to struggle to stay in the neighbourhoods they helped to uplift. These are the results of human decisions. We can therefore make better decisions. We can design better systems for better outcomes.

The Creative Placemaking Lab embraces this commitment to the possible and helps partners who share our values to embed them in city-building projects.

The CBC has recognized you as someone transforming the country through entrepreneurship. How will you help Artscape expand and scale its practice so as to serve more people and communities?

To begin with, Artscape has already built an incredible base of projects, and creative placemaking has been the design philosophy permeating through all of them. We’ve already done the hardest part, which is to demonstrate that our beliefs work in practice to make communities better and more dynamic.

The Lab’s goal going forward is to do this work on larger scales and in more communities, and to tell compelling stories about that. We’ll do part of this through our own projects – many of them through partnerships – and the other part by getting creative placemaking into the mainstream as a philosophy and way of doing. Success for us looks like opening new spaces, like helping other city builders around the world prioritize arts and culture, and like having people we’ve never met take inspiration from our efforts.

If you share our belief that the arts can be a potent catalyst for urban innovation, consider us your partner in transforming your community

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