Placemaking expert and Senior Vice President of Project for Public Spaces, Cynthia Nikitin talks about her life, art, culture and improving lives. Text by Mira Soyza
Hailing from Baltimore County, Maryland, Cynthia Nikitin’s passion for culture and arts is deep rooted in the culturally rich suburb she grew up in. She found her calling at the tender age of 10, when her parents took her to downtown Baltimore to a fringe theatre festival. She recalls the streets were closed to traffic to make way for buskers, artists and food vendors. There were music and performances everywhere, the air was thick with euphoria and the streets were emanating joy—the sight blew her away.
That moment was the deciding point that changed the course of her life. “I remembered (much later mind you) saying to myself, ‘this is what I want to do when I grow up. I want to make these things happen!” It was also probably fated that three years later, her class was assigned to attend a cultural festival celebrating Baltimore City’s rich ethnic, cultural, and racial diversity, the Baltimore City Fair. “There, I experienced food, music and craft and costumes, and met people from dozens of different countries—it was awesome. That’s when I think I became an urbanist.”
In 1986, Nikitin managed the Zenith Gallery in Washington DC while pursuing a Master’s Degree in Arts Administration. Soon her love for the arts brought her to New York where she worked for a corporate public art consultant, Joyce Pomeroy Schwartz, who was working with some of the most wellknown public artists at that time. It was then she was introduced to the fascinating world of public space.
“Imagine, there were all these amazing, museum quality artists who had turned their hand to commissioned works in public space. That’s when I started to become more interested in the public space, and how the artwork impacted it, than on the aesthetic value of the artworks themselves. How did the art make the place work better for people? How did it impact people’s experience? Or did it?”