Catalyst Interview Series: Devan Leavins
Knight Creative Communities Institute (KCCI): How did you get involved with KCCI?
Devan Leavins (DL): A few friends of mine had been Catalysts in the past, so I knew I was interested, but it was former Assistant City Manager, Jay Townsend who encouraged me to apply.
KCCI: How would you say that your work with KCCI influenced your work with the city?
DL: I tried to step outside of my normal job when I worked with KCCI and tried to use my knowledge of programs like Photoshop and InDesign with more of a marketing and advertising mindset. I was able to use the technical skills that I already had from my job as an urban planner and apply them to marketing.
KCCI helped me build a community network. I’m able to use my experience with the organization as a conversation starter, and it gives me a chance to talk to others about how to get involved in the community.
KCCI: Tell me a little bit about the mission behind Downtown Sense of Place.
DL: Downtown Sense of Place was something that we came up with to try to give an identity to downtown and get more people to go downtown. From there, we came up with The Porch Swing Project, sort of a shoot off of Downtown Sense of Place. We liked the porch swings at Lake Ella and wanted to bring them to downtown to help build Tallahassee’s identity as “Front Porch Florida.” Everyone says that when they come to the capital it doesn’t seem like a city – it seems more laid back. My class thought that the swings fit that “front porch lifestyle” and embodied Tallahassee’s laid back-city feel.
To merge the two ideas together, we decided to host events downtown designed to raise money for porch swings. This killed two birds with one stone by driving traffic downtown while funding The Porch Swing Project. We partnered with places like 101 Restaurant, Challenger Learning Center, Clyde’s and Costello’s, Madison Social and many other local players for these events, and ended up raising enough money to fund eight porch swings. There is still one more swing to be installed, and more are on the way.
*For information on purchasing a porch swing please contact Chris Lisenby with The City of Tallahassee Parks and Recreation Department at (850) 891-5176.
KCCI: What type of culture were you trying to bring downtown?
DL: We wanted to get people downtown to show everyone that downtown already has a lot to offer. We also wanted to show them that as more people start to spend time downtown, more things will start happening downtown.
KCCI: When you think of downtown today, what comes to mind? Do you think we’ve accomplished the mission?
DL: We still need a lot (of work) downtown. There are some great events that happen there, but I’d like to see more people going downtown just to spend time there. I’d like to bring what happened with Gaines Street to downtown. People go out of their way to spend time in the Gaines Street District, and I want to make downtown a district that people want to spend time in.
KCCI: Can we expect any developments downtown anytime soon?
DL: There are a few very cool projects coming downtown. I can’t talk about all of them right now, but there are a couple of big, game-changers on the horizon for downtown Tallahassee.
KCCI: What are some of your favorite places in Tallahassee?
DL: I really like Gaines Street because of how it has transformed, even though that’s sort of cliché. Railroad Square, Cascades Park, Market Square, Downtown – there are so many hidden gems. Tallahassee has much more to offer than people realize, so it’s hard to choose just one favorite place. On Saturdays in the fall, Doak Campbell is my favorite place, so it really depends on the time year and what is going on. All of our districts are great places; it just depends on where you want to be and what you want to do.
KCCI: Who should apply to be a KCCI Catalyst?
DL: Everyone. I think anyone that lives in Tallahassee has the potential to be a great Catalyst. If you live here, you should have a drive to make Tallahassee a community you are proud to say you are part.