Our Guiding Principles

In developing this guide, we relied on a set of core beliefs about art, culture and their role in communities. We used these principles to help us define the broad universe of resources that could be useful for creative placemaking as well as the activities they could support.

Creative placemaking is the marriage of arts and culture with development that centers residents and their wishes for their community. Through the creative placemaking process, leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors and community members partner to use arts and culture as the catalyst or a framework to help shape a specific place. The end goals may include reducing inequities, creating pathways to community wealth, spurring physical revitalization, healing collective trauma, fostering inclusive belonging and stronger cultural bonds, and other outcomes.

Creative placemaking requires knowledge of how to do community-focused arts and cultural projects and programs as well as how to execute community development. A broad field in its own right, community development encompasses many disciplines, including everything from real estate development to human service programming. These include obvious efforts like housing, jobs and social services, but also extend to addressing social determinants of health, education, streetscapes and walkability, civic engagement, and more.

Creative placemaking can encourage and enhance all of these efforts. There are many federal programs that explicitly support community development, and most of these can and should be leveraged for creative placemaking efforts.

Art has power, meaning and function. In the context of creative placemaking, art is not just done for arts’ sake. Arts and culture are critical tools that give people agency to shape their place’s future and build more distinctive communities. They help people bond and belong. These tools are particularly important for communities experiencing racism and oppression. Artists and culture bearers themselves can be effective leaders of community engagement and revitalization; they use creative approaches to draw out participation and recognize what the community has to offer. This is just as true in small towns and remote regions as it is in metropolitan areas.

Visual art such as murals and large-scale sculpture can be an important part of developing and improving places, but the nature of creative work and artistic practices is more expansive. Performing arts, music, theatre, traditional arts, dance, tactile arts, storytelling, photography, videography, design, and multidisciplinary approaches, as well as the cultural traditions and languages found in a given place can all be assets in community development. In addition to the creative products themselves, the symbiosis of artists and art education can build a bridge between communities and educational facilities and institutions. They may not always refer to themselves as “artists,” but a variety of creative professionals might work in nonprofit organizations, creative businesses and informal networks that support artists and make arts experiences more accessible to local communities.

Artists’ contributions are highly skilled, important and meaningful. Artists deserve to be compensated for their work, just as any other professional does. Artists’ skill sets are especially useful to community development activities such as community planning, creating public art, urban and rural design, activating space, and establishing sustainable local economies. Creativity is a core trait of those with formal or informal artistic training, whose experience and creative insights are needed in community development. Further, building social cohesion within a community necessitates bringing together diverse stakeholders. Arts activities are an effective way to activate public spaces, build social cohesion and spur economic transactions.

There is as much value in the steps of the creative process as in the end result, and sometimes more. This is particularly true of artist-led convening and planning processes. Collaborative planning, engaging residents and partners, mapping community assets, and leveraging resources are all important steps for creative placemaking projects, just as they are for community development projects. These steps all build a community’s collective power, cultivate nontraditional leaders, increase bonds between neighbors, and lift up the voices of residents who are too often unheard. This builds capacity that will stay in the community long after an artwork or cultural event is complete. Artist-led planning processes can be an opportune way to engage artists or culture bearers and infuse creativity into community development projects. Public resources that support planning and community engagement in other disciplines, such housing or public health, present opportunities to engage artists and creative practices in developing broader community strategies. A number of resources that may be used to support planning processes are included in this guide and we encourage users to consider how to integrate creativity into these activities. Also explore our Case Studies, which outline how artists, like those at Citizen Films, have successfully led community planning processes. There is as much value in the steps of the creative process as in the end result, and sometimes more