What is Cultural Asset Mapping?

Cultural asset mapping is a foundational step in cultural planning. It identifies a community's strengths and resources through the process of inventorying tangible and intangible cultural assets. Tangible assets include arts and natural heritage resources on public and private land -- including urban design and public art, cultural facilities, cultural industries, artist networks, cultural festivals and events, cultural occupations, and cultural organizations. Intangible assets include stories and traditions that contribute to defining a community's unique identity and sense of place.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council has produced a cultural assets inventory check list, which identifies cultural assets as including: theaters, museums, movie houses, cultural centers, art galleries, performance spaces, festivals, farmers markets, open studios, galleries, concerts, walking tours, historic districts, buildings on the National Historic Register, artist studios, rehearsal spaces, recording studios, film studios, and creative economy businesses.

Asset Mapping Approaches

Asset mapping can vary in scope depending on the goals and objectives of the planning process the mapping exercise intends to inform.

  • A comprehensive asset mapping approach takes a broad view of the social, economic, natural, and organizational arts and cultural conditions in a study area and examines tangible and intangible arts and culture assets. It utilizes qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection.
  • A storytelling asset mapping approach utilizes interviews and focus groups to collect qualitative data on tangible and intangible cultural assets.
  • A public realm and natural resources-focused asset mapping approach focuses on assessing resources in the built environment and public realm, including public art, natural and historic resources, and other physical features that are regarded as assets.


The asset mapping process often includes the establishment a committee, working group, and/or task force that will assist with data collection and outreach and engagement to collect the data. Regardless of whether or not this data collection process is aligned with a broader cultural planning initiative, take the opportunity to publicity to announce the goals and objectives of the asset mapping exercise before work commences. Work with community partners to generate interest and excitement in the process, which can help ensure strong participation in the asset mapping process once it is underway.

Conducting the inventory

A comprehensive asset mapping process is accomplished through an initial inventory involving qualitative and quantitative data collection, including:

  • Surveys and/or in-person interviews with artists, arts institutions, residents, business owners, educators, politicians, churches, community associations, and social service organizations
  • Focus groups with individuals to learn about stories and traditions specific to the diversity of cultures within the study area
  • Collection of data on arts participation from arts institutions and organizations
  • Collection of data on the locations of public art and historic structures and locations

Data collection can be a time-intensive process and is guided by the priorities of the larger planning process and budget. An optimal inventory process combines survey data collection with interviews and/or focus groups. However, if your budget is small and you are able to invest time up-front to develop multiple choice survey questions, a survey is a cost-effective manner for collecting data and tallying results; survey data can also be augmented with key informant interviews with a focus group of individuals representative of different sectors. Interviews and focus groups guarantee a stronger response rate and more nuanced information about the arts and culture environment but require a deeper investment of time to summarize, analyze, and compare findings.

Assessing the findings

Once the inventory is conducted, the data can be analyzed in spreadsheets and spatially through the use of GIS mapping. Spatially mapping cultural assets can identify areas where arts and cultural resources are concentrated and areas where they are sparse. Mapping cultural assets along with other community assets such as employment centers and transportation nodes and corridors can also provide insight into advantageous smart growth locations where arts and culture investments can be strengthened and/or concentrated.

Public engagement is important to understanding the findings and identifying topics for further research and planning. Results are typically presented for further input through a public engagement process that involves the following activities:

  • Discussion on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing the identified cultural assets
  • Polling to identify the most valued cultural assets
  • Discussion on why high value is placed on these assets
  • Identification of strategies that could improve or expand these assets

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CCNC's Cultural Mapping Toolkit has been designed to take you through the entire mapping process, from creating an inventory to drawing up and presenting your map. Each step is accompanied by examples, checklists or worksheets to help you get organized.