Creative Placemaking


Creative placemaking is a planning process that places arts at the center of shaping the character and vitality of neighborhoods, cities, towns, and regions. It is an innovative approach to advancing the planning objectives of livability, sustainability, and equity.

Why it's Relevant to Planners

Creative placemaking occurs when planners, community development practitioners, artists, and others deliberately integrate art and culture into community revitalization work - placing arts at the table with land use, transportation, economic development, education, housing, infrastructure, and public safety strategies. (National Endowment for the Arts)


The Many Forms of Creative Placemaking

Creative placemaking initiatives can take the form of short-term or long-term interventions and actions. Projects can activate vacant and underutilized structures, places in the private and public realms, and instigate interventions over a short-term or long-term period. Below are examples of planning projects that could be identified as creative placemaking initiatives.

  • Activation of an a town center through a schedule of cultural programming in public and private spaces that tests different creative activities and uses, such as festivals, markets, creative makerspace or gallery-performance space.
  • Revitalization of the local economy and a commercial corridor through public and private investments to secure affordable work space and live/work space for cultural institutions and creative businesses.
    • Possible outcomes: Increases in local spending and cultural tourism and retention and incubation of creative businesses.
    • Example: Chicago’s gallery37
  • Development of a neighborhood plan using a community engagement process led in partnership with artists and arts organizations.
    • Possible outcomes: Documented increase in diversity of participants in the planning process through arts engagement activities that created greater interest in and understanding of the community planning process.
    • Example: Buffalo, Paducah, and Providence


Partnership-building for creative placemaking

Below are some considerations about partnerships that have been extracted from NEA research and case studies performed for this Toolkit.

  • Community participation: Creative placemaking projects that have local community participation at the core of the model tend to have more success than those that are primarily preoccupied with attracting tourists from elsewhere. Creative placemaking projects should involve the meaningful engagement of local creatives including individuals artists, arts nonprofits, and creative businesses as well as a broader network of stakeholders including residents and community-based organizations invested in the activation of the space or place.
  • Cross-sector partnership: Effective implementation involves cross-sector collaboration to secure the permissions needed to implement projects in private and public spaces. Identify partners with strengths in six areas:
    • ability to build relationships across sectors (government, nonprofit, community, and for-profit);
    • ability to initiate the project with enthusiasm (the entrepreneurial initiator);
    • demonstrated understanding and commitment to the diversity and character of the place;
    • ability to mobilize the public;
    • ability to ensure active participation of arts and culture leaders; and
    • ability to attract financial and in-kind support from public and private sectors.


Creative placemaking's impact on the creative economy

Creative placemaking projects -- through process and/or outcomes -- should increase local opportunities for cultural industries and cultural entrepreneurs through the creation of jobs, generation of new products and services, or the creation of conditions that promote the attracting, retention, and growth of creative businesses. The contribution of arts and culture is equally instrumental to placemaking as are job creation, revitalization of underutilized or vacant structures and spaces, and increases in commercial sales activity.

Communities have financed creative placemaking projects through a number of means ranging from direct allocations of municipal budgets, to grants, and crowdsourcing from some of the following opportunities:

  • MassDevelopment Commonwealth Places Fund - communities may apply to be a participant in their Patronicity platform where they can crowdsource a match for up to $50,000 in funds from MassDevelopment to advance community-driven placemaking projects in downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts throughout Massachusetts.
  • Bloomberg Public Art Challenge - cities may apply for up to $1m in funds to create temporary public art projects that address important civic issues.


Preparing to implement a creative placemaking project

Below are core elements of successful creative placemaking projects, These elements are extracted from NEA research and case studies performed for this Toolkit.

  • Focus on a defined geographic area: Creative placemaking focuses on activating spaces and places in a specific geographic area or connected areas in order to promote place-based revitalization. Identifying a specific area, e.g., a block, neighborhood, town center, transit node, or corridor in which to concentrate activities will also support the identification of clear goals, objectives, outcomes, and indicators for measuring change over time.
  • Define clear goals, objectives, and outcomes: Discuss the goals, objectives, and outcomes of the project from the perspective of all partners. Develop a set that the partners can collectively agree upon and benchmarks for tracking progress throughout the course of the project or initiative. Objectives outcomes might include economic, physical, social impacts, such as changes in local spending at businesses, availability of affordable artist work space, and positive changes in social networks and social cohesion.

Examples of Planning with Creative Placemaking

View the links below for case studies of creative placemaking projects advancing livability, sustainability, and equity objectives and view the NEA's Creative Placemaking Report for additional case studies of creative placemaking projects. Highlights of case studies in the NEA report:

  • In Buffalo, Paducah, and Providence, vacant industrial spaces and run-down housing have been transformed into artist housing and arts workspaces, jump-starting neighborhood renewal.
  • A community development corporation and two theater companies joined forces in Cleveland's west side to create Gordon Square Arts District, a commercial business and housing revitalizer.
  • In the early 1990s, the city of Chicago devoted a vacant downtown lot to gallery37, a workforce development program that apprenticed youth to working artists' the program soon spread throughout the city as the renamed After School Matters.
  • In Portland and Los Angeles, new transit stations incorporate public art that has been designed, with community input, to reflect the neighborhood, harnessing artistry to quicken ridership.
  • The city of Phoenix is complementing freeways and aqueducts with sculptures and artwork that softens hard edges and creates recreational space (see case study).
  • On the Fond du Lac reservation in northern Minnesota, a health care and social services manager has improved healing and community identity by commissioning and suffusing a network of dispersed buildings with native artists' work.

Learn More

Browse the creative placemaking projects that have been funded through the NEA's Our Town grant program. Browse by geography and by insights -- process, setting, and type.

Browse the projects that have been funded through the National Creative Placemaking Fund and the Community Development Investments Fund.

The goal of this field scan is to understand and frame how place-based arts and cultural interventions, or "creative placemaking," can advance sustainability outcomes in the context of community development. ArtPlace focused on the U.S. context, although many of the issues and priorities identified are also globally relevant.

Ann Markusen's influential report on creative placemaking includes a trove of case studies from different parts of the country.

This journal looks at what creative placemaking does and how it does it and represents the perspectives of 16 organizations on the frontlines of this work, the funders and financiers supporting them, and the researchers and evaluators who are interpreting progress.

Irrigate was a 3-year creative placemaking initiative that trained artists as community organizers and leaders, facilitated partnerships between artists and businesses, and funded small scale arts projects. This toolkit provides step-by-step guidance in creating partnerships, connecting with local artists, training workshops and evaluation, as well as templates for budgets and timelines for projects at different scales. This toolkit is included in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's Resilient Cities Initiative.

The Center for Active Design’s publication, Assembly: Civic Design Guidelines, is a playbook for creating well-designed and well-maintained public spaces. The Assembly Guidelines provides evidence-based design and maintenance strategies for creating cities where people trust each other, have confidence in local institutions, and actively work together to address local priorities.

After grounding the topic in research and explaining its connection to equity and its impact, this page offers a thorough compilation of resources, articles, reports, guides, fact sheets, blog posts, comprehensive plans, statutes, regulations, online trainings, and web pages about creative placemaking.

After a brief introduction to the topic, this page describes the services that LISC may offer in assisting community groups with their creative placemaking projects

Gehl Institute is the home of the public life data protocol. The Protocol is an open data specification intended to improve the ability of everyone to share and compare information about public life activity in public space.

This report by the Enterprise frames eight reasons why a community developer might do creative placemaking, and it provides strategies for getting started. It also features case studies of how these strategies are being used by three community development organizations that are leading this practice in the field.

The Transportation for America creative placemaking guide introduces the field of practice to transportation planners, public works agencies and local elected officials who are on the front lines of advancing transportation projects. The guide provides introductions to eight dimensions of a creative placemaking practice in transportation and each section is grounded in examples of projects in action.

This publication, “Creative Placemaking: Sparking Development with Arts and Culture” presents the business case and process for successful creative placemaking as a potent strategy for building healthy, equitable, attractive, and thriving communities. It offers insights about how creative placemaking—leveraging arts and culture—can spark a creative culture in real estate projects, revitalize communities, and boost financial and other return on investment (ROI) measures for developers. It also provides best practices—information gleaned from research gathered from ULI leaders and others—about how to plan, finance, implement, and manage projects. And it offers examples and case studies illustrating successful creative placemaking across diverse project types and in U.S. cities of various sizes, economic conditions, and geographic locations.

Creative Placemaking in Rural Communities

This report reflects on a yearlong initiative to plan creative placemaking projects in two rural communities in Kinston, North Carolina and Thomas, West Virginia. The report outlines key outcomes and lessons learned that are valuable to the larger practice of rural creative placemaking.

A multimedia collection of explorations, reflections, challenges, and offerings to the national dialogue around creative placemaking, created by ROOTS members.

This 2011 publication looks at the creative approaches rural communities have been taking with the arts to help improve their communities socially, aesthetically, and economically.

This toolkit contains resources for best practices, planning, community engagement, funding, launching, installing and amplifying your art and placemaking activities. The Appendix contains a series of templates, sample forms, documents, and other resources you can use in your own community.