What is Cultural Asset Mapping?


Cultural asset mapping is a foundational step in cultural planning. It rests in the belief that there are valuable assets - in the form of people, places, associations and organizations - and that recognizing, counting, and tracking those components can help move communities to plan and implement their vision.

Cultural asset mapping is a method. It is "a process of collecting, recording, analyzing, and synthesizing information in order to describe the cultural resources, networks, links, and patterns of usage of a given community or group (CNC, 2010)." 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, traditions, and relationships that contribute to defining a community's unique identity and sense of place.

Depending on the project's objectives and objects of study, cultural asset maps can take on many forms: from a hand-made drawing, to an interactive table, to a GIS-enabled computer visualization. 


How did Cultural Asset Mapping Develop?

Cultural asset mapping originally grew out of the ethnographic practice of capturing and presenting the history of indigenous communities to describe their traditional activities within a given territory. It has since been used at all levels of government and non-governmental organizations - from the U.N. to a local cultural district - as a foundational element to forming a cultural plan.

How is Cultural Asset Mapping Used Today?

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.

Other states have developed complementary approaches to cultural asset mapping for their communities as exemplified by the following:



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 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.


Cultural Asset Mapping traces people's connections to place, so people are central to the activity from start to finish. Who determines the attributes of the map's inventory, who collects the information, and who sees and uses the final product must all be considered to ensure that the process is equitable.

Map-making is a political process. It represents a conscious decision-making effort to include some pieces of information while leaving out others. These discrepancies can lead to disparities in the visibility of some people, places, organizations, relationships, and possibilities. An ethical cultural asset map expands its audiences throughout its creation process, engaging diverse publics, and boosting inclusivity.


What Funding is Available for This Work?

Funding sources to carry out a cultural asset mapping project are as varied as the objectives that one might have for engaging in the process.  For example, if you wanted to understand a community's linguistic connection to the land, that might lead you towards different sources than if you were measuring that community's housing security.

See the Funding page to learn more about the range of financial sources for this work.


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.

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

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

What Makes Participatory Asset Mapping Different?

Participatory Asset Mapping describes a particular approach to asset mapping that a planner might use during a cultural planning process. Participatory Asset Mapping is the process by which community members themselves create a tangible display of the people, places, and experiences that make up their community. The particular assets that they identify include (Burns, 2012): 

  • Citizen organizations: formal or informal collectives, social groups, recreation programs, churches, neighborhood groups, and more.
  • Local institutions: non-profits, business, social and health service agencies (hospitals and clinics), libraries, schools, and other formal learning institutions

Asset Mapping Case Studies

Below is a collection of exemplary projects that contain rich data sets and tell evocative stories about place.

The three projects below are smaller-scale and contain qualitative, affective elements :

  • Project Willowbrook: artist-led process connected to a neighborhood planning process in South LA County:
  • Brattleboro, VT: An Atlas of cultural cartography that employs narratives and colorful imagery to illustrate the richness of a community imbued with creative energy. Moving beyond the two-dimensional geography of a standard atlas, these maps reveal the complexity of an evolving cultural ecology, offering new ways of seeing and understanding the Brattleboro arts scene
  • Promise Zone Arts, LA, CA: Promise Zone Arts (PZA) is a cultural asset mapping and activation initiative administered by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) that gives Los Angeles Promise Zone residents a participatory platform to spotlight the artists, sites, cultural practices, and tradition bearers that they deem significant, illuminating the rich cultural tapestry that makes the Promise Zone communities thrive.

The three projects below rely on data-heavy online mapping approaches that are more quantitative in nature:

  • Neighborhood Arts Profile (LA) - A data platform to advance arts education and equity in the City of Los Angeles with a focus on youth.
  • Culture Blocks (Philadelphia): A web tool that helps people understand the relationship between cultural engagement and economic development. Unfortunately this project may be down at the moment.
  • GeoLoom co>map (Baltimore): A crowdsourced mapping platform that allows people to search an online map with questions.

Learn more

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.

The National Endowment for the Arts has put together a toolkit for asset mapping based on the projects that they have funded through the Our Town grant program. This site offers lessons learned, resources (including an Asset Mapping Handbook), and case studies.

A 60 minute free online course for Vista members and others to help guide your approach towards asset mapping. This course works to expand your knowledge on asset mapping and effective ways to execute this vital process to accomplish communal goals. You will gain insights on the critical steps required for asset mapping, transitioning from mapping to implementation, and bridging the gap to outside resources.

The ABCD Institute is partnered with and housed at DePaul University’s Irwin W. Steans Center for Community-Based Service Learning & Community Service Studies located in Chicago, Illinois. The Institute is building a movement that considers local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development through its research and publications; many of these resources are provided for free on their website.

This Toolkit provides a guide to participatory asset mapping, a process by which community members themselves create a tangible display of the people, places, and experiences that make up their community. A joint project by the Advancement Project and Healthy City, this 2012 publication was written by Janice C. Burns, Dagmar Pudrzynska Paul and Silvia R. Paz. with design by Rosten Woo and Colleen Corcoran.