In 2017, the Town of Natick approached the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC)’s Arts & Culture team with a request for a Creative Placemaking Strategy that would improve the breadth and quality of arts and cultural experiences, and would create more social and cultural cohesion in public places and spaces within Natick Center. This project was intended to inform recommendations that would alter regulatory mechanisms and procedures, such as streamlined permitting and administrative processes pertaining to actions that would alter public spaces in Natick Center. To uncover these regulatory roadblocks, the partners initiated a Call for Creatives in which seven installations and two performances were chosen to be executed and unveiled during a demonstration weekend on November 2-4, 2018. 


The Natick Creative Placemaking Strategy benefited from the opportunity to build upon priorities identified in a number of recently completed planning projects including the Natick Cultural Catalog Project Summary Report and Cultural Asset Project (2015), the Natick Center Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Plan (2016), and the Natick 2030+ Comprehensive Master Plan process that is was recently approved.

In 2012, a portion of Natick Center was designated a Cultural District by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The designation was made based upon the impressive 19th century architecture and numerous cultural offerings. There are twenty-six creative and cultural enterprises in NCCD, ranging from retail art galleries and stores to architecture firms and a recording studio. Follow the links to learn more about the Natick Center Cultural District and how it is managed by the Natick Center Associates in our case study section and also our example page for Cultural Districts. 


  • The Town of Natick
  • Natick Center Associates
  • Common Street Spiritual Center
  • MAPC Arts and Culture Department 
  • Natick Public Art Commission
  • Natick Creative Placemaking Advisory Committee 


MAPC awarded $53,000 from its Barr Arts Technical Assistance Program to the Town of Natick to help with the development of a Natick Center Creative Placemaking Strategy. A match of $25,000 was provided through a subgrant awarded to MAPC from a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant which funded a collaboration between the American Planning Association (APA), Americans for the Arts (AFTA), and MAPC, aiming to assist the APA in the development of a Creative Placemaking Knowledgebase. The Town of Natick provided an in-kind match of staff time from the Town Planner and the Director of the Natick Center Associates.


The Natick Center Creative Placemaking Strategy is informed by four activities undertaken in 2018-2019: 

  1. Understanding existing conditions and assets in Natick Center
    1. MAPC researched the demographic, historical, and physical context as well as the structure of the Natick Center Cultural District.
  2. Setting the stage for cross-sector partnership 
    1. An Advisory Committee was formed to be made up of members who were strategically selected to represent key members of Natick Town government boards, commissions, and staff, as well as local businesses, arts and educational institutions who could inform the development of the project
    2. The Advisory Committee identified the following values to guide this work: inclusive, engaging, transformative/bold, respectful, and relevant. 
  3. Assessing Natick Center public spaces and identifying areas of focus
    1. Workshops were conducted with the Advisory Committee to learn about creative placemaking, and also to evaluate the public spaces which could be enhanced by creative endeavors by using the MAPC Public Space Assessment Survey.
  4. Preparation and execution of a Creative Placemaking Demonstration Weekend in which project partners:
    1. Conducted outreach and engagement activities to promote the Call for Creatives including
      1. engagement with the cross-sector Advisory Committee 
      2. a pop-up strategy to engage residents through existing popular events in Natick Center; 
      3. a publicity strategy to promote the project through press, social media, and Advisory Committee members’ networks; 
      4. a power analysis of organizations and stakeholders in Natick with high, moderate, and low access to public art resources and town processes pertaining to public art to inform our identification of specific organizations to recruit as lead partners in the Creative Placemaking demonstration (i.e., Common Street Spiritual Center) 
    2. Developed and released the Call for Creatives 
      1. Creatives were selected using a two step process in which the larger Advisory Committee made initial recommendations based on a rubric that was informed by the outcomes of the public space assessment, and then the smaller Public Art Commission made the final recommendations which were submitted to the Board of Selectmen for approval.
    3. Advanced Equity through Emerging Artists Support and Partnership
      1. To ensure that the Call was reaching underrepresented populations, MAPC entered into a special partnership with the Common Street Spiritual Center to develop a project in which they distributed canvases and funding to six local artists to paint murals that were hung on the Gazebo in Natick Common.
    4. Selected installations and performances from the Call for Creatives Demonstration Project which were installed and performed over the course of the Demonstration Weekend.  


The Natick Creative Placemaking Strategy and demonstration project lead to the following outcomes:

  • Seven art installations and two performances successfully exhibited over the demonstration weekend
  • The process to conduct the Call for Creatives which was established during this project was iterated upon and reproduced by the Town and NCA in the following year, and the project was able to debut during Open Studios, creating synergy across programs that was sought (but not quite obtained) in its inaugural year.
  • During the Call process, an Advisory Committee member stepped up to mentor emerging artists, and her work was so impactful that in the following year NCA decided to hire her as a part time community engagement coordinator. 
  • After the completion of the Calls, the Town and NCA continued to engage with artists whose work was unable to be completed as part of the call. Taiwanese dance was incorporated for the first time into Natick’s annual Multicultural Day, and the Town is continuing to work with an artist who proposed bike racks which were also outside the scope of the call but desired by the Town. 
  • The Natick Center Cultural District introduced the Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program starting with the 2019-2020 season. The new Artist- in-Residence is charged with creating new bodies of work for exhibition at the culmination of their residency and engage the Natick community in their practice throughout the year.
  • Values established through the process are still informing new iterations of the calls, including a renewed attention to “history” which has inspired the Town to reach out to the Praying Indians to share their stories with current Natick residents. 


  • Build an Advisory Committee with stakeholders who are well connected to the arts and culture community, and also those who will play a role in authorizing activities in the target areas.
  • Align the timeline for a Call with the approval process from the authorizing body
  • Create a decision-making rubric to evaluate applicants to a call, and make sure that scores do not reinforce biases.
  • Celebrate success – the final event during the Demonstration Weekend drew people together and created the coherence that was sought from the project.


Download the plan here