The cultural planning process assesses the current community culture and creates an implementation plan to achieve a community’s vision. Cultural plans act as mirrors for a community—they are, ideally, a reflection of the community’s culture that they serve.

Many communities are engaged in cultural planning to help address the needs and opportunities of the community members by assessing and utilizing the cultural resources available. Some cultural planning may be narrowly focused on the needs of artists, arts organizations, and audiences; however, cultural planners are increasingly considering the role of culture in resolving broader community issues.

The most successful cultural plans address the needs and desires of the community throughout the planning process, from the initial stages to the implementation of cultural programming and development.

Getting Started

Before you start a cultural planning process, you should take time to:

  • Read about cultural planning.
  • Ask questions and listen to others in your community. Are they ready for planning?
  • Build your partnerships and alliances.
  • Learn about the decision-makers in your community.
  • Research funding possibilities.

How long will the planning process take?

  • Preparation (2-3 months)
  • Information Gathering and Research (4-6 months)
  • Assessment and Analysis (2-3 months)
  • Organization and Consultation (ongoing)
  • Writing the Plan (1-2 months)
  • Public Consultation (2-3 months)
  • Finalizing and Adoption (1-2 months)
  • Implementation, Monitoring and Review (Ongoing)

What is a Cultural Facility?

A cultural facility is a building used primarily for the programming, production, presentation, and/or exhibition of cultural disciplines—such as music, dance, theater, literature, visual arts, and historical and science museums. Cultural facilities like concert halls, art galleries, performing arts center, etc. can be an important anchor for a community, often creating a cultural identity for a place.

These facilities can be used as a launching point for a broader cultural plan. Funding for cultural facilities is usually comprised of public support through taxes and private sector resources. In the past two decades, cultural facilities have been seen by artists, arts organizations, government officials, urban planners, and communities as key anchors to the revitalization of distressed communities.

Many arts organizations are using renovated older or abandoned buildings for their businesses and/or performance spaces, particularly in urban areas. Adaptive reuse of older buildings enlivens neighborhoods and gives locals a greater sense of ownership over a facility, while also combating sprawl and increases real estate values in the neighborhood.

Types of Cultural Facilities

Performing Arts Facilities
Performing arts facilities range in size from small to enormous. Most performing arts centers contain multiple varied performance spaces, and often each space is designed for a specific purpose such as symphonic music, theater, dance, etc.

Artist Live/Work Spaces
Spaces where local artists live and work have contributed significantly to the revitalization of communities. Municipal leaders and nonprofit developers are converting older buildings into affordable, long-term housing for low-income artists. Mixed-use facilities are also common, often combining artist housing and work space, exhibition and/or performance areas, and retail areas.

Exhibition/Gallery Spaces
Exhibition and gallery spaces are spaces designed specifically for the display of art and/or historic items. These spaces provide opportunities for local artists to display and sell their work. Often these spaces are also used as small performing venues for local artists.

Museums range from large institutions to small historic homes. Typically, these facilities host permanent and temporary exhibits for educational or artistic purposes and are open to the public on a regular basis.

Arts Incubators
Incubators create a nurturing environment for small and emerging arts organizations by offering low-cost or subsidized space and services. They provide shared office equipment, telephone, computers, and copy machines. Each incubator is uniquely tailored to meet the needs of the community.

Multiuse Facilities
A multiuse facility is not dedicated to one art form or discipline. Many multiuse facilities have a cluster of arts activities such as dance studios, theaters, galleries, and classrooms. Some facilities also host recreational activities as part of their use.

Different Types of Cultural Plans

  • Comprehensive detailed cultural plan: A community-wide plan based on broadly defined understanding of culture with integrated goals compiled through community consultation.
  • Cultural plan with a single discipline focus: community-wide plan with a specific focus, for example on the arts sector alone or a focus on the visual arts, etc.
  • Community cultural assessment or cultural mapping: a comprehensive identification and analysis of a community’s cultural resources and needs gathered through a broadly based consultative/collaborative process. It is a critical early phase of any cultural planning process.
  • Cultural plan with a project-specific focus: examples include an economic impact study, a feasibility study for fundraising campaign, a feasibility study for a facility, a cultural district study, or a cultural tourism study.
  • Cultural component of municipal or regional general plan: arts and/or heritage and/or culture are integrated vertically as one part of a city or master plan, e.g., a section or chapter of the plan is dedicated to arts, culture, heritage, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can I find basic information on cultural planning?

    • The National Endowment for the Arts has a great planning tool site which also includes a “lessons learned” section.
    • Community Cultural Planning: A Guidebook for Community Leaders Although this guidebook (available via download) was developed in 1997, it is still a great guide to community cultural planning. It outlines five steps to developing a cultural plan for your community, as well as profiles of seven communities and their plans and recommendations for effective planning, which will help you ensure optimal benefits for arts and culture in your community. Download a copy for $5.00.
  • Where can I find some examples of cultural planning and cultural mapping?

    • The Creative City Network of Canada has some great examples of cultural planning and mapping. There are free tool kits for cultural planning and cultural mapping.
    • Check out this successful community plans:

  • What are some ways arts facilities have obtained funding from cities?

    • Funding for arts facilities can be obtained through public sources such as bonds, general funds, and Capital Improvement Projects, or private sources including corporate, foundation, and individual gifts. Most organizations depend at least in part by these philanthropic sources. Additionally, centers may hire a consulting firm to manage a capital campaign, or instigate a public or private partnership for management.
    • A few things to consider when looking for funding:

      • Community engagement in fundraising is crucial. Fundraising campaigns force developers to communicate to the public why their center is important and worthy of their support. While large private donations are wonderful, this network of public supporters carriers important ramifications in terms of long-term sustainability: if you don’t make the case for why you are building a center
      • It’s important to initially make the case for the center’s importance and role in the community to establish a public network. Once you’ve raised money for the building, the challenge is not over: maintaining resources to operate the center is an ongoing, yet equally important challenge.
    • While this is not a comprehensive list, here are a few examples of how various arts centers have obtained funding.
    • Find out how Cultural Facilities can impact the local economy.

Topic Page News Tabs

Oct 01, 2015

Americans for the Arts invites all Americans to celebrate October as National Arts & Humanities Month (NAHM). Towns and communities across the country are hosting special events that capture the spirit that the arts and humanities bring to everyday life. 

Jul 21, 2015

Americans for the Arts and Cultural Data Project (CDP) announced Monday a new collaboration between the two organizations as we begin our fifth national economic impact study of the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture industry, Arts & Economic Prosperity 5.

May 19, 2015

Learn about how art helps transform communities AND get the opportunity to write for Americans for the Arts’ ARTSBlog this Summer!

Oct 28, 2015

Earlier this year, Reddit announced that its famous Ask Me Anything (AMA) question and answer with the Reddit community and a famous celebrity would be videotaped for Youtube. In their first video, AMA stars Astrophysicists and television host Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is interviewed on his love of the arts. 

Aug 26, 2015

On the 10th anniversary of one of our country's worst natural disasters, New Orleans makes room to process the events of Hurricane Katrina, celebrate what has been accomplished so far, and highlight the rebuilding that still needs to be done. 

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is one of many cultural institutions hosting a special interactive exhibit for visitors and city residents. The basement walls of the museum are covered with neatly printed cards of stories from survivors. 

May 04, 2015

Station North, one of three Baltimore Arts and Entertainment Districts, has been working to assist the community after last week's pr

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