Daily Archives: September 5, 2008

Cultural Districts: Creating A String of Pearls

I’ve had the pleasure of counseling cities throughout the US and Canada on creating vibrant cultural districts that go on to become exciting and economically successful hubs. Here’s my list of elements of success.

Authentic to Location. Simply put, a cultural district is the antithesis of a “town centre development” that looks like every other urban shopping area in America.
Identity, known for “something unique.”
Cultural Inclusive and culturally diverse. Don’t limit definition of art, entertainment, or culture.
Started Small. Made a density difference, and grew organically as the market demand expanded.
Right-sized. Not too big. 14 blocks.
Critical mass of activity, 24/7.
Diverse offerings.
Connective Tissue: Space-making sculpture, beacon-lights, outdoor vendors,
murals, small touches. Make the grand intimate. Human scale.
Branded and marketed as a cultural destination.
Visible art.
Economic incentives. Loans. Investment strategies.
Strengthened arts organizations to operate
successful venues.
Artists at the center. Work space. Live space.
Vibrant role for arts education within the district. All ages.
Great partnerships. Civic. Cultural. Educational. Philanthropic. Business and entrepreneurial.
Fun.
Programmed.
Mixed Use.
Box Office.
Green Spaces.
Planned.
Managed.
Funded.

Looking for good examples of this approach? I’m proudest of the City of Indianapolis’ strategies and programs for cultural district development. Through a true bottom-up process, six distinctive and unique districts were shaped, supported, and thrive. Go to culturalindy.org
Check them out.

Preparation for Cultural Planning

I’m often asked, “How to we get ready for cultural planning? What questions should we be asking? What homework can we do before we engage a consultant?”

Here are some of the questions I ask communities to explore before I come on site the first time. Try this as a good preparation for any cultural development, cultural district planning, or overall cultural planning.

Exploring Cultural Development
Preparation Questions

1. What are your community’s cultural assets? These may include any/all of the following:
a. Organizations
b. Civic offerings and services
c. Educational, school and youth focused programs, and life-long learning opportunities
d. Individual artists and crafts people
e. Creativity based businesses and enterprises
f. Heritage and historic assets
g. Festivals and celebrations
h. Facilities and sites

2. How do these currently support and further community health and well being?

3. Use a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) to describe the condition of the cultural assets. Include the financial conditions including financial assets, participation counts, geography or communities/neighborhoods served, facilities and other measurables in this.

4. Use a Gap Analysis to consider missing or limited cultural assets; use a GAP analysis to consider unmet community needs or population segments that aren’t reached by the cultural assets.

5. Create a vision statement for culture and the arts in your community. What is the completed or achieved vision like? How do people engage and benefit from arts and culture in the achieved vision? What tangible and intangible differences are there from the present cultural profile?

6. To achieve this vision, it is likely that many players will need to work together in partnership. What are the existing and prospective partnerships and alliances that can be developed working toward further developing your community’s cultural vitality? Who should be at the table?

Now that you have a sense of where you want to head (the vision), and who should be engaged, you can begin to shape the assessment (needs) and planning process. In preparation, think through the following:

1. What documents do you need to use as a foundation?
2. What community input process is necessary and important?
3. What kind of consulting assistance, if any, would benefit the planning process?

With this work completed, you’ll know what to seek in counsel. You’ll be able to engage in a cultural planning process that will win community enthusiasm and investment and gain significant outcomes!