Creative Placemaking Work in Local Government

December 14, 2020

By: Lynn Osgood, Executive Director, Civic Arts

New Releases and New Beginnings


What a long, strange trip it’s been.

As we come to the end of 2020, and the end of what Warm Cookies of the Revolution called “the McDonald’s Ball Pit of Years” (starting out looking fun, only to end in the horrors of unseen monsters and ever spreading germs) we know that history has, for better or worse, put us into a period of reevaluating so many of our systems. Thankfully, over this past year we’ve also seen that it has been a period of tremendous imagination and reinvention.

In negotiating our way through our two pandemics of COVID-19 and structural racism, we’ve seen a remarkable upwelling of interest on behalf of local governments in working with the arts – as if the scale of the challenges we’re facing right now has opened the door to finding new patterns, looking through new lenses, and searching together for deeper understandings. 

During this strange time, here at Civic Arts we’ve had the honor of working with ArtPlace America, Engaging Local Government Leaders, and the International City/County Management Association to dive deep into the question of how arts and cultural strategies can become structurally integrated into the work that local governments do. This collective work has resulted in some new fruits, and some new resources and opportunities that are now available:

  • ICMA Creative Placemaking Guide for Local Government Managers – Hot off the presses this week is the new creative placemaking guide for local government managers Problem Solving through Arts and Culture Strategies. Taking a bird’s-eye-view of how creative placemaking projects come together, this guide lays for municipal leaders why and how they can support creative partnerships to address the community issues they’re working on.
  • ELGL Creative Community - With Civic Arts as a partner, the grass roots local government member organization Engaging Local Government Leaders is running a series of training cohorts for local government staff.  Different modules are available to fit time and budget - from creative placemaking one day introductions to longer technical deep-dives. This builds on a significant amount of additional material released through ELGL over the past year, which can be found on their website here and on the Civic Arts site here.
  • Civic Arts – There’s no one-stop shop for a how-to on creative placemaking – the fact that each project has an array of different kinds of partners, aspirations, and local contexts means that no one guide can do it all.  But there is an extensive array of good resources out there that can be mined for insight and ideas. Civic Arts has created a new Creative Placemaking Resource hub which pulls from the best of the classic to the newly minted creative placemaking resources, and arranges them for easy navigating, with a particular focus on local government staff.  This new resource is a “living library” and will continue to grow, so check back often.


As you enter into conversations with these organizations, resources, and opportunities we wanted to also offer some the insights and open questions that we see as part of the next stages of development of this work at this intersection of municipal and artistic practices.  

The development of new practices happens against specific backdrops, and our backdrop is now changing.  For the first ten years of the development of creative placemaking as a professional practice (creative place -making, -keeping is after all as old as humankind) ArtPlace America has been a major player in helping the conversation to develop and move forward.  But it’s the end of 2020 and, as they promised, they are closing. This means it is now up to us – as a distributed network of committed, curious, fervent, and enchanted practitioners – to help the conversation move and develop into its next phases.  Here are some of the challenges we see presenting themselves in this next stage of development. 

  • New Energy Needing New Forms: Our two pandemics of COVID and structural racism have brought about some shifts in local government practices around the arts.  On the one hand, we know for the foreseeable future that municipal budgets are getting squeezed in deep ways that impede their ability to support artists and arts-based initiatives.  On the other hand, the sheer scale of what we’ve been moving through as communities, and as a country, has opened up for many in local government the awareness that the “standard toolkit” alone can’t address the depth of the needs their communities have.  New ideas need to be surfaced, deeper relationships need to be forged. How can municipalities work within existing structures, and create new ones, to support creative capacity building both within their organization and for residents? 
  • Much Interest – Little Coordination: In our age of waist-up, Zoom-boxed interactions we’ve also seen an outpouring of interest in local creative initiatives that bring people together into conversation with place and each other.  People care deeply about where they live, and now that our collective gaze has turned more inward towards our neighborhoods and communities, neighborhoods, artists, and local governments are all voicing the desire to create hyper-local interventions - neighborhood painting projects, local park improvements, sidewalk enhancements, small performances. To support this work, different departments within cities are each doing things on their own and in their own way.  This has started to bring confusion both internally with staff, and externally with community members.  If artistic practices are strategies that reach across departments, how can cities find the best ways to take advantage of this and for different departments to support initiatives that are small, local, and emergent?
  • The Devil is in the Details: There is still much work to be done in preparing local government systems to work with those from the arts and culture sector.  Procurement processes, insurance requirements, project scoping, and contract negotiations all are places where deep structural challenges still stand in the way of bringing on local practitioners who are not your typical municipal “provider”.  How can local governments support those that don’t fit neatly into a city vendor system?  How can payment systems be changed to meet the needs of projects which can have high up-front material costs and people who are less able to work on a reimbursement basis? How can that essential process of artistic discovery be acknowledged and written into the scope of work? 


As we end 2020 joyously announcing new resources and new opportunities, we know this work is just beginning. And if you’ve read this far, you will most likely be part of that network of folks that helps to continue this work into its next stage of developments. Since we find ourselves at the end of 2020 pointing to new beginnings, we want to end by letting you know how to stay networked with like-minded practitioners. Here are some good places to connect if you haven’t already:


Additionally, along with our own efforts, the development of this work continues through the work of many different people organizations that have been in conversation together over these past few years. If you’re interested in diving in deeper, here are some good additional organizations to follow who share a similar focus on this particular intersection of practices: 


As 2020 comes to an end, may the holidays provide everyone a needed respite, and a deep exhale.  And when the world starts anew, we’re looking forward to seeing folks again and continuing this work together in 2021.


Dr. Lynn Osgood is the Executive Director of Civic Arts in Austin, TX (