Library Update: Exploring Our Town

September 15, 2015

By: Jamie Hand

For those who don't know ArtPlace's origin story, it might be surprising to hear that the idea behind fifteen foundations, eight federal agencies, and six financial institutions coming together to support creative placemaking was incubated at one of Washington's smallest federal agencies (both in terms of budget and staff). The seed was planted very early on in the tenures of National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman and Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa, who reignited interest in arts-based community development not only at the NEA but throughout other federal agencies and foundations who were, on the heels of 2008's Great Recession, looking to make integrated place-based investments in communities across the country.

Since its launch in 2011, ArtPlace has evolved alongside several other programs and resources that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) created as part of its focus on creative placemaking. One that is particularly noteworthy and foundational to our work at ArtPlace is Our Town, the agency's signature creative placemaking grant program.

Our Town grants are awarded annually to creative placemaking projects that “help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core. The funding supports local efforts to enhance quality of life and opportunity for existing residents, increase creative activity, and create a distinct sense of place.”

Our Town currently offers support for local projects that include arts engagement, cultural planning, and design activities; as well as for projects that build knowledge and provide technical assistance related to creative placemaking practice. For local projects to qualify for Our Town funding, they must be carried out by a nonprofit organization in partnership with a local government entity.

In addition to providing grant funding to creative placemaking projects, the NEA invested in an online storybook that provides illustrative examples of over 75 Our Town grant projects alongside insights for practitioners interested in doing creative placemaking work. The resulting website, Exploring Our Town, was created in response to requests from the arts community for ready access to an easy-to-search resource on best practices.

Divided into two sections, Project Showcase and Project Insights, Exploring Our Town offers practical information gleaned from the experiences of those who successfully completed Our Town projects between 2010 and 2013. With the ability to search and sort projects by project type, project setting, and geographic location, it’s a well-researched and well-designed creative placemaking resource not to be missed. 

NB: ArtPlace’s Director of Research Strategies Jamie Hand was a Design Specialist at the NEA from 2010-2013, where she helped launch and manage the Our Town grant program with Design Director Jason Schupbach and Design Specialist Jennifer Hughes. Jamie also collaborated with the research and design teams in the early stages of the Exploring Our Town project.