National Endowment for the Arts Partners with ArtsFwd to Share Stories About Creative Placemaking

Over the next several months, we’ll present inspiring stories from grantees in the NEA’s Our Town program.


In this post, Jason Schupbach (Director of Design Programs) announces a new partnership between ArtsFwd and the National Endowment for the Arts that will present inspiring stories of communities strengthening their neighborhoods through the arts and design across the United States. Stay tuned over the next several months as we release these new Innovation Stories.

Creative placemaking

Before I jump into telling you about the stories, let me nerd-out a little bit and give you some background. The NEA has a new(ish) program called Our Town, which funds partnerships between local governments and creative people to do what we call ‘creative placemaking’ projects. We define ‘creative placemaking‘ as when cities and towns engage the arts and design to shape their social, physical, and economic characters. We’ve been doing lots of activities along with Our Town to support creative placemaking in the United States, including working with other federal agencies and helping to kickstart ArtPlace America – a private foundation effort to support creative placemaking.

Our Town

Since 2011, the NEA’s Our Town grant program has invested around $16 million in 191 communities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to do creative placemaking projects. Our Town projects are often multi-year, large-scale initiatives and cover all different types of artistic and design activities – everything from dance companies activating their cities through movement to industrial design competitions for new street furniture. Our Town grants range from $25,000 to $250,000 and represent rural, suburban, and urban communities with populations ranging from an Eskimo tribe of 238 (Teller, AK) to more than 8.2 million people (New York City).

What’s been so awesome for us at the Endowment is the fact that Our Town projects have an incredible breadth of collaboration at the local level. Within the 59 projects granted in FY13, there are 439 different partners of which 147 are arts partners (including 33 local arts agencies and 6 state arts agencies). The other partners include aging services agencies, botanic gardens, religious institutions, and scientific organizations; local businesses, including banks and farms; business improvement districts, educational institutions; local, state, and federal government agencies; and land trusts. That was in just one year!

Exploring Our Town

As we waded further and further into creative placemaking initiatives, everyone from around the country kept asking us how other communities were doing the work. It became apparent that people really needed case studies — short, thorough, easy to understand and visual representations of what creative placemakers are doing across the country.

Hence, we decided to invest in an e-storybook of case studies that will be launched this fall on called Exploring Our Town. It will have 70 case studies, lots of pictures and videos, and an analysis of what has been occurring in the projects with links to key resources.

Sharing stories

While we’re sure that Exploring Our Town will be rich with good information, the reality of how people receive information today encourages us to look beyond our own website and to share with others. Hence, we’re connecting other outlets who are interested in hosting the stories on their websites before the digital architecture for Exploring Our Town is launched.

We’re particularly excited to partner with EmcArts since it is a leading organization that is pushing the edge of where the arts field is going in order to help arts organizations serve America’s changing landscape and constituencies. It is entirely fitting that they are hosting the Our Town stories in ArtsFwd’s Innovation Stories collection, which already highlights some of the most adaptive work taking place in organizations across the field. These stories will be a strong addition to the collection and we are thrilled that EmcArts and ArtsFwd are working with us to push forward our particular corner of arts-based initiatives in the community development world.

We’re so excited for you to see these stories and to give us feedback. Please do feel free to email us at or tweet us at @NEAArts with any thoughts. Happy reading and go be creative!

Read the stories!

Stay tuned as we publish more Our Town stories over the next several months!

Jason Schupbach is the Director of Design Programs at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he manages the NEA's grantmaking for design and the NEA's design initiatives.