8 Tips to Survive a Cultural Planning Process

Posted by Sarah Lawson, Apr 18, 2013 2 comments

Sarah Lawson Sarah Lawson

You’ve probably never visited an art gallery or a classical music concert in Charlottesville, VA.

Though the area is known for its views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, historical landmarks, and local food culture, many people don’t consider it an arts destination. At Piedmont Council for the Arts (PCA), we see this every day.

Residents might know everything that’s happening in one area of arts interest, but nothing broader. Visitors tour Monticello or the University of Virginia, but rarely stay the extra day to explore our museums or see a play performed by one of our many community theater groups.

Very few people ever see the full breadth of the Charlottesville area arts community.

However, data from Americans for the Arts’ Arts & Economic Prosperity IV study in the Greater Charlottesville area showed that our arts and culture industry generates $114.4 million in annual economic activity, supporting 1,921 full-time equivalent jobs and generating $9.2 million in government revenue.

As the Charlottesville community continues to grow this arts and culture sector, we see a greater need to address this issue of coordinated cultural tourism. 

And that’s just one of the large-scale issues that face our arts community and many others around the country—maybe even where you live. Similar issues include arts funding, livability for artists, development of creative placemaking resources, and arts education opportunities.

But what can we do to address these issues?

Well, what PCA decided to do was work with residents and local government to create a community-wide cultural plan. Cultural planning gathers your entire community to give feedback on available and needed resources related to arts and culture.

This feedback might sound something like, “We need more affordable studio space for artists.” Or maybe, “Why don’t we have a community calendar where all arts and culture events are listed?” Perhaps even, “It would be great if graffiti were allowed as a form of public art.”

Once planning coordinators sift through all of the input, central themes begin to emerge. Community stakeholders then work together to recommend strategies to address and resolve issues within each theme, whether it’s audience development, funding, or something else entirely.

As PCA nears the midway point of the planning process for our plan, titled Create Charlottesville, I see this as a vital step in making Charlottesville a better place to live.

A cultural plan might also be a great step for your arts council or community to consider. If you decide to embark on this process, here are some tips to help you create and survive your own cultural plan:

1. Find a consultant to lead the planning process. An outside consultant is necessary to ensure an unbiased cultural plan. Try to find an individual or firm who has previously worked with cities similar to yours and with whom you feel a connection. Charlottesville is a small city with a strong university presence so we sought a consultant who had experience with small college towns.

2. Find a really amazing consultant to lead the planning process. No really, this part is that important. If you think you’ve found a great consultant, search to see if you can’t find an even more amazing one.

3. Diversify your funding. Part of the success of any cultural plan comes from community engagement in the implementation process. This buy-in can begin during your search for funding. Approach local businesses and philanthropists to explain your goals. Even if you don’t receive a check from each one, you’re educating them about the plan and will be more likely to get them engaged in the process in the future. Be sure to apply for plenty of grants as well—a good plan doesn’t come with a small price tag.

4. Budget your time. A cultural plan can fill every waking hour of your life if you allow it to. Before the planning process begins, work with your consultant to create firm deadlines for every step of the project. Create guidelines and expectations for staff and plan coordinators during every phase of the process.

5. Assemble the best team imaginable. In addition to the consultant, your planning process will involve a large number of community members. Pick the best ones to serve on a steering committee, working group, or task force. You’ll need diverse representatives in order to have a plan that serves the entire community.

6. Talk to as many community members as possible. Your plan is only as good as the people you involve. Reach out to your entire community through surveys, focus groups, and interviews to get as much feedback as you can. Create online surveys along with large-print paper versions to hand out. Mention the plan to everyone. Even if they don’t get involved, you’ll still generate buzz about the project—which, in turn, will help you reach even more people.

7. Never lose sight of the goals. Remember the dream to improve your local arts community that led you to start a planning process in the first place? Don’t let burdensome logistics distract you from that.

8. Implement, implement, implement. Part of the plan should include ways to ensure that individuals and organizations follow through on their responsibilities for implementation of strategies. And remember, even if the cultural plan that you create doesn’t fix everything, you can revisit it in a few years to give more attention to issues that still exist.

2 responses for 8 Tips to Survive a Cultural Planning Process


Chase says
April 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Middleburg, VA is in the beginning phases of this right now. I'll be sure to share your thoughts with them!

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Blance Deveraux says
April 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

Does the rain in Spain fall mainly on the plain?

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