Cultural Asset Identification & Building Inclusive Creative Economies

Posted by Jessica Stern, Jan 20, 2022 0 comments

In early 2021, we published an outline of the goals and commitments Americans for the Arts is making towards supporting the development of an inclusive creative economy nationally and in local communities. As we move into 2022, I’m pleased to share updates to that work.

Reminder of our vision for this work

Since it has been quite some time since we updated the field, it seems pertinent to look at our foundational goals of the work before we dive in: 

Ultimately, we strive to help communities build awareness of their cultural assets and how to equitably strengthen, value, and utilize them. Our work aims to guide local communities and national entities to establish and strengthen partnerships between the creative industries, nonprofit arts and culture, and government sectors to increase an equitable flow of resources for the creative economy. We will continue to support equitable policies that bolster the economic activity generated by creative goods and services that drive holistic economic returns and prepare individuals, businesses, and governments for a more just future.

Central to this vision are two primary and long-term goals:

  1. In concert with Americans for the Arts’ cultural equity work, resource local leaders with tools, research, and skills that support their efforts to build interconnected community networks of partners, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers to cultivate and strengthen inclusive creative economies across the country.
  2. Work nationally to bridge the for-profit and nonprofit arts sectors in partnership to imagine, align, and drive equitable policy creation and resource sharing that builds an inclusive creative economy in the United States.
Cultural & Artistic Assets

It is essential for local communities to be able to identify and talk about their unique creative ecosystems to advocate for the equitable allocation of resources. With no singular definition of the creative economy, we heard in our early listening sessions that coming up with a definition to advocate for resources has been an ongoing challenge. Quantitative jobs data is extremely valuable, yet it doesn’t always tell the full story of a community’s complex experience. 

As a result, and as a central strategy to meet Goal 1 listed above, we are working to create a comprehensive set of tools, resources, and rubrics that help communities to identify cultural assets and understand the health of those assets. It will be one approach for local arts leaders to identify their unique cultural and artistic community assets: to see gaps, build strong and authentic partnerships, focus on frontline communities, and be part of community development towards a just transition for creative workers to have the opportunity for self-determination.

Acknowledging that there are existing cultural asset mapping tools, this resource will strive to directly address biases that perpetuate inequitable resource distribution.

What is a Cultural Asset?

Our inclusive creative economy language bank defines a cultural asset as “something of value to a particular population, community, or group because of its unique contribution to the cultural, artistic, creative, economic, historic, and/or social expressions and fabric of that community. Cultural assets can be tangible such as cultural or heritage sites, products, or facilities. Intangible cultural assets could include events, activities, expertise, support networks, community and cultural knowledge, and heritage, language, organizations, and icons.” (Sources: Cultural Asset Mapping Project, City of Austin;, Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s Arts & Culture Department)

Our plan for this work in 2022

Americans for the Arts is extremely pleased to work in partnership with Cézanne Charles and John Marshall, principals of rootoftwo, LLC. Under the guidance of rootoftwo, we will embark on a year-long process to devise a set of tools, guides, evaluations, and trainings that will support local arts leaders in their efforts to identify and define their unique creative economies. With additional support from our Board’s Creative Economy/Creative Industries Committee, coordination with Americans for the Arts’ Strategic Realignment Process, and with ample opportunities for participation in the development of these tools, our work, in Cézanne and John’s words, “will be designed to inform strategies and identify opportunities for asset mapping and asset-based approaches for recovery, renewal, and reimagining efforts which center racial equity and the valuing of marginalized communities within urban, suburban, rural, and tribal geographies in 2022 and launch training and ongoing programming in 2023.” This work is not meant to be prescriptive, but to support local leaders in crafting and designing initiatives that reflect their own communities and priorities. 

But who gets to say what is a cultural asset?

This question, and the commitment to address bias throughout the development, dissemination, and practice of this work, is central. “Cultural asset mapping and asset-based approaches are the work of local cultural planners, intermediaries, funders, artists, activists, and organizers. It is most successfully carried out when it is done in participatory and generative contexts to reconceptualize communities and cultural assets as resourceful, resilient, and cohesive,” says Charles. With deep respect for precedent around cultural asset mapping, this initiative acknowledges that surveying, research, and the very notion of mapping often come with bias that leans towards the surveyor. Our work will focus on developing tools, resources, and methods that privilege the experience, knowledge, and wisdom of communities to name and identify assets that they are part of. The work will center genuine partnership and collective action to build stronger alliances throughout the cultural asset identification process. 

How can you participate in the development of these tools? 

Between February and May of 2022, Americans for the Arts and rootoftwo will conduct a series of interviews, focus groups, and workshops designed to solicit feedback from local leaders on specific needs and potential challenges of identifying their cultural and artistic assets. If you would like to participate in one of these engagements, please complete this brief form to let us know of your interest

Americans for the Arts and rootoftwo will hold a beta launch of the proposed resources via a public convening for the express purpose of requesting feedback from local leaders so that they can be refined and revised. This refinement process will follow the timeline of Americans for the Arts’ Strategic Realignment Process in order to evolve with our organization during this unique moment in our organizational history. 

We may also seek a small group of pilot communities to work with us for a one- to two-year period. Criteria and a process for selection will be forthcoming later in 2022. 

We look forward to embarking on this journey with you and appreciate the many voices who guided Americans for the Arts to focus time and resources on this work. 

This ongoing work is supported in part by a generous award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit

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