Rendering of building entry

Cultural Facilities and Spaces

Whether it is artist housing, art galleries, or new performance spaces, cultural facilities can be important elements of communities.

Lessons Learned: 
Engagement and Communications: Getting started

All cultural facility projects shouls start with understanding the market demand for a facility, and whether or not an organization can handle running a facility in the long term. Many consultants and resources exist to help organizations figure these out, and part of the first step is outreach.  A groundbreaking report was published in 2012 called Set in Stone: Building America's New Generation of Arts Facilities 1994-2008 which outlines many of the recent trends and suggests ways to think about a project before it should get started.

As part of standard architectural and design processes, Our Town projects that focused on the creation of cultural facilities and spaces typically used standard design-based outreach efforts, including traditional public participation methods to gather input from neighboring residents about the projects, such as by creating email announcements and holding open public forums.  These types of projects, also relied on targeted surveys and interviews with potential users and residents of the new projects to ensure there was a precise understanding of both user-specific needs and general market demands. 

Digital media was also highly used as a tool. This wasn’t true however where the creative community did not have as much access to digital media, such as in Aiea, Hawaii where project managers said they “used email notices to announce meetings, but in some cases we needed to use personal follow up phone calls to the native Hawaiian artists as many don't respond to or don't have emails. Some in our community of artists also do not respond to online surveys.  So we contacted many of them through personal phone calls.”  

Funding and Resources: Developing Large Networks of Support

Cultural facilities can cost in the tens of millions of dollars to complete.  Complex funding plans need to be put together with the help of professionals who understand what it means to both pay to get the building built and have the proper enowment to run the building afterwards. The typical run of thumb is that 2/3 of the amount of a capital campaign for a new building should be for construction and 1/3 should be for endowment for running the facility.

Projects can include financing from such federal incentive programs such as Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Community Development Block Grants, Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnerships Program funding, Federal & State Historic Tax Credits, along with various local philanthropic, corporate and individual donations.   For most projects, a mix of private, foundation, corporate and public funding will be needed for the project to reach completion.

Lining up such funding is not always an easy task and often requires a combination of patience, and careful partnership building with state officials who can help federal financing applications happen more readily.  In Memphis, TN, where they looked to transform a 110-year old warehouse into affordable live/work units for artists, project manager Gretchen Wollert McLennon recounts,  “We struggled with the fact that that the state didn’t get what we were doing. Another city in the state was looking to do something similar so we formed a small coalition to help each other lobby at the state level.  When other cities saw what we were doing, they wanted to join us as well.”  When asked what advice she would give to others McLennon said, “You have to be strategic and build coalitions outside of your initial group.  You also need to learn how to pivot quickly in order to build the relationships that are need get cobbled together funding.” 

Partnerships and Logistics: Working Closely within Regulations

Facilities projects take time and patience and very often they can go over time and over budget because of their complicated nature, and many phases for planning, review, financing and construction. In Kansas City, project planners had to confront this and commented that, “our plans had to be adjusted to deal with the changing realities of the budget and shifting expectations by various partners.”


Regulations: Like public space projects, cultural facility projects must confront regulatory hurdles during their development --  from conditional use permits for occasional art (Oakland), to land easements (Memphis), to petitioning for zoning changes (Sheveport). 

Not all regulatory issues however were impediments to the project. In Glencoe, where the project to design and build a performance facility in the heart of Glencoe’s downtown area took place, project manager Jaron Bernstein said that during the planning process, “questions raised by the Glencoe Zoning Committee during the review that required further investigation and work on the design.  [But the answers to those questions] ultimately clarified and improved the design, helping to strengthen community support.”

Some projects even used regulatory frameworks to their advantage.  The Shreveport Common planning project was located in B-4 Zoning District, “which basically allows "anything" to be permitted.” Project manger Pam Atchison said, “We want the district to have parameters that encourage creativity and limit the expansion [other uses such as] bars (not affiliated with food service).  Therefore, we have drafted an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance that will be submitted to the Shreveport City Council for approval.”

Goals and Evaluation: Looking Ahead to the Future

Most recognize that the work put into creating cultural facilities and spaces plays an important role in working towards the area’s large goals for urban design and economic development (Glencoe/Aiea).  As is typical in architectural design projects, most cultural facilities projects however did not pursue traditional project evaluation processes, in larger part because so many of the projects will take years to full realize. 

One exception was in Shreveport where they held a "reverse charette" and conducted an analysis and evaluation of the planning process itself along with their draft plan.  They also commissioned a Market Study and were the focus of an Massachusetts Institute of Technology study on ten placemaking initiatives.  In all these instances the evaluation criteria was similar and looked at the ability of the Shreveport Common Vision Plan to create and sustain: “a) new jobs in the Creative Sector, b) residential housing, c) retail development, d) a downtown community based upon diversity, e) a walkable/bikeable community, and, f) a unique quality of life that attracts "visitors" to stumble upon the fun.”  These criteria were tied directly to initial project goals and enabled the project to track the project’s impact within the community.

More information about evaulation is available on the "Project Process - Measuring Project Results" page.