OUR TOWN: Program Description

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

Our Town is the NEA’s creative placemaking grants program. Through project-based funding, the program supports activities that integrate arts, culture, and design into local efforts that strengthen communities. Our Town projects advance local economic, physical, or social outcomes in communities, ultimately laying the groundwork for systems change and centering equity.

These projects require a partnership between a local government entity and nonprofit organization, one of which must be a cultural organization; and should engage in partnership with other sectors (e.g., agriculture and food, economic development, education and youth, environment and energy, health, housing, public safety, transportation, workforce development). Grants range from $25,000 to $150,000, with a minimum cost share/match equal to the grant amount.

Projects

We encourage applications for projects that integrate arts, culture and design into strategies for strengthening communities. Arts, culture, and design may uniquely:

  • Bring new attention to or elevate key community assets and issues, voices of residents, local history, or cultural infrastructure.
  • Inject new or additional energy, resources, activity, people, or enthusiasm into a place, community issue, or local economy.
  • Envision new possibilities for a community or place—a new future, a way of overcoming a challenge, or approaching problem-solving.
  • Connect communities, people, places, and economic opportunity via physical spaces or new relationships.

The NEA is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and fostering mutual respect for the diverse beliefs and values of all individuals and groups. Our Town supports a variety of projects across the country in urban, suburban, rural, and tribal communities of all sizes.

Project Types

Our Town projects must demonstrate a specific role for arts, culture, and design as a part of strategies that strengthen communities by advancing local economic, physical, and/or social outcomes. Competitive projects often pilot new proposed activities and establish new or deepen existing cross-sector partnerships, while also demonstrating how they strive to lay the groundwork for long-term systems change. Projects may include activities such as:

Arts Engagement:

  • Artist residency: A program designed to strategically connect artists with the opportunity to bring their creative skill sets to non-arts institutions, including residencies in government offices, businesses, or other institutions.
  • Arts festivals: Public events that safely gather people, often in public space or otherwise unexpected places, to showcase talent and exchange culture.
  • Community co-creation of art: The process of engaging stakeholders to participate or collaborate alongside artists/designers in conceiving, designing, or fabricating a work or works of art.
  • Performances: Presentations of a live art work (e.g., music, theater, dance, media).
  • Public art: A work of art that is conceived for a particular place or community, with the intention of being broadly accessible, and often involving community members in the process of developing, selecting, or executing the work. Temporary public art may be included.  These are works that are meant for display over a finite period of time using easily-removed materials, and are often used to prototype an idea, product, or process.

Cultural Planning: 

  • Cultural planning: The process of identifying and leveraging a community's cultural resources to inform decision-making (e.g., creating a cultural plan, or integrating plans and policies around arts and culture as part of a city master planning process).
  • Cultural district planning: The process of identifying a specific geography with unique potential for community and/or economic development based on cultural assets (e.g., through designation, branding, policy, plans, or other means).
  • Creative asset mapping: The process of identifying the people, places, physical infrastructure, institutions, and customs that hold meaningful aesthetics, historical, social and/or economic value that make a place unique.
  • Public art planning: The process of developing community-wide strategies and/or policies that guide and support commissioning, installing, and maintaining works of public art and/or temporary public art.

Design: 

  • Artist/designer-facilitated community planning: Artists/designers leading or partnering in the creative processes of visioning and developing solutions to community issues.
  • Design of artist space: Design processes to support the creation of dedicated spaces for artists to live and/or to produce, exhibit, or sell their work.
  • Design of cultural facilities: Design processes to support the creation of a dedicated building or space for creating and/or showcasing arts and culture.
  • Public space design: The process of designing elements of public infrastructure, or spaces where people congregate (e.g., parks, plazas, landscapes, neighborhoods, districts, infrastructure, and artist-produced elements of streetscapes).

Artist and Creative Industry Support:

  • Creative business development: Programs or services that support entrepreneurs and businesses in the creative industries, or help cultivate strong infrastructure for establishing and developing creative businesses.
  • Professional artist development: Programs or services that support artists professionally, such as through skill development or accessing markets and capital.

For more information, review the list of recently funded Our Town grants.

Required Partnerships

A key to the success of creative placemaking is involving the arts in partnership with committed governmental, nonprofit, and private sector leadership. All applications must demonstrate a partnership that will provide leadership for the project. These partnerships must involve two primary partners, as defined by these guidelines:

  1. Nonprofit organization
  2. Local government entity

One of these two primary partners must be a cultural (arts or design) organization. The highest ranking official of the local government is required to submit a formal statement of support. See "How to Apply" for more information.

Additional partners are encouraged and may include an appropriate variety of entities such as arts organizations and artists, design professionals and design centers, as well as cross-sector partnerships with state level government agencies, councils of government, rural or regional planning organizations, foundations, nonprofit and community organizations, educational institutions, real estate developers, business leaders, and special districts that advance community investments in agriculture and food, economic development, education and youth, environment and energy, health, housing, public safety, transportation, and workforce development. Partnerships that leverage infrastructure investments are welcome and encouraged.

Strengthening Communities

Through Our Town projects, the NEA intends to achieve the following objective: Strengthening Communities: Embed the arts in system-wide initiatives that strengthen or heal communities.

Our Town projects integrate arts, culture, and design into strategies that strengthen communities and center equity in advancing economic, physical, or social change.

  • Evidence of Economic Change might includeEconomic improvements of individuals, institutions, or the community including local business growth, job creation/labor force participation, professional development/training, prevention of displacement, in-migration, and tourism.
  • Evidence of Physical Change might includeDesign of physical improvements to the built and natural environment, and delivery of public services including beautification or enhancement of physical environment (including arts, culture, and public space).
  • Evidence of Social Change might includeImprovements to social relationships, civic engagement and community empowerment, amplifying community identity including collective efficacy, social capital, social cohesion, and community attachment.

Successful Our Town projects lay the groundwork for systems change that sustains the integration of arts, culture, and design into strategies for strengthening communities over the long term. 

  • Evidence of Systems Change might include: Improvements to community capacity to sustain the integration of arts, culture, and design into strategies for advancing local outcomes; for example: establishment of new or sustained cross-sector partnerships; shifts in institutional structure, new practices or policies; replication or scaling of innovative project models; or establishment of training programs. 

An Our Town project may work to advance a specific economic, physical, or social change, with the intention of laying the groundwork for systems change. Or, a project may aim to address systems change directly.

Our Town logic model graphic

Logic Model for Our Town: JPG | PDF

For more about the strengthening communities objective, see A Framework for Measuring and Understanding the Our Town Program.