Artist rendering of a new main street intersection in a rural town

Citizens' Institute on Rural Design

The Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD) is a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Housing Assistance Council. Focusing on communities with populations of 50,000 or less, CIRD’s goal is to enhance the quality of life and economic viability of rural America through planning, design, and creative placemaking.

CIRD is intended to empower local citizens to capitalize on unique local and regional assets in order to guide the civic development and future design of their own communities. The CIRD program goals include:

  • Building design capacity in rural communities to plan comprehensive revitalization strategies;
  • Introducing creative placemaking, arts, culture, and design strategies as drivers of economic development in rural America;
  • Facilitating a network of rural communities for design idea exchanges and peer learning; and
  • Preparing communities to be ready and competitive for arts- and design-related state and federal funding opportunities.

Learn more on CIRD’s 2022 webinar, CIRD’s Local Design Workshops: Lessons Learned


How CIRD Works

Large room with meeting attendees at tables working on a common project

Design Learning Cohort members discuss their unique design challenges with experts and peers. Photo by Isabella Green

CIRD provides access to the resources that communities need to convert their own good ideas into reality. The program offers competitive funding to small towns and rural and tribal communities to host a local design workshop. With support from a wide range of design, planning, and creative placemaking professionals, the workshops bring together local residents and local leaders from non-profits, community organizations, and government to develop actionable solutions to the community's pressing design challenges. The community receives additional support through webinars, web-based resources, and customized follow-up support after the workshop.

CIRD also includes support for up to 20 additional rural communities through the Design Learning Cohort. Leaders from 15-20 selected communities are invited to engage in peer learning; training in design, planning, community engagement, and facilitation techniques; one-on-one technical assistance on their community design challenge; and support in navigating funding opportunities to make their vision a reality. Both parts of the CIRD program connect rural residents with resources and ideas for developing locally driven solutions to community design challenges.


Established in 1991 by the National Endowment for the Arts as Your Town: the Citizens' Institute on Rural Design™, CIRD has supported more than 100 communities in all regions of the country, empowering residents to leverage local assets for the future in order to build better places to live, work, and play. CIRD was founded as a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the State University of New York (SUNY) at Syracuse. From 2012 to 2018, CIRD was managed in partnership with Project for Public Spaces, Inc., along with the Orton Family Foundation. Since 2019 the program has been hosted in partnership with the Housing Assistance Council.