Thinking About Cultural Planning

Posted in Now.

The Power of the Arts and of Community
We believe arts and culture are among a community’s most powerful assets. Cultural planning allows a community to chart its own cultural future, leveraging and enhancing those assets to fulfill a unique vision.

Urbanists call this the “Century of the City.” For the first time, more people live in cities than not; by 2050, three-quarters of the world’s population will be urban. This raises profound issues of income inequality, transportation, housing and public health. It also highlights the importance of cultural planning as a tool for successful urban adaptation. Cultural planning is part of the solution for increased economic competitiveness, equity, sustainability, authenticity and happiness. Cultural planning is equally effective in rural communities, offering a means to differentiate a locale and help secure a sustainable local economy.

Effective cultural planning holds up a mirror to the community to articulate a community’s unique aspirations, opportunities, needs and heritage. Through inclusive community engagement, we find the “wisdom of the community.” This allows us to craft a shared cultural vision and generate a roadmap for community action.

The Imperative of Equity
Cultural and racial equity are essential to cultural planning. Whose future are we planning for? Whose voices are heard? Who are the beneficiaries of planning? Arts and culture are invaluable tools to promote greater equity, to confront difficult truths and to identify creative ways forward for the diverse people of our cities.

People create and participate in the arts in many ways—as an audience, or as passionate amateurs, professionals, or students. Cultural interests range from fine arts to popular culture, from mainstream to new artistic and cultural expressions, from heritage-based to community-based activities, and from nonprofit to commercial to do-it-yourself enterprises. Participation occurs through digital communities, bypassing the traditional roles of professional curator or critic. Individuals can curate their own artistic experiences and cultural journeys. Cultural planning must address the full range of these cultural expressions.

The Promise of the Creative Economy
The creative sector of the economy is an important asset for many communities, and one that is frequently unplanned. Artists are often entrepreneurs, and their creative abilities are drivers of regional economies. Creative businesses are often small businesses generating job growth. Creative places have greater vitality and help attract and retain a desirable workforce. Good cultural planning integrates cultural and economic development, providing the most effective path to economic growth, while simultaneously enriching the cultural life of the community.

Let Our Experience Work with You
Cultural planning is in continuous evolution. In the 1970s and 1980s, it focused primarily on expanding resources for artists and arts organizations—more money for the arts. A healthy arts community could provide important benefits to the community. Economic impact of the arts and cultural tourism also became important, going beyond “art for art’s sake.” The 1990s brought a shift to the public value of the arts. Public investments in arts and culture should first serve the interests of citizens, with an emphasis on expanding access and participation. Richard Florida’s work influenced cultural planning in the 2000s, situating the arts as part of a larger creative sector. In recent years, creative placemaking has come to the fore as a useful construct in leveraging the holistic role arts and culture play in civic engagement, revitalization and building a community’s sense of place. We draw on this entire toolkit in our work and, together with our clients, are part of its evolution.


David Plettner-Saunders
David Plettner-Saunders
San Diego, CA
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