Designing public cultural policy in an urban context is more effective when supported by evidence, including information regarding the number, types and spatial distribution of a city’s cultural assets. The Cultural Asset Mapping Project (CAMP) began in Austin as a response to an internal gap in this knowledge. The City’s Cultural Arts Division then saw the opportunity to expand the project into looking at where and how cultural and creative activities exist across Austin’s diverse cultural landscape, in order to make culture more inclusive and accessible. The CAMP mapping process was designed for community members to submit any place or resource they identified as having cultural or creative value to them. This community-led approach has allowed the dataset, and the policies which have resulted from it, to define cultural assets in a more diverse and nuanced way, going beyond conventional venues and activities.
With the information gathered through CAMP, the City hopes to better integrate Austin’s creative sector into city planning initiatives, the development of Capital Improvement Projects, and larger economic development strategies. This is to ensure the arts and creative sector remain a significant player in Austin’s ongoing development. The data will be able to identify and support emerging or potential cultural districts through place-based strategies, map future trends in the loss and retention of cultural spaces, and identify areas lacking cultural facilities. It will also help to integrate existing cultural assets and the planning for creative space, as well as support cultural tourism through wayfinding and promotion.
CAMP is much more than just a cultural facilities survey. It is also a community project which directly involves residents in providing the data behind policy decisions. It has acted as a forum for storytelling and for sharing of cultural experiences amid a rapidly changing landscape, and presented a more diverse picture of the many types of cultural spaces and facilities Austin has to offer.
As part of CAMP, the Cultural Arts Division created ‘Thriving in Place’, a report on place-based economic development aimed at exploring the City’s role in addressing the challenges involved in creating and retaining cultural spaces. The report highlights that while cultural spaces serve as valuable community resources, their success in creating vibrant, desirable, and profitable areas can in turn lead to the displacement and disenfranchisement of the very communities which make those areas attractive in the first place. ‘Thriving in Place’ outlines place-based strategies and district development as a means to capture the real estate value created by cultural spaces in a way that reinvests that value back into the community and ensures that groups of people who have lived there for a long time can continue to do so. It is hoped both CAMP and ‘Thriving in Place’ will offer insights and a model for other world cities facing similar challenges.