An Introduction to Cultural Asset Mapping

Just as you need to understand the broad context of the community in which you plan to develop a project, you will absolutely need to dedicate time and resources to identifying the cultural assets and creative resources you can build on.
At Artscape, we view cultural asset mapping as an effective tool in the early stages of any development. It involves a process of collecting, recording, analyzing and synthesizing information in order to describe the cultural resources, networks, links and patterns of usage of a given community or group. At its most basic level, cultural asset mapping provides an inventory of key cultural resources that can be utilized in a development effort. A more comprehensive cultural asset mapping initiative can provide a deep understanding of the key networks and cultural attitudes that shape the community and indicate gaps that require further investment.

These are just a few of the questions that cultural asset mapping aims to address:

  • Who are the creative people, organizations, companies and other resources in the neighbourhood, and how do they connect with each other?
  • What is the cultural context surrounding your project? What are the creative and cultural issues, challenges and opportunities?
  • What are the creative space issues, challenges and opportunities?
  • Is the area known for culture or engaged in cultural tourism promotion?
  • How can your project engage the creative assets and cultural resources already embedded in the community?
By answering these questions, cultural asset mapping can support the vision development process in the following ways:

To assess the relevance of your project to the community: Identifying the community’s cultural assets, as well as the cultural and creative challenges facing that community, can provide insight regarding the cultural context surrounding your project. This will help to shape the vision of your project to ensure that it is relevant to the community that it is intended to serve.

To identify and engage potential stakeholders: The process of mapping cultural assets seeks to engage leaders, community members and organizations through surveys and in-person interviews. This process can help motivate participation in the project because it involves gathering and sharing collective knowledge and making it available to all potential stakeholders. As leaders see common interests and organizational links, they may come up with new ways to leverage the assets, or be inspired to strengthen or form new partnerships.

To identify the project opportunities and threats: Conducting a cultural mapping exercise allows you to identify opportunities to form relationships with potential stakeholders and to leverage existing assets for your project. It also allows you to identify potential threats, such as individuals or organizations that may have concerns about your project, or other external issues that may hinder the success of your project.

Although cultural mapping is a relatively new practice, there are a number or resources available to guide you through the process of cultural mapping.

The Municipal Cultural Planning Partnership and Creative City Network of Canada have several helpful toolkits, links and resources on cultural asset mapping and cultural planning.

If you do not have the organizational capacity or time to undertake this research, you will need to identify some expert help. One option is to hire a professional consultant to undertake this work on your behalf. You may find that a professional arts consultant is best suited to your needs, however planning consultancies, economic development consultancies and architectural practices also take on this sort of work.

Arts Consultants of Canada and the Ontario Professional Planner’s Institute provide listing information for professionals who specialize in arts, culture and heritage consulting.

A second option, which may be more suitable for a smaller or less complex project, is to work with your local post-secondary institutions to identify a qualified graduate student to undertake the research as part of their course work. You may find qualified graduate students in planning, environmental studies, urban studies, arts management and architectural programs.  
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