How to Select a Site for your Cultural Facility

They say location is everything, and it is important to understand both site-specific and place-based drivers of cultural facility projects.
When you are thinking about developing a new cultural centre, community centre or arts facility, there are many things to consider. Before you decide on a location, you may want begin with a feasibility study (or series of feasibility studies) to review the important strategic and technical questions associates with your project. Part of this process often involves considering a range of potential sites or properties for your new cultural centre or facility. Learn more about what a feasibility study is and how to conduct one.


Get to Know the Neighbourhood
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A key component in determining whether your project will be successful is the neighbourhood in which you intend to situate it. Spend time learning everything you can about the community. Walk around to get a sense of place, study the patters of local transit, and take the time to get to know your potential neighbours. The people who live and work in the community are your best resource for learning about the neighbourhood.  At a later stage, you will want to engage the stakeholders in your project, whether that is your city, audience members, local residents, neighbourhood associations, business improvement areas and the like. Typically, this is best accomplished through a formal community engagement process, like a series of community consultations. Learn more about how to determine who your stakeholders are and take a look at how Artscape has used community consultations to build support and momentum for its projects.


What Makes a Good Location?
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While every location is unique, there are many things that you will find advantageous when choosing a site for your new cultural facility. Situating in a neighbourhood that is compatible with your project vision can help to strengthen existing creative and cultural businesses in the area. You may find strong supporters and stakeholders in the companies, agencies and organizations that are your neighbours, opening the door for partnerships and collaborations that are win-win.

Look for a highly visible location, especially one that is busy with activity in both the day and evening. You may also want to look for an area that is well-known and has an existing reputation that supports your project’s vision.

The quality of street lighting, streetscape and urban design can impact your site. Locating in an area that is considered “walkable” and “safe” will help to ensure that your potential audiences will not be alienated either physically or psychologically. Choose a location that is close to major residential and business communities and that is conveniently accessible by public transit.

While you are getting to know your prospective neighbourhood, it will also be helpful to delve into the issues that are most debated in the local community. You may want to avoid a site that is “contested” by local residents, or that has caused split opinion in the neighbourhood, unless you are prepared to engage in a larger and more complex visioning process to bring groups together.

Take a look at how Artscape and its partners worked to build a Community Vision for the Artscape Wychwood Barns.


Making Your Site Accessible
Is the site or building you are considering safe and accessible for your tenants and users? The physical safety and accessibility of your site are not only legal concerns, but also have an impact on the public perception of your cultural facility. Creating a physical space that is barrier-free and accessible to people with disabilities or limited mobility will be an important concern in selecting your ideal site. For example, if your prospective site does not currently have an elevator, this may be a key consideration in any proposed renovation or re-design project. Think carefully about how best to promote a sense of safety and accessibility for your visitors and tenants. You will want to provide the most accessible facility possible, by removing not just physical barriers, but also financial, environmental, social, religious and cultural barriers as well. Learn more about Artscape’s research into the characteristics that make a place attractive to individual creative practitioners and artists.


Questions to Ask Yourself
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As you are considering potential sites or properties for your new cultural facility, it will be helpful to ask yourself this list of questions:

  • Does the property or site provide sufficient space to house the project as envisioned?
  • Does the property or site limit your design options?
  • Would selection of the site or property impact the business case? (For example, does it fit with your budget, program, proposed use, etc)?
  • Is your site’s current planning/zoning framework conducive to your project vision? In some cases, if you have a focus on particular areas of practice, such as industrial crafts, you may need to plan to accommodate for zoning, public nuisance and safety considerations.
  • What planning and fiscal incentives are available in the neighbourhood? Are there planning frameworks that might help with project development and operation costs? (To read more about planning tools and incentives see How Can I Use Planning Tools and Incentives?)
  • Is there likely to be an issue with contaminated land from a previous industrial use? What are the cost implications for remediation?
  • Are there any potential development partners with an existing or potential interest in the site?

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