Chicago Public Art Group’s Steps for Creating Community
Designed Places


by Olivia Gude and Jon Pounds

Decide to Make a Place

Someone or several people get the idea to make a unique place by involving the community in the design process.

Create a Dialogue
Choose a facilitator and/or designer and/or community artist to facilitate the initial meetings. Bring together all the “players” in the situation—those who own, maintain, and use the space. Try to create a multi-generational group. Ask yourselves, “Who is not at the table?” Invite them to the next meeting.


Keep records of community involvement. Save organizing and design materials. Create an ad hoc newsletter or website to document the unfolding plans. Your group is making history; preserve it.

Experience the Site
Explore the site. Interview site users. Take photographs. Consult neighborhood children and teens through school and community center outreach. “Paint a portrait” of the site at different times of the day and night.

Gather historical information from print sources and from neighborhood elders. Seek out specialists on aspects of the area history. Collect old photographs and drawings.

Expand the Dialogue
Continue talking. Schedule community meetings to share what you have learned and to gather more information. Dialogue isn’t just talking—draw and write together. Share written and pictorial visions for the site.

Build Trust
Take the time to get to know each other. Defer decisionmaking. Continue to research, discuss, and reflect. Consider special activities to raise awareness (and perhaps some money) for the project.

Set Goals
Agree on the goals of the project. High quality goals include multiple objectives. Include goals that are social, cultural, aesthetic, and functional. Determine the criteria by which you will judge your success.

Gather a core design group. Create an overall plan for the site. Decide what individual elements should be included in the plan. (Plantings, pavings, sculptures, murals, mosaics, seating, etc.) Decide how to involve various community constituencies in designing or fabricating aspects of the artworks. Share plans in progress with community. Incorporate suggestions.

Develop Budget & Identify Resources
Budget needs to include all aspects of the work—building infrastructure, funding for designing artworks, facilitating community involvement, materials, artist/designer time to lead execution, installation, documentation, and organizing a closing celebration. Resources include sources of private and public money, community contributions, in-kind, and community skills.

Implement Fundraising Plan
Even if the project is publicly funded, community contributions of money, time, or skills are important for creating a sense of community ownership.

Assign and Accept Responsibilities for Making
Let contracts for major infrastructure work. Create a realistic project timeline. Determine which activities can overlap and which must be done in sequence. Work with community artists, gardeners, and craftspeople to develop schedules for community outreach for design and execution of the artworks, gardens, pavings, etc.

Make Art & Space
Begin construction and site preparation. Complete collaborative design work. Order materials. Paint, sculpt, build, tessellate. Be open to new ideas that develop during the making. Keep documenting the work and the process.

Inform the Community
Let the larger community know the what, when, and why of the project. Seek outside media attention to build local support. Create some record of the project—a photo and text album for the local library, a video, a newspaper insert, a website, etc.

It’s finished. Create community events that draw on unique community resources for things like special foods, musical groups, etc.

Gather initial members of the dialogue as well as those who have joined the project along the way. Discuss whether the project meets the social, cultural, aesthetic, and functional goals set earlier in the process. Discuss problems encountered and solutions implemented. Identify unexpected benefits.

Consider adding to the project. Begin the process again.

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