As we kick off a new year and a new decade, we have one thing on our mind: getting things done. This August, our Walk/Bike/Places conference will be coming to Indianapolis, Indiana, and the program this year will focus on implementation. To honor that theme, we decided to respond to one of the most common requests that we get from placemakers, which is how to cover the cost of local public space activations.
While there are many lighter, quicker, cheaper ways to improve public spaces, and money tends to follow vision, eventually every placemaker runs into a situation where their ambitions exceed their pocketbook. Thankfully, over the past ten years, the landscape for placemaking funding opportunities has grown and diversified, now ranging from national nonprofits to family foundations, crowdfunding sites to state-level Main Street organizations. As new funding opportunities emerge in the world of public space philanthropy, placemaking is enjoying unprecedented recognition—and unprecedented funding opportunities, to match. Below is a compilation of just some of the many ways placemakers can connect to these opportunities, and take projects from the idea stage to the implementation stage.
Placemaking is at its best when it sees a community as a whole: as an accumulation of shared histories, culture, and ideas within a given place. While we believe “all placemaking is creative,” the concept of creative placemaking puts the arts at the center of the process. A long-time supporter of creative placemaking, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) provides cross-cutting grants that promote access to arts and culture. The NEA’s 10-year-old Our Town grant program offers matching grants of $25,000 to $200,000 for arts and culture partnerships between government agencies and nonprofits that aim to connect the community, elevate local assets and voices, and transform shared places.
AARP launched the AARP Community Challenge in 2017 to fund “lighter, quicker, cheaper” projects that build momentum for long-term change in communities to help improve livability for all local residents. Since 2017, AARP has awarded 376 grants through the AARP Community Challenge to nonprofit organizations and government entities representing every state, D.C, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and about 60% of those grants have focused on improving public spaces. Each year, the Challenge distributes a minimum of $1 million to support projects across several areas of impact, including innovative approaches to increasing civic engagement, public space activations, increasing transit use and active transportation, housing affordability, smart cities, and other innovative projects to improve the community. Applications for 2020 will be accepted from February 5 to April 1, and projects must be completed by November 9.
The creative placemaking initiative at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) supports innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to neighborhood change, enhancing social connection and kick-starting economic development through “the energy of the arts.” LISC brings artists and placemakers together at the project level with loans, grants, and equity investments aimed at tapping into the creative assets of a community. They also support their local partners through technical assistance and research from LISC staff.
Short for “in our backyards,” ioby is a unique crowdfunding platform for forward-thinking placemaking and community development projects at the grassroots scale. The crowdfunding model empowers community leaders to match their local expertise with the financial backing they need to bring their project to life. But beyond simply providing a platform, ioby staff members support placemakers in creating effective crowdfunding strategies, while connecting them with online resources as well as like-minded project leaders, donors, and volunteers. With more than two hundred placemaking projects funded, ioby provides a truly effective, bottom-up approach to financing a project.
KaBoom! envisions communities with ample opportunities for young people to play and learn. To make this vision a reality, KaBoom! provides grants of accessible playscapes and equipment to placemakers—maintaining a particular focus on applicants in low-income or disaster-affected communities, or serving special needs children. KaBoom! breaks the mold for play spaces by offering opportunities for creative projects, from playgrounds to adventure courses and multi-sport courts. Beyond providing play equipment, the grants also help successful applicants build their capacity to engage members of the community, while strengthening their own fundraising and networking strategies.
Also focused on creative placemaking, the Kresge Foundation sees art and culture as no less than “drivers of more just communities.” Kresge has multiple funding opportunities for placemakers using the arts as a tool for more equitable communities: a grant focused on creative placemaking for healthy and inclusive communities; as well as a grant to strengthen the narrative around equity as part of the practice of creative placemaking. By inviting applicants who combine art-forward approaches with the recognition of complex community histories and structural inequality, Kresge’s funding opportunities support a truly transformative approach to creative placemaking.
The Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation is passionate about reinvigorating America’s public spaces through creative placemaking and creating opportunities for everyone to experience the performing arts. They believe the world needs more third places, guiding their community-driven efforts. Building upon their successful Levitt Pavilion grants, the newer AMP [Your City] Grant Awards program aims to meet the needs and capacity of small to mid-sized towns and cities, dispersing $2.3 million to 38 communities across America. Each grantee receives $25,000 in matching funds to present the Levitt AMP [Your City] Music Series, a minimum of 10 free outdoor concerts presented over 10 to 12 consecutive weeks. Attendees to our 3rd International Placemaking Week in Chattanooga, Tennessee, had the chance to experience that city’s fabulous AMP Music Series firsthand.
Using a uniquely municipality-led approach to placemaking partnerships, the Cities of Service Love Your Block program drives collective problem-solving and civic engagement at the local scale. In this program, Cities of Service equips city officials with the tools they need to engage with placemakers and create “mini-grant” opportunities that lead to sustained, “volunteer-fueled” impact. By supporting city leaders through an inclusive placemaking process, the program supports local stewardship and offers city officials new opportunities for the type of deep listening needed to enhance social equity through public spaces.
Open to state and local Realtor Associations, the National Association of Realtors Placemaking Grant funds both short-term and longer-term projects that give way to community destinations. In the past, this grant has made everything from new parklets to pedestrian plazas into a reality. Split into two funding levels, the grant can be either “Level 1,” which invites applicants to take on smaller demonstration projects and public space experiments with up to $1,500 in support, or “Level 2,” which is geared towards placemakers hoping to create longer-lasting new community destinations with up to $5,000 in support. The most recent round of applications has closed, but new guidelines are forthcoming for 2020 funding.
Our partners at the National Main Street Center are a place-minded bunch, aimed at transforming Main Streets to “revive local economies, bring communities together, and forge the future for cities and towns across the country.” As part of their mission, National Main Street Center is also a well-known funding partner, backing cross-cutting projects through grants like the Future of Shopping Small Grant Program. By working with small business owners interested in revitalizing historic commercial districts, this $10,000 grant not only aims to help business owners adapt to a “changing retail landscape,” but also to apply placemaking to boost local economies at the street level.
Partners for Places is a matching grant program administered by the Funders’ Network, aimed at forging new partnerships through community projects that promote environmental sustainability, health, and a strong local economy. Supporting organizations including the Kresge Foundation, New York Community Trust, and Surdna Foundation provide locally matched funds between $25,000 and $100,000. The network’s curated lists of past projects highlight sustainability-focused initiatives that often intersect with public space projects, among other focus areas. By building partnerships between local government sustainability leaders and place-based foundations, the matching grant program creates vital links at the community level, strengthening collaboration between national funders and local stakeholders and organizations.
Combining crowdfunding with more traditional grants, Patronicity provides a new way for philanthropic dollars to reach placemaking projects. The platform taps into the enthusiasm of individual donors and funding institutions alike by coaching project leaders through a crowdfunding campaign and then matching those funds with the support of a philanthropic organization. With tens of thousands of patrons, and millions of dollars donated and matched, Patronicity uses its unique “crowdgranting” program to make local projects a reality.
Foundation Center’s searchable Foundation Directory Online (FDO), an online database of funding opportunities, hosts hundreds of thousands of grantmaker, recipient, and stakeholder profiles, making it a powerful resource for grant-seekers in the placemaking arena. This paid resource covers informational gaps that might prevent organizations and individuals from submitting proposals. In a time when ninety percent of foundations do not have a website, this database gives grant-seekers an inside view of the types of projects foundations have funded in the past, where funds are being channeled, and the size of grants distributed. Beyond funder profiles, the FDO shows recipient profiles that detail funding organizations, their locations, and the size of grants received. For new users of the FDO database, online or in-person training sessions from GrantSpace can provide a set of tips for best practices, like how to optimize project-based grant searches. Much like a matchmaking service for funders and projects, the FDO can help grant-seekers find funding partners well-suited to supporting their long-term goals.
Grant opportunities abound at the local scale. Much like the national fundraising landscape, local support for placemaking projects continues to grow, revealing some unexpected—and exciting!—new partnerships. To start, getting in touch with local family foundations can be fruitful for placemakers seeking grant opportunities. Family foundations, such as the William Davidson Foundation, the Lyndhurst Foundation or the Walton Family Foundation, often take a deep interest in local placemaking and community development initiatives, aiming to drive forward their institutional goals in their own backyard.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs are also increasingly recognizing the value of investing in public spaces where they have headquarters, offices, production and distribution facilities, and even events. In 2019 alone, Project for Public Spaces partnered with Southwest Airlines on its Heart of the Community grants program (now concluded), with insurer MassMutual Foundation on its Live Mutual Project, with GAF's new Community Matters social impact initiative to invest in cities where it has manufacturing facilities, and we announced a new partnership with CloroxPro to help libraries create activations that improve community well-being. While these corporations are national and international in scope, they often invest in specific localities, especially places where they and their employees already have a strong connection.
In addressing local challenges in new and community-rooted ways, placemakers are also natural partners for local planners and Main Street managers. State-level Main Street organizations and local Metropolitan Planning Organizations are also open to the possibility of place-led projects that further their mission. For example, Oregon Metro aims to address community challenges through approaches centered on place, welcoming leaders of arts-based and equity-oriented projects to apply for Community Placemaking Grants that range from $5,000 to $25,000. Beyond bringing wide benefits to the public realm, placemakers are often cost-effective problem solvers—making their ideas useful to such local stakeholders.
There are also many more roundabout ways for placemakers to find funding. Much like in the arts, one valuable strategy is to create coalitions with like-minded organizations that are both seeking and providing funding. For example, linking up with state and local arts councils, humanities councils, or cultural institutions can be a promising route to funding. Likewise, local and state departments of transportation and active transportation advocacy groups often have overlapping interests with those around public space. For example, in New Jersey, local bike/walk advocacy groups like the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center provide grants for public space projects, and safety-minded organizations like New Jersey Safe Routes to School support improvements to active transportation infrastructure like bike trails. The same principle applies to agencies and nonprofits that focus on outcomes like sustainability, health, equity, and economic development—all of which have a stake in creating community-powered public spaces, whether they know it yet or not.
Just as placemaking can take seemingly infinite forms, so too can the people and organizations who make it possible. From the national level to the local, from online crowdgranting to traditional grants, the possibilities for funding placemaking projects continue to grow.
If you know of any additional funding opportunities available in the United States, please send a link and a short description to email@example.com, so we can keep improving this list of resources.