Established in 1991, the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD) is a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Housing Assistance Council. Focusing on communities with populations of 50,000 or less, CIRD empowers local citizens to use their unique artistic and cultural resources to guide local development and shape the future design of their communities. The program offers competitive funding to host multi-day, community design workshops guided by design, planning, and creative placemaking professionals as well as design-driven peer learning programs and events. 
Cohort Communities
Workshop Communities


community design workshops in 36 states, ranging from Navoo, AL to Chimacum, WA, and Valentine, NE to Akwesasne, Mohawk Territory in New York.


design, planning, and creative placemaking professionals engaged, working at the national level and connected locally and regionally to the workshop communities.

$4.2 million

invested to support the delivery of design assistance, through workshops and gatherings like the 2019 Design Learning Cohort summit in Thomas and Davis, WV.


local leaders from 52 rural communities for peer engagement and rural design training through the Design Learning Cohort.

“[CIRD] is our best effort to help small towns and rural communities understand the importance of design and identify resources to help them preserve their heritage and identity while expanding their economy.”

Former NEA Chair Jane Alexander, at CIRD's debute in 1991

Selected Accomplishments

CIRD’s 2018 workshop in Las Vegas, New Mexico (pop. 13,000) convened local residents and stakeholders to develop a conceptual design for Gallinas River Park. The design intent – to make a place that nurtures the relationship between the river and its people –has galvanized sustained interest in the river and generated over $150,000 in local, state, and regional funding to support activities there, including youth fly fishing.
In 2004, CIRD worked with Driggs, Idaho (pop. 1,300) exploring alternative designs for a new commercial development proposed on Main Street. The creative and positive energy from the workshop triggered immediate and longer-term gains, including state transportation funding, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Smart Growth technical assistance, and an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2012.
A 2016 CIRD workshop in Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, New York (pop. 3,200) focused on identifying essential elements of Mohawk culture and language to inform new design standards for buildings, roadways, signage and landscapes within the area. This workshop complemented a Native Americans’ Sustainable Employment and Economic Development Strategies (SEEDS) grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its Creating Akwesasne Tourism Businesses and Jobs project. A 2019 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts took the work further, employing Native artists to develop and implement the workshop ideas into architectural and design elements.
Valentine, Nebraska (pop. 3,300) hosted a CIRD workshop in 2018 to develop an ideal streetscape vision ahead of Nebraska Department of Transportation’s overhaul for their state highway Main Street. Through construction delays and COVID-19, the town maintained momentum for the project, creating economic development incentives and grants for business façade improvements and establishing the state’s first rural Bike Share program. With roadway and sidewalk construction now complete, Valentine is poised for continued focus on meeting the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers in town.
A 2004 workshop hosted in Blue Mountain, Mississippi (pop. 500) focused on strategies to improve downtown and link it with the heritage resources of northeast Mississippi— including William Faulkner’s history, the Civil War, musical traditions, and natural springs and forests. Their work in the region led to the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area becoming one of 49 National Heritage Areas in the nation.

"We are not unique in our struggles. Even ‘minor’ soft changes can be effective in creating momentum for additional future changes."

Design Learning Cohort participant

"One of the biggest challenges [was] to help them to realize that they do have a special culture and they do have the ability to use it for economic development purposes…"

Shelley Mastran, former CIRD program manager