The CIRD Team

The Citizens' Institute on Rural Design™ (CIRD) is a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts conducted in partnership with the Housing Assistance Council.


The National Endowment for the Arts funds and oversees the CIRD program. The NEA was established by Congress in 1961 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, NEA has awarded over $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation to the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through the partnership with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector.

The Housing Assistance Council is a national nonprofit that strengthens communities across rural America through investment and assistance with affordable housing and community and economic development. Based in Washington, DC, HAC is actively involved in shaping federal policy and the affordable housing industry with its research, lending and conferences. We also deliver technical assistance, training and affordable loans to local organizations that help rural communities prosper.

TBD (To Be Done Studio) harnesses the inherent goodness in people and the power of design to create sustainable solutions to the endemic problems that our world faces. We seek a relevant practice, one which is accessible to all rather than the few. To do so, we design and build spaces that uplift, inspire and support power within the communities we work.




To Be Done Studio

Omar Hakeem, AIA, is an architect working in the DC area as well as nationally to bring greater social and environmental equality through thoughtful design and planning. His work has been focused on geographical, social cultural frontiers and works to address the systemic poverty, health issues that plague these communities. Through these efforts he has completed award winning affordable housing, rapid response disaster housing prototypes, urban bike and pedestrian infrastructure, regional drainage improvements and community based rural planning initiatives. Omar’s passion for design has taken him from the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the ravaged communities of the Gulf Coast and many places in between. Omar was recently named one of Grists 50 Fixers for his work on climate resilient housing solutions. He is the principal and founder of To Be Done Studio.



Director of Design + Creative Placemaking
National Endowment for the Arts

Jen Hughes was appointed director of Design and Creative Placemaking for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in April 2018. As Director, Jen oversees grant portfolios that support the design and creative placemaking fields, as well as leadership initiatives that include the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design. Since 2011, Hughes has served in multiple roles at the NEA, as design specialist and community solutions specialist, playing a significant role in shaping the agency’s creative placemaking and social impact design investments. She has managed federal, philanthropic and local relationships to strategically integrate arts, culture, and design into comprehensive community development plans. A Philadelphia native, she has a masters degree in planning from University of California, Berkeley with a focus on community development and design.



Project Manager
Housing Assistance Council

Evelyn Immonen is a Research and Policy Associate at the Housing Assistance Council, where she works with the Research and Information team to prepare research reports on rural housing and bridge the gap to real-world policy issues. She also represents HAC as part of the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design, a program that brings creative placemaking and design to rural areas. She recently graduated from the University of Virginia where she earned a Bachelors in English and a Master of Public Policy degree. Evelyn is particularly interested in Native American communities due to her heritage with the Turtle Mountain Tribe and connection to many tribes in North and South Dakota.



To Be Done Studio

Zain Islam-Hashmi is a Design Associate with To Be Done Studio. Based in Washington DC, he works on projects involving communities around the country ranging from low-income housing to city revitalization efforts. He has worked for offices and non-profit organizations in Japan, Ghana, Pakistan and France, and has worked across a range of scales and disciplines such as architecture, industrial design, curation, fashion and production. His design and research work has been featured in several news articles and publications, as well as presented at conferences across the country. Zain holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Carnegie Mellon University.



Design Specialist
National Endowment for the Arts

Courtney manages the Design program for the National Endowment for the Arts, overseeing the agency’s relationship with and support for the design field nation-wide. She also coordinates the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design, working with small-town, rural, and tribal community leaders to enhance the quality of life and economic vitality of rural America through planning, design, and creative placemaking. Courtney has also worked with arts and design non-profits, in landscape architecture practice, and with a tech startup. Her educational background is in landscape architecture, architectural history, and art history, with degrees from University of Virginia and Rice University.



Project Specialist
Housing Assistance Council

Before joining HAC as a Government Relations Manager and now Special Projects Manager, Stephen Sugg worked as a U.S. Senate staffer, a state-level higher education lobbyist, and as a senior policy officer at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Stephen is a published short story writer. He holds a master’s degree in rural sociology from the University of Missouri and a doctorate from the College of William and Mary. His academic research interests include rural education, place-based education, and environmental education. Stephen spent four years as an adjunct faculty member at St. Leo University and Tidewater Community College.


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