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.


Hillary Presecan

Community Placemaking Program Manager
Housing Assistance Council

Born and raised in Michigan, on the ancestral lands of the Potawatomi peoples, Hillary earned a bachelor's degree in Art History from Kendall College of Art and Design before serving in the Peace Corps as a Youth Developer teaching ESL and Art in Morocco, North Africa. Following her Peace Corps service, Hillary completed a Coverdell Fellowship at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), where she earned a M.S. in Rural Development. Hillary also holds a M.A. certificate in nonprofit management.  For more than a decade in the nonprofit sector, Hillary has worked nationwide with indigenous communities in the arts and tribal public health fields, focusing on program management and technical assistance. Hillary continues to volunteer to for several organizations supporting rural and tribal arts.  

Hillary is thrilled to be supporting CIRD as a Program Manager and building upon the fantastic programming, collaboration, and engagement that serves rural and tribal communities.



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.



Stevenson Center Fellow
Housing Assistance Council

Manda LaPorte is a graduate student and Paul D. Coverdell fellow in the Applied Community and Economic Development Program at Illinois State University, working towards a master’s in Political Science. Since receiving her undergraduate degree in Global Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Manda has worked for various community development organizations. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer and a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Nicaragua and Guatemala, respectively. After her service, she worked for Habitat for Humanity in the Greater Charlottesville area in a variety of positions ranging from construction to financial coaching. Through her time at Habitat, Manda has developed a strong passion for working in affordable housing and advocacy. She is excited to be able to continue her professional career with HAC and looks forward to her continued understanding and work in housing, especially within rural America.



Senior Project Designer
To Be Done Studio

Candace was born and raised on the small Caribbean island of St. Christopher (St. Kitts), where the importance of community and looking out for one’s neighbor was instilled in her from an early age. From early on in her career, Candace has carried these values into architecture - approaching her work with the deep belief that the input of residents who personally understand the history, assets and challenges of a community is critical to design and that thoughtful design should be accessible to all.

Candace has had the opportunity to work on various project types and scales throughout her ten-year career, ranging from housing and mixed-use developments to education and healthcare. Candace is excited to bring her passion for creating impactful long-term solutions through research and engagement.



To Be Done Studio

Brandon is a Designer at To Be Done Studio and holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the School of Architecture at Virginia Tech. Their work seeks to balance an affective and speculative potential in architecture—situating its process in narratives informed by social, political, and environmental contexts. Their current interests involve a direction toward collective/community stewardship within the realization of projects. They continue to pursue these realities of architecture that respond to and work for the communities+environments in which they exist.

Their experience has allowed them to collaborate on varying projects, ranging programmatically from commercial to residential. Bringing their strength and passions to supplement discursive practices. Notably, affordable housing projects, "New Neighborhood Block" and "H.P.H.S," synthesize housing potential with new construction methodologies. And recently, their contribution to the designs of NRDC's new Chicago office. They hope to continue their growth to realize these hopes for architecture and our built environment.



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.



Special Projects Manager
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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