December 8, 2023

Rural Design Featured at the National Rural Housing Conference

CIRD Cohort members visit the Frederick Arts Council in Frederick, MD. Photo by Ben Stone.

Members of Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design’s (CIRD) Design Learning Cohort were among the nearly 700 practitioners and policymakers gathered in Washington, DC, on October 24-27 for the Housing Assistance Council’s (HAC) 2023 National Rural Housing Conference.  The conference lineup included a keynote address by National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chair Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson. Jackson joined HAC CEO David Lipsetz in emphasizing the role of arts and design in bolstering the quality of life and economic vitality of rural and tribal communities.  Chair Jackson’s remarks highlighted NEA’s partnership with HAC and TBD Studio in carrying out the CIRD program since 2019, citing rural design successes in communities where CIRD works.

NEA Chair Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson giving a lunchtime keynote during the HAC conference. Photo by Courtney Spearman.

CIRD’s participation in the conference included three rural design and placemaking workshops open to all conference attendees, as well as a pre-conference CIRD Cohort visit to Frederick, MD, to view arts and design’s catalytic role in revitalizing Frederick’s downtown.  Highlights of the Frederick visit included conversations with Frederick’s Mayor Michael O’Connor and other civic and economic development officials, artists, and business owners.  Frederick Arts Council hosted the visit, which included a walking tour featuring Sky Stage (which has received NEA support) and Riverwalk Park. News coverage of the tour touted Frederick as a national model for arts-rooted development.

CIRD Cohort members and HAC staff during lunch at the conference. Photo by Camille Ferguson.

“Frederick’s downtown is a testament to good design and the power of arts and culture in attracting businesses while boosting the quality of life,” said Ben Stone, Director of Design and Creative Placemaking at the National Endowment for the Arts. Stone joined CIRD Cohort members in Frederick for the event.  Stone added that the connections and conversations between CIRD partner communities were an important outcome: “Peer to peer learning between Cohort members in a setting like Frederick’s downtown is invaluable. The relationships the Cohort built while seeing good design and placemaking in action will pay dividends for decades.”

CIRD Cohort members at Frederick's Sky Stage, created by artist Heather Theresa Clark. "Framed by historic stone walls, Sky Stage’s open-air theater seats an audience of 140 people among trees." Photo by Stephen Sugg.