C Town Arts & Culture District Plan
The City of Charles Town, West Virginia is part of a region that is rich in historical and cultural assets. Charles Washington, the youngest brother of George Washington, founded the town and built his Happy Retreat estate there. Residents in Charles Town today are proud of their regional heritage, including traditions based on artisanship, the arts, the region’s natural beauty and the town’s unique story. Within this context, the community of artists, artisans and cultural leaders in Charles Town engaged evolveEA in a strategic planning process to connect their initiatives and assets while articulating a vision for an arts and culture district in Downtown Charles Town’s urban core.
Our role was to assess the town’s physical and programatic cultural assets and define the centers and key places that would make up an arts & culture district. We also helped build community capacity in Charles Town for the implementation of new cultural initiatives, the creation of new cultural places and the revitalization of existing ones that were not being used to their full potential. Our scope also included environmental design recommendations for the district and a branding strategy to cultivate and promote a district identity.
What is an Arts & Culture District?
Our process began with an inventory of assets, mapping of significant places and a benchmarking study of arts districts around the United States that were relevant to Downtown Charles Town for a variety of reasons. We helped the town’s municipal leaders coordinate with arts organizations and initiatives, sharing examples of district management approaches from our benchmarking research. The second phase of the engagement focused on creating a district through placemaking and branding strategies, as well as programming and developing organizational capacity. We interviewed dozens of artists, business owners and cultural organizations to identify challenges impacting the town’s economic vitality, learn about key places in and around the district, and to understand regional competitiveness.
We held an open community meeting to engage the public in crafting a shared vision for the district. We presented examples of programs, places and economic strategies used in other arts districts and members of the community selected their favorites. These ideas were plotted onto maps as suggested locations for their implementation, and also used to create postcards from the future that expressed each person’s vision for the district. This feedback informed the development of a branding campaign to launch the district with a conceptual framework that the community could develop further in parallel with their capacity to manage the district.
Creating a District Brand
The campaign centered around a new name for the district—the C-Town Arts & Culture District—and graphics that reference Charles Town’s heritage but are also contemporary in their look and feel. A design guide for the campaign outlines the conceptual basis for the C-Town district identity and provides examples for applying a consistent aesthetic across the district’s physical environment, print and online presence. The name and campaign were launched publicly at a summer heritage festival, where the Mayor of Charles Town also announced the establishment of the C-Town Creative Council to steward the implementation of the District Plan.
Arts organizations, places and creative businesses are also reinforcing the C-Town campaign by displaying “C-Town Star” decals in their windows. In addition to the urban design, programming and branding recommendations, evolveEA designed concepts for other marketing materials that will be commissioned and deployed by the Creative Council, bringing the region’s unique craftsmanship and creativity to the district’s physical environment as well as its broader visual identity and media presence.