SmART Communities Program


The North Carolina Arts Council’s SmART Communities Program is a catalyst for arts-driven economic development projects across the state. The N.C. Arts Council works hand-in-hand with arts groups, private developers, and local government to develop creative placemaking projects that reflect the unique character of the SmART community and demonstrate sustainable economic development. Four pilot communities – Burnsville, Durham, Wilson, and Kinston – are being transformed by their SmART projects, highlighting the central role the arts play in creating vibrant communities and attracting investment.

In the east, Wilson, once the world’s largest tobacco market, has worked with the N.C. Arts Council to build the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. Thirty of the acclaimed visionary artist Vollis Simpson’s monumental “whirligigs” were relocated from his rural home in Lucama, restored to their original condition, and installed in a park created in downtown Wilson. More than $25 million in private development has occurred within a two-block radius of the park since the project began. The park opened to the public in the fall of 2017.

Burnsville, in western N.C., is a hidden gem off Highway 19E. Public artist Jack Mackie is working with the N.C. Arts Council and local partners to create a new highway entrance for the town – a stunning glass gateway. Renowned local glass artists are helping develop and build a series of 25 to 30-foot glass filled markers for Burnsville’s new entranceway. The first marker will be installed in summer 2018.

Durham’s SmART team selected Mikyoung Kim Design to re-imagine the rapidly transforming north to south corridor, extending from the American Tobacco campus to the Central Park area, as a vibrant arts district that reflects the city’s unique character. A recent grant of $100,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts is helping fund large vibrant banners that will wrap a parking garage and encourage pedestrians to cross railroad tracks and venture into downtown. Installation will be completed in spring 2019.

Finally, the Arts Council has partnered with the town of Kinston to create the African American Music Trails park and is working with public artist Vicki Scuri to create artistic elements for the main streetscape to increase walkability and connect the downtown arts attractions to its River Arts Walk.

This PowerPoint gives a synopsis of the SmART projects and accomplishments.


Priority will be given to small and medium-size towns and cities that are not part of a metropolitan statistical area.  Proposals must represent a strong partnership between a local arts council or arts organization, a local government entity such as a county or city, and an economic development entity such as a downtown development corporation or a department of city or county government. The arts organization or a local government entity may serve as the lead applicant. Proposals must also identify a private sector partner willing to provide further financing or resources, such as a real estate developer, for-profit arts or cultural business, or foundation. Additional partners are encouraged. 

Program Components

SmART 101:  The Arts Council staff and public art consultants will work with the community partners to assemble a resource team of strong local leadership including representatives from the arts, local government, and economic development sectors. The local resource team will participate in a training curriculum to prepare partners for launching the SmART Communities Program. SmART 101 provides information on arts-driven economic development; public art standards of practice, including the RFQ process in selecting artists and implementing projects; community engagement and feedback process; creating an arts assets inventory; and identifying goals for the project and potential funding sources.  Upon completion of SmART 101, the resource team, along with its consultants and Arts Council staff, will decide whether to enter a planning phase or begin implementation of a first project. 

Potential SmART Initiative projects include working with an artist or artist team to:

  • Develop a transformative plan for the community that reflects place.
  • Develop an artscape vision or downtown streetscape plan.
  • Create art components for or be integral to the design of parks, greenways, transportation systems, and town entranceways.
  • Participate in other projects that contribute to downtown vibrancy.

Additional components can include the creation of an arts and cultural district, rehabilitation of historic properties into arts facilities, and development of new or renovated facilities for artist studios or arts enterprises.  These are considered ancillary components and not the primary focus of the SmART Initiative.


Each new SmART community will receive up to $15,000 for completion of SmART 101 and additional planning, and funds of $25,000 - $40,000 per year for implementation of a project or projects. The initial SmART 101/Planning grant does not require a match but all implementation grants must be matched one-to-one with public and private funds. The N.C. Arts Council staff provides guidance for the project, including on-site assistance.


In collaboration with SmART Communities Program partners, Arts Council staff creates individualized tracking systems that evaluate the results of SmART Communities Program. Each town tracks elements that reflect the level of arts, economic, and community development that are connected to its activities. The evaluation system has provided compelling evidence for continuing and expanding state and private support for our arts-driven economic efforts and policies.

Criteria for Selection

New communities will be chosen based on their demonstrated capacity to:

  • Complete the training and recommendations of the SmART 101 process.
  • Envision plans large enough in scope and scale to transform the community in a significant way, reflect its unique characteristics, and demonstrate strong potential for sustainable economic development.
  • Engage community and key stakeholders through public and individual meetings and focus groups.
  • Commit to public art standards of practice in selecting artists and implementing projects.
  • Collaborate to raise public/private funds from local, state, and national sources to implement and sustain its SmART projects.
  • Partner with the N.C. Arts Council to measure the community and economic impact of its SmART Communities Program.

Staff Contacts

Leigh Ann Wilder
Creative Economies Director
(919) 814-6508