Public Art Plan


Often when we think of public art in small communities we think of pieces that tell stories of the past, tidbits of history from this place. We don’t often think of art that wows us, moves us, and inspires us like modern pieces you would find in major metropolitan cities. But why not? Possibly because it’s easy to tell the stories of the past, and it’s much harder to express who we are today or where we are going. Especially as communities have struggled for decades with population decline and feeling the impact in every piece of rural life. 

While we know pretty murals alone won’t change the economic and social development of a community, public art is undeniably a critical part of your identity. Public art helps create interesting and exciting spaces that demand engagement and invite exploration. It also ties directly to the perceived quality of life and gives the viewer an impression of a strong, vibrant community that values culture – the type of community where people want to live. 

If MEC wants to attract businesses and a workforce to the new SMART park the overall impression of the community will be as critical as the land and building specs. 

The good news is Cassopolis is already well on its way to becoming a cultural capital in Michigan and beyond. The community has invested heavily in visioning and planning for Imagine Cass and has seen recent wins in implementation including new murals downtown. Many assets currently exist and artists already live, have studios, or second homes in the area. A strong public art plan to support local artists and attract more to the area will not only help spur a unique and attractive creative economy but make a strong statement about where Cassopolis is headed into the future.


The Cassopolis Public Art Program will bring the creative spirit of the village out into the forefront of the community, making its unique identity known to residents and visitors alike. The goal of this program is to continue beautification and foster creative growth. 

Cassopolis already has a good amount of artistic resources to draw upon, so the creation and implementation of this program should come with relative ease. 

A public art strategy can include any number of elements to help create a cultural community:


Site-specific art

murals, sculptures, mixed media, permanent and temporary installations

Infrastructure art

crosswalks, benches, electrical boxes, alley doors, garbage bins 

Performance art

live performances; music, theatre, dance, poetry, formal or informal

Events and engagement

incorporate the arts into community events or host pop-up events

artist-in-residency program

bring in artists from across the globe to push the creative boundaries, host educational opportunities, and create lasting pieces for the community.

Cultural Center

A social and educational space to nurture and grow artistic endeavors

The implementation of a public art program can have positive, far-reaching impacts on a community including, but not limited to:

  • Providing a creative space for community members to socialize, learn and grow
  • Increasing opportunities for public participation in shaping space
  • Beautification and improved aesthetics 
  • Tells the story of past, present, and future
  • Tourism; potential for economic growth
  • Attraction and retainment of top talent
  • Improvement of residents’ mental and emotional health
  • Increasing community connections, sense of belonging, local pride 
  • Visual indicator of a community that:
    • Invests in itself
    • Is vibrant and thriving 
    • Supports arts and culture 
    • Has a high quality of life


To continue the momentum, the Village of Cassopolis should build an official arts commission to champion these efforts going forward.   

Work with the Cass Area Artists to begin identifying potential members. The commission should be made of local artists, advocates, and enthusiasts, as well as business owners, professionals, potential donors, and local leaders. The demographic should be as diverse as possible with consideration for variety in ages, gender, races and ethnicities, professions, and socioeconomic statuses. The ideal candidate isn’t always someone who is already a leader in the community but someone who could be a leader, taking pride and ownership over the opportunity to help shape the future of Cassopolis. 

This commission could be an invitation as well as an open call for applicants to encourage public buy-in and identify new local leaders.

With Village input, the commission should start with a discussion to set goals and a rough timeline. In short – What do they hope to achieve and when?

Establishing priorities and locations

One of the first jobs for the Arts Commission is scouting. Individually or as a team scour the community and take pictures, make note of locations that could be a good fit for an installation piece or performance space. Move through the village by car from different points of interest as well as exploring the downtown area on foot. 

Remember- for visual arts don’t just look for blank walls, all kinds of elements should be considered – sewer drains, fences, garbage dumpsters, benches, the open air space above an alleyway, lamp posts, etc. 

Engagement opportunity – include the community! Have local residents submit photos and ideas via social media. 

Create a list of priority locations – gateway entrance locations to the community and downtown should have special consideration.

Reach out to building owners directly and ask if they would be interested in the program. They can apply to be a site, matched donations for the commission of work are encouraged.

Part I: Visual Arts in the community

To kick off this initiative with a bang we recommend starting with two visual arts concepts that include a high public engagement component – commissioning of a piece the community can participate in and a cat scavenger hunt that ties in with CATSopolis days. 

Call for artists

Once a priority location is identified and funding is secured, draft a call for artists or RFP (Request for Proposals) and a press release to announce the opportunity. (See Appendix A: Sample RFP and Appendix B: Sample Press Release)

Then make sure you get the news in front of the right people! The following are excellent ways to promote your exciting opportunity:

  • Have the commission members make a list of their favorite artists. Reach out to those artists directly and encourage them to apply
  • Share the press release with local, state, and regional media outlets
  • Post the news on all available social media platforms and newsletters – the city, the chamber, ask commission members to share on their personal pages an in applicable artist group pages. 
  • Posts RFP to Call for Artist sites, such as:

Once the commission narrows the submissions down to the top three, engage the community to weigh in on the selection process. Post info and photos online and ask for votes through a social media campaign to build excitement and interest. Continue to update the community through the process; when the final artist is selected, work is in progress, and when the piece is finalized. 

Based on the commission’s goals, repeat the process to achieve the number of public art installations per year. Remember to expand the definition of public art as much as possible. A comprehensive public art plan should include seeking artists of various disciplines to create interactive installations throughout the community. 

Cat scavenger hunt

As a tie in with the CATSopolis event a concept that would make for an excellent kick-off to the public art plan would be a cat scavenger hunt. 

Much like the bear hunt game that has emerged across the country during the COVID pandemic, pick a launch week (or a pounce week!) encourage citizens and business across town to display cats in their window or in other creative ways (stuffed animals, drawings, cut out silhouettes, window paintings, sidewalk chalk, etc). The chamber should host a window display contest for businesses and one for private residents by submitting photos online. 

That same week, hire local artists to paint small cat murals all around town (with permission of course) and host a community cat scavenger hunt. (Map locations and/or take pictures with murals) 

Hire a graphic artist to create a community map where people can mark locations of cat murals they find. These could also be excellent placemats at local restaurants as a fun engagement tool.

Part II: The Creative Commons – Innovation Space

Cassopolis residents strongly expressed a desire for more spaces and opportunities for social and educational activities. To truly build a creative community, support existing assets, and foster growth, the Village should prioritize supporting a creative commons innovation space in the downtown district. 

The Creative Commons should offer various communal classes, such as art, cooking, music, and acting classes, while also serving as a space for further education and technical skills, such as technology and entrepreneurial interests. By providing multiple educational and entertainment options, the innovation space will be able to serve a community of all ages and interests as well as bring them to a central location within Cassopolis.

The Creative Commons could include any number of things but at its core, it should provide a consistent place to create, learn, and socialize. It should be set up from the beginning to be considered a space for everyone. This space should foster a feeling of inclusion and opportunity for all who walk through the doors. 

Some examples of options include (HOVER OVER THE IMAGES TO READ MORE):


 for various classes such as painting

Private Studios

Spaces for rent

Multipurpose Space

large room for various activities such as theater, dance, music, and yoga


Space with seating for coffee and/or pastries


outdoor seating for social engagement


space for individuals to sell art and/or other goods


space for books, reading, and/or similar resources

Computer lab

computer lab or makerspace


apartment for the resident artist

Beyond the space itself, programming will be important. The following are excellent examples of programming that would fit well into the needs of the community and mission of the innovation space:


Classes and lessons

Fine art, music, dance, literary and performing arts


Live music, open mic night, gallery talks, wine walks, food truck Fridays 

Coding academies

Sessions for youth and adults  

Youth Leadership program​s

Mentorship programs, hands-on skill-building 

Professional Development

Networking events, skill up classes

With the implementation of this space, it will not only provide additional activities for the community but aid in the success of the larger project, SMART Park, currently being developed by Midwest Energy Communications (MEC). With the development of a major business hub, it is important to obtain the workforce needed to support the new park, specifically through developing local talent and as well as attracting talent from the surrounding region. By providing educational opportunities, such as a coding academy and youth leadership programs, Cassopolis can shape the future workforce incoming businesses will need.

Part III: Artist-in-Residence Program

An excellent addition to the public art plan would be an artist-in-residency program. Just hours away from several large cities, Cassopolis and Cass County’s tranquil and relaxed environment would appeal to artists looking for a calming escape from bustling city life.  

The program would bring talented artists to stay in Cassopolis for an extended period of time, ranging anywhere from a week to a year. The artists would have the opportunity to showcase their work, offer classes and educational opportunities for residents, and lead various community engagement events. This residency would culminate in the creation of a unique art piece designed to stay with the community of Cassopolis after the artist’s departure. 

The program itself can be set up a number of different ways but essentially it involves some combination of the following:

  • Typically 3-6 months
  • Public events​
  • Classes​ for all ages
  • Create one public piece​
  • Includes room & board​
  • Stipend $500-$1,000/mo​
  • Share experience on blog / social​

This program would require a number of resources including lodging, studio space, transportation, gallery/performance space; a stipend all of which could be provided through the Creative Commons space. At the very least, a successful residency program should provide free housing and workspace to the visiting artist for the duration of their time in the community. The provision of a stipend is strongly encouraged as it will allow for artists of all backgrounds to take advantage of the program. A successful residency program will bring new art into the community while also opening up opportunities for community engagement.

It is also critical that this residency program has built-in opportunities for the visiting artist to engage with the community, either through free gallery walkthroughs, educational lectures, and classes, or some other activity.

Steering Committee Feedback indicating the level of support for an artist in residence program:

Strongly Support (25%)
Support (58%)
Neutral (17%)


The State of Michigan has a number of successful artist-in-residence programs in villages and cities of all sizes, but none within 25 miles of Cassopolis. Some example programs include:


The strategies above should be considered programs under one budget. It could be operated temporarily through the Village and eventually through a new or existing local non-profit. There are many potential funding options although it will be most successful if funded as a public-private partnership. There is a range of state, federal, and private funding opportunities for localities and non-profits looking to implement arts programming that will benefit the public. Some funding opportunities include:

Initial Funding Goal: $50,000 per year

Breaking Down the Funding:

  • Village: $10,000
  • County: $10,000
  • Private: $10,000
  • Grants: $10,000
  • Capital campaigns/Personal donations: $5,000
  • In-kind donations: $5,000

Start with a goal of adding two new public art pieces in year one (one by a local/regional artist) and the Creative Commons and artist in residency in year two. 

There are lots of avenues for funding, so it is important to be both creative and persistent at this stage. While fundraising can be challenging, remember – Implementing these strategies benefits the entire community including recruitment and retainment for local employers, believe in that vision and the funding will follow.

Potential Opportunity for Collaboration – Bright Walls in Jackson, MI

Not too far from Cassopolis is Jackson, MI which has an annual festival called Bright Walls, which quite literally paints the town. Started only a few years ago by local young professionals, it is now a 10-day event that brings in muralists from all over the globe and also works with local artists to create beautiful new public art pieces. In addition, there is a ton of various programming including public interactive art projects, live music, speakers, etc. ​

This free event brings over 40,000 people to the festival – to a town with a population of 33,000 and has a huge economic impact. It is a great example of embracing public art and using it as a catalyst for public programming and economic development. ​

Unfortunately, 2020 was scheduled to be the final year for BrightWalls Jackson, however, with the COVID pandemic, it looks like 2021 will be the grand finale. We highly recommend the Cassopolis Arts Commission reach out to the organizers for a potential partnership. 

One idea would be to commission a 2021 Bright Wall artist to come to Cassopolis after Jackson and create a piece there as well. Commission members should also plan on attending the Bright Walls grand Finale, Sept 9-14, 2021 for additional networking and inspiration. 



action steps

Year One


Develop a Cassopolis Art Commission + Strategy

WHO: The Village of Cassopolis, Cassopolis Art Commission

HOW: Identify and recruit community members with the right knowledge, connections, and interest. 

Identify the purpose and clear goals and the timeline for the program – what does the Village and community want to accomplish and when?

Build a timeline and potential partners list.


Funding + Implementation of public art pieces

WHO: Cassopolis Art Commission

HOW: Scout locations and create priority locations

Once vision and goals are established, seek out funding from the various resources listed above. Begin applying for grants.

Setting criteria for artist selection. Draft call for artists and promote widely.

Continue public engagement and promotion thorough selection process and completion. 

Launch community cat scavenger hunt in lead up to kicking off CATSopolis Days.


Build plan for Creative Commons + Artist in Residency

WHO: Cassopolis Art Commission

HOW: Work with the village and local partners to identify best location options to house Creative Commons. Some excellent options include:

  • The current city hall building
  • The old fire station 
  • 144 S. Broadway (already has a residence upstairs)

Build out a potential budget and funding strategy. Determine who would lead the management and programming.

Year Two


Strategy + Funding

WHO: Cassopolis Art Commission

HOW: Determine what was successful in year one and what needs to be improved. Establish priorities and goals for year two public installations.

Hire Executive Director to be the public face of the organization and lead the programming.

Build partnerships, create a budget, and launch a fundraising campaign.

Secure a venue, build priorities and programming, recruit leadership and teachers for classes. 


Launch the Creative Commons and Artist in Residency Program

WHO: Cassopolis Art Commission

HOW: Kick-off event to introduce the community to space and programming. 

Draft year two of public art installation call for artists as well as the artist-in-residence program. Bring in first artist, host first community events.

Collaborate with artists to identify types of pieces and locations, make them feel at home in the community.


Continue implementing and evaluating the program

WHO: Cassopolis Art Commission

HOW: Create a tailored evaluation plan for the program

Gauge community opinion through surveys, focus groups, etc.

Rotate leadership of the Cassopolis Art Commission as needed

Locate new avenues for advertising, identify different artists from various backgrounds, alternate the types of community programming that is offered, etc.

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