On May 31, 2010 I attended a talk at MacEwan University’s Centre for the Arts entitled “Rediscovering the Wealth of Places: Why Cultural Mapping Matters to the Arts Community” by Greg Baeker, a founder of the Toronto-based consulting firm AuthentiCity.
Cultural mapping is a systematic approach to identifying and recording a community’s cultural assets. While not a new idea (see Gogan and Mercer, and Landry, it is starting to get attention and legitimacy as a way to develop a foundational perspective before the planning process begins.
History is an important aspect included in cultural mapping exercises, and relevant resources include museums, historic sites, listed/designated buildings, interpretive panels, libraries and archives. As a result cultural mapping is something in which public historians should take an active interest. Moreover, cultural mapping can help preserve a community’s intangible heritage, as seen in projects like New York’s City of Memory or Washington’s Share Your DC.
Cultural mapping can be a useful tool in rethinking history and sharing and planning culture. Consulting firms like AuthentiCity offer cultural mapping services for a fee, but anyone can undertake such a project. The free Cultural Mapping Toolkit produced by 2010 Legacies Now and the Creative City Network of Canada is a good place to start planning your project.
For most organizations, the collection of data is the easy part. The mapping element will no doubt prove more difficult. GIS is an obvious choice, but not all groups can afford the software, or have someone on hand who knows how it works. There are free software options available that may be of use, and learning curve varies depending on how complex the user wants their map. Google Maps and Yahoo! Maps are two of the more basic examples. More flexible programs include OSGeo, an open source geospatial software, and MapChat, an open source tool for integrating local information and maps.