Announcing the ArtsFwd “Business Unusual” Innovation Story Contest

Did your organization develop an unconventional response to a persistent challenge?  Did you test out a new strategy that is leading you to rethink business-as-usual?  Did you achieve sustainable results in a surprising way? Enter our inaugural “Business Unusual” Innovation Story Contest, seeking the best new approaches in the arts sector today.  Finalists will be featured on ArtsFwd.


The ArtsFwd “Business Unusual” Innovation Story Contest offers entrant organizations an unmatched opportunity to share their cutting-edge work in the field so that new thinking and bold action can become the new norm.

Finalists and the Winner will be featured on, which is visited by a national audience of influential thinkers, funders, policymakers, and practitioners.

The Winner will be featured in a 3-minute audio postcard produced by the ArtsFwd team that brings their Innovation Story to life in voice and images.

We’re seeking Innovation Stories in 5 different categories:

We’re focusing in these 5 categories, but we recognize that innovation is happening in many different areas, so feel free to submit as “Other.”

  • Engaging audiences: Strategies designed to engage audiences and the wider community in new ways.  For examples, check out Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ project, The Immersive Visitor Experience, and the Oakland Museum of California’s project How Visitors Changed our Museum.
  • Co-creating with the public: Projects and programs that engage the public in co-creating arts activities.  For examples, check out Portland Arts Museum’s Object Stories and the Music Center of Los Angeles County’s program ActiveArts.
  • Using the web and technology: Initiatives that use the web and technology to create and engage with artistic experiences.  For examples, check out The Wooster Group’s Video Dailies Blog, and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Mannahatta 2409.
  • Reconsidering the role of the artist: Innovations that reconsider the role of the creative artist in the organization.  Check out, as an example, a story from New Dramatists.
  • Partnering or merging organizations: Stories of organizations partnering and merging for greater reach and impact. Check out, as an example, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Dance Theater Workshop merger.
  • Other: Innovation Stories of all stripes welcome.

What do we mean by Innovation?

We’re looking for examples of organizational innovation, which we define as instances of organizational change that: 1) result from a shift in underlying assumptions, 2) are discontinuous from previous practices, and 3) provide new pathways to creating public value.  Learn more here.

Entry Requirement and Details

  • Entries must be received by July 15, 2012 by 11:59pm PST.
  • Entries will be judged on ingenuity, organizational and public impact, and value for the field.
  • Each entry should be accompanied by a statement of no more than 500 words describing the innovation and explaining what persistent challenge or opportunity your organization was facing, what assumptions it led you to question about business-as-usual, why your response is genuinely different from what you tried in the past, and what impact it’s had on your organization and community.  For more on EmcArts’ definition of organizational innovation, watch this short video.
  • Entry must be accompanied by no fewer than 2 and no more than 4 images to illustrate the story.
  • The Innovation Story must have an arc (beginning, middle, end) and have concluded after January 1, 2010.
  • Semi-Finalists will be selected by the EmcArts team by August 1, 2012 and may be asked to provide additional information.  Finalists and the Winner will be selected by the EmcArts team, a panel of 3 individuals active in the sector, and voting by a general audience, by September 15, 2012.
  • Previous participants in EmcArts programs are encouraged to submit.  However, projects that have already been profiled on ArtsFwd are not eligible.
  • You may enter as many Innovation Stories as you like.
  • Entrans must be a non-profit organization including, but not limited to, arts organization, arts service organizations, and funders.
  • International entries welcome.
  • For the full contest rules, click here.

Got questions?

Email with any specific questions or to request a brief phone consultation.  We are here to help as you prepare your submission!

Fill out my online form.

Karina Mangu-Ward is the former Director of Strategic Initiatives at EmcArts.