Adapting in Crisis: Case Studies of Resilience in the Arts

Knight Foundation report captures the value of EmcArts program on adaptive capacity

The Knight Foundation has just published a new set of case studies, focusing on four disparate arts groups that took part in the program Building the Capacity to Innovate and Adapt, designed and facilitated by EmcArts.  Research and reporting by WolfBrown.

Clearly, the ability to adapt is a critical skill for organizations, now more than ever.  [These stories] have inspired us and helped us understand how we might not just pivot, but also adapt intentionally and effectively to an ever-changing and unpredictable world. – Priya Sircar of the Knight Foundation

The work with EmcArts was started before COVID-19, but the profiles show how well it prepared the groups to tackle the complexities of the pandemic in new and productive ways, facilitating the resilience of the sector.

For Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, the writers report “a substantial transformation of the operational model that had become ingrained over the organization’s 30-year history. Not only did the creative liberation that came along with thinking of change as a series of “small experiments” lead to structural changes that will benefit the organization beyond the pandemic, but also, in the process, Mosaic has learned to become a more nimble and responsive organization.”

The report concludes:

Adaptive capacity training like the kind provided through the Knight Foundation’s initiative stresses the importance of facing and proactively adjusting to changing circumstances and environments. Participants learn new approaches for responding to uncertainty so they can find a way forward rather than get stuck on the problem.

As the study shows, adaptive capacity is much more than just carrying out a new project.  It’s the underlying muscles that are intentionally developed through that project and that can then serve the organization in other situations of adaptive complexity.  Adaptive capacity is not about one-offs or brilliant single ideas.  It’s about adaptive reflexes, not knee-jerk reactions, becoming the new norm.

You can read full details of EmcArts’ new suite of online programs (including the digital workshop series, Building Adaptive Capacity, modeled after the Knight-supported initiative) here.

The four organizations profiled in the study are: Philadelphia’s Bearded Ladies Cabaret Company  and RAIR (Recycled Artist in Residency), who tackled a complex challenge and challenged ingrained assumptions, respectively. From the Detroit cohort, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit used small experiments to address complex challenges, while Planet Ant  posed a wicked question that led them to reframe how they think about their mission.  These four organizations tell a collective story of experimentation that leads to adaptation despite extraordinary and unpredictable circumstances.  The full study is here.

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