EmcArts 2013: Year in Review

2013 was a period of tremendous growth and discovery for EmcArts. In this report, we share where we’ve been and what we’ve learned.

One cannot discover new lands without first consenting to lose sight of the shore.
– Andre Gide

Leaving the Shore was a recurrent metaphor for a tremendous year of discovery at EmcArts.

We piloted experimental new programs for arts development agencies and youth and family service agencies. We conducted our place-based program New Pathways in five communities, engaging 675 participants from 75 organizations. In our three national Innovation Labs, we took teams from 19 organizations on a deep dive into incubating innovations as adaptive responses to their complex challenges, clocking up over 1,200 hours of intensive off-site retreat time, and regranting over $500,000 in support of prototyping. Online, ArtsFwd.org reached a half-million page views, and our Business Unusual Challenge collected 75,000 votes in the space of four weeks.

The new lands we were seeking came most clearly into view at our first National Innovation Summit in Denver in October, where 250 participants from more than 60 highly adaptive organizations, along with 1,500 virtual participants, shared their struggles and achievements – revealing to all of us the candor with which they critique their efforts and learn aggressively from their experimentation. We learned from these participants that more unusual gatherings of this kind would be welcome.

As a social enterprise for innovation and adaptive change, we at EmcArts are always trying to maintain a fine balance between ongoing consistency and radical departures. It would be all too easy to settle into familiar patterns as they become successful, and exploit them as far as we can. But something in our ethos, our DNA, makes us regularly test new approaches, open up unexplored paths, and perturb ourselves with contrary thinking. In 2013, we asked disruptive questions, including: “How can we move from fostering single innovations to strengthening the capacity of organizations to adapt and repeatedly innovate?” and “Can we support and facilitate the work of adaptive change among individual leaders, organizations, and communities in an integrated way that will help change stick?”

So this year, we began an exploration of adaptive leadership, leading to the launch of our new and, we believe, ground-breaking leadership program, Arts Leaders as Cultural Innovators. From the Innovation Summit, we published a Mosaic of Learning about Adaptive Change that explores what adaptive capacity really looks like in action through the eyes and experience of Summit participants. 2014 will see the learning from all these “next practices” brought decisively into the wider field – new lands are definitely forming.

Download the EmcArts 2013 Year in Review

Richard Evans is the President Emeritus of EmcArts, where he directs program design, research, and strategic partnerships that place a particular emphasis on innovation, adaptive organization change, and effective ways that the arts and culture field can respond to the demands of a new era.