EmcArts Receives $1.5 Million from Kresge Foundation for Community Innovation Labs


Contact: Nayantara Sen; nsen@emcarts.org

January 28, 2016 (New York, NY) — EmcArts is pleased to announce that our Community Innovation Labs program has been selected to receive a grant of $1.5 million from the Kresge Foundation.

This grant will support the completion of our two pilot Community Innovation Labs, launched in 2015 in Winston-Salem, NC and Providence, RI, and the launch of a further two Labs in communities across the United States, in order to build local capacity to take on complex social challenges by integrating the arts into a rigorous process framework.

“We are proud to fund the Community Innovation Labs in multiple American cities,” said Regina Smith, Interim Managing Director of Arts & Culture at Kresge Foundation. “We are invested in interdisciplinary, cross-sector programs that help communities address intractable problems, disrupt systemic barriers, and tangibly improve their economic and cultural outcomes. The Community Innovation Labs, with their focus on artistic integration, systems change, local relevance and courageous innovation, are aligned with these goals. We’re thrilled to support EmcArts and our local Lab partners in this important work and urge the larger philanthropic community to join us in funding this critical initiative.”


So far, the pilot Labs have engaged 80 community organizers, city agencies, business leaders, artists, cultural organizations and nonprofit service providers in investigating local systems, questioning old assumptions and unfreezing the status quo. Read more about the origins and design of our Labs here and our pilot sites here.

Winston-Salem Lab members perform skits on “Seeing the System.” Photo by Christine Rucker
The pilot Labs are working together to address these core questions:
  • Winston-Salem, NC: How can we create a more equitable and abundant Winston-Salem? How can we move systems of race, class and power to do so? How can we, as a community, build enough trust to enable transformative change to happen?
  • Providence, RI: How can we develop and test creative approaches to improving community safety, cultural life and well-being in Trinity Square?

“We are honored to receive this crucial support from the Kresge Foundation for theCommunity Innovation Labs,” said Richard Evans, President of EmcArts. “As our pilot Labs gear up, community members are moving from discovery and inquiry into designing and prototyping innovative solutions to complex community challenges. Moving beyond traditional failed solutions to novel approaches is difficult; it requires experimentation without any certainty on the outcomes. This is work that artists know well, but their contributions are often left out of underfunded community change efforts. EmcArts thanks Kresge for being a strong partner in these pioneering efforts and looks forward to welcoming to the Lab initiative other national funders with a similar commitment to the arts and community change.”


EmcArts will open a competitive national search for two new cities for Community Innovation Labs in Spring 2016. If you’d like to receive more information about the search, please contact Karina Mangu-Ward, Director of Strategic Initiatives at kmangu-ward@emcarts.org

All press inquiries may be directed to Nayantara Sen, Communications Manager at EmcArts by emailing nsen@emcarts.org or calling 917.592.6696.


The Community Innovation Labs framework is designed and facilitated by EmcArts and prioritizes four key principles: 1) a focus on building dense, cross-sector networks; 2) a willingness to slow down in order to see systems as a whole; 3) an ability to harvest the unique contributions of artists and cultural workers; 4) a willingness to let go of linear planning in favor of experimental learning.

Read about the Community Innovation Labs program and our blog series chronicling the journey of the Labs from conception to design through piloting.


EmcArts is a nationally recognized service organization for innovation and adaptive change. We work alongside people, organizations, and communities as they take on their most complex challenges. Through our rigorously designed and facilitated workshops, coaching, and intensive labs, we create the space and conditions to test innovative strategies and build cultures that embrace change. Our practice is deeply influenced by the artistic process, which we believe has a unique power to unlock entrenched assumptions and open up new ways of seeing.


The Kresge Foundation is a $3.5 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit. In 2014, the Board of Trustees approved 408 awards totaling $242.5 million. That included a $100 million award to the Foundation for Detroit’s Future, a fund created to soften the impact of the city’s bankruptcy on pensioners and safeguard cultural assets at the Detroit Institute of Arts. A total $138.1 million was paid out to grantees over the course of the year. In addition, our Social Investment Practice made commitments totaling $20.4 million in 2014. For more information, visit kresge.org.


Nayantara Sen is the former Communications Manager at EmcArts.