Community Innovation Labs: Now Accepting Letters of Inquiry

Lab participants in Providence, RI on a learning journey to visit local youth organizations
Lab participants in Providence, RI on a learning journey to visit local youth organizations

Open Call for New Communities:

EmcArts is pleased to announce that, with support from the Kresge Foundation, we will be launching Community Innovation Labs in two new communities across the United States in 2016-2017. These Labs will offer the opportunity for local stakeholders in two communities to take on an urgent and specific social challenge by using artistic practices to explore local systems and advance innovative responses.

Deadline for submitting letters of inquiry is 11:59pm ET on April 11th, 2016. We are accepting inquiries jointly submitted by a coordinated group of two to three local stakeholders or organizations. See below for details on submitting a letter of inquiry to invite the Labs to your community.

Our two new Labs will build off of work that’s currently underway in our pilot sites of Winston-Salem, NC and Providence, RI. See below for more information about our pilot Labs and our call for new communities.

How Can I Find Out More?

On March 22nd, 2016, we hosted a 60-minute informational webinar on the letter of inquiry process for Community Innovation Labs. Richard Evans (President, EmcArts) and Karina Mangu-Ward (Director of Strategic Initiatives, EmcArts) gave an overview of the Community Innovation Labs program, explained the process and timeline for selection of the two new communities, and answered questions from participants.

Watch the webinar recording

You can also download this Information Packet to learn more about Community Innovation Labs and our call for new communities.

Download Info Packet

If you have any questions about the information packet or registration for the webinar, please email Karina Mangu-Ward, Director of Strategic Initiatives at

How Can I Bring a Lab to My Community?

We are accepting letters of inquiry through 11:59pm ET on April 11th, 2016. 

To submit a letter of inquiry, answer the following questions through this short form.

  • What complex social challenge in your community would be a good fit to explore in a Community Innovation Lab – one that has resisted traditional planning approaches and requires many stakeholders to carry out new strategies, and where the arts can play a vital role?
  • What community efforts, initiatives, and networks are already underway related to this challenge that the might Lab build on? What momentum exists for this work?
  • What community stakeholders from a range of sectors and backgrounds might convene and champion this effort? Who is already committed?
  • The Community Innovation Lab program requires a community matching grant of $100,000 to support hard costs associated with the Lab (catering, local facilitator fees, research, etc) plus part-time project support to coordinate the Lab locally. Where might these matching funds come from? Do you have any financial commitments already in place to support this work?

Our Labs are designed to bring together diverse, cross-sector groups of community members, so letters of inquiry would ideally be jointly submitted from a coordinated group of two to three local stakeholders or organizations. Community stakeholders may include local arts organizations, city agencies, community foundations, academic institutions, and community based organizations. While not required, joint inquiries that reflect cross-sector collaborations or partnerships will be reviewed favorably.

Submit a Letter of Inquiry

If you have any questions about submitting an inquiry, email Karina Mangu-Ward, Director of Strategic Initiatives at

About Community Innovation Labs:

Winston-Salem Lab champions perform skits on "Seeing the System"
Winston-Salem Lab champions perform skits on “Seeing the System”

The Labs are an intervention designed to help communities use the arts so that stakeholders from different sectors can work together in innovative new ways in response to a specific challenge.

The 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.

So far, the pilot Labs in Winston-Salem, NC and Providence, RI 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.

The Labs in North Carolina and Rhode Island 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?

W1-Winston Salem

Read more about the pilot Labs here, and check out our blog series chronicling the journey of the Labs from conception to design through piloting.

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