EmcArts Announces Providence and Winston-Salem as Pilot Sites for Community Innovation Labs



Contact: Nayantara Sen
Communications Manager


 August 11, 2015 (New York, NY) — EmcArts is pleased to announce that Winston-Salem, NC and Providence, RI have been selected as the two pilot sites for the Community Innovation Labs. Community Innovation Labs represent a radical new approach that equips local communities to address tough social challenges by bringing together a diverse, cross-sector group of stakeholders, and deeply integrating artists and artistic practice into rigorously designed and facilitated change processes. The Lab framework is designed and facilitated by EmcArts, with lead support from the Kresge Foundation.

Winston-Salem and Providence were selected after a competitive national search that involved 92 inquiries from 71 communities. Beginning this fall, community leaders, artists and residents in these sites will co-create innovative strategies to address urgent local challenges in civic and cultural life, with Providence focusing on community safety and cultural life in the neighborhood of Trinity Square, and Winston-Salem focusing on inequities in employment, income and wealth. Both cities will receive $65,000 in local investment, and $150,000 in in-kind support for program design, facilitation, and consultation from EmcArts.

“The Community Innovation Labs are a response to what we see in our nation today,” said Richard Evans, President of EmcArts. “Inequity is increasing across the board, traditional strategies for civic planning are failing us as challenges grow more complex, views are increasingly polarized, and ingrained ways of working exclude most citizens from decision-making. These Labs help communities question old assumptions, collaborate across silos, develop deep understanding of local system dynamics, and rehearse potential strategies for change.”

The Community Innovation Labs framework brings together learning from the fields of social innovation labs and creative placemaking. Four key principles undergird its success:

  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 unique contributions of artists and cultural workers
  4.  a willingness to let go of linear planning in favor of experimental learning

In each city, the Lab will convene a group of 30 to 40 stakeholders (including community organizers, city agencies, business leaders, artists, cultural organizations and nonprofit service providers) to practice these principles, bridge differences, and unfreeze the status quo.

The Winston-Salem Lab is convened by the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, and the Winston-Salem Foundation. The issue at the heart of this Lab is formidable local disparities in employment, income and wealth across race and class lines. The Lab team, which will include faith leaders, academics, artists, low-wage workers and city officials, will tackle this question: How can we together generate and test transformative strategies that are community-focused and arts-integrated to address the structural, systemic and historical causes of inequities in employment, income, and wealth here in Winston-Salem?

“We are honored that EmcArts and the Kresge Foundation have identified Winston-Salem as a city working at the forefront of arts-focused social innovation,” said Corey Madden, Executive Director of the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts. “This Lab is a significant opportunity for our community to come together in transformative and creative ways to affect positive change. The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, and the Winston-Salem Foundation are enriched by the extraordinary opportunity to collaborate on an inclusive initiative that can be critical to the future success of our community.”

See the press release from our local partners in Winston-Salem, NC here.

In Providence, RI, the pilot Lab will be convened by the City’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism and Rhode Island LISC. The project will focus on the diverse Trinity Square neighborhood of Upper South Providence, which includes a densely populated transit corridor, an emerging cultural center, multiple social service providers, and millions of dollars in affordable housing investment. The Lab will explore the core question: “How can we together develop and test creative approaches to improving community safety and cultural life in Trinity Square?”

“The city of Providence is proud to be partnering with Rhode Island LISC on this project and we are grateful to the Kresge Foundation for supporting EmcArts in this innovative pilot program,” said Lynne McCormack, Director of the Department of Art, Culture and Tourism. “The core values of the lab are a directly in line with our citizen engagement missions. The Community Innovation Lab will allow us to deepen our organizations’ commitments to dialogue and strengthen our own place-based practices. We have no doubt the co-created approach to the lab will lead to positive, equitable change.”

The Providence Community Innovation Lab will unfold alongside several other initiatives in Trinity Square supported by ArtPlace and the Local Initiative Support Corporation’s (LISC) Creative Placemaking Initiative.

“We’re thrilled to be working alongside our local partners in Providence and Winston-Salem to pilot the Community Innovation Lab approach,” said Karina Mangu-Ward, Director of Activating Innovation at EmcArts and Lead Facilitator for Community Innovation Labs. ”Community safety, economic disparity, cultural vitality – these are complex problems that require deep-tissue work. With these pilots, we have a tremendous opportunity to harvest the unique power of artists and cultural workers to catalyze systemic change that is creative, inclusive and locally owned.”

See more information about Community Innovation Labs here.

To read more about the background and inspirations behind the Labs, read our blog posts.

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

ABOUT EMCARTS: 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.


ABOUT KRESGE FOUNDATION: 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.