Results Announced! “Business Unusual” Innovation Story Contest

We are very pleased to announce the results of the ArtsFwd ‘Business Unusual’ Innovation Story Contest. We’ve selected 5 Finalists and 5 Submissions of Excellence, plus 5 Intriguing Approaches we thought you would find inspiring. And the next step is up to you!

Our aim was to gather stories of organization innovation, which are instances of change that required a deep questioning of organizational assumptions and create value in the communities they serve. We encourage you to share these stories with your colleagues.  Inspiration and insight are the first crucial steps to motivating innovation, and these stories have both in spades.

The Finalists

Vote by Friday, December 21st (by 11:59pm EST) for the Finalist you’d like to see featured in our permanent Innovation Stories collection!

There’s no one winner when it comes to innovation, but many stories that we can learn from and share. That’s why we’re inviting the ArtsFwd community to vote for the story that you would like to learn more about.  We’ve selected five finalists, below, and the story that receives the most votes will be turned into an in-depth audio postcard and become part of our permanent Innovation Stories collection.

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The judges felt that these stories demonstrated a clear adaptive challenge, a deep questioning of assumptions, a genuine break from past practice, and a wide range of impacts:

Arts & Science Council of Charlotte-Mecklenburg is connecting donors to specific arts and cultural projects in need of funding through their new on-line giving site,

Columbus Museum of Art made a bold strategic decision to reframe their role as “community resource” and focus their efforts on offering engaging programs that encourage return visits and meaningful experiences.

Cornerstone Theater Company collaborated with a pharmaceutical company to create a series of short plays that revealed the obstacles that HIV+ patients face to receiving treatment in order to provide a new pathway to a flexible income stream for the company.

Intersection for the Arts quest for a new space went from a traditional facility search to a radical experiment in cross-sector collaboration as a result of rapid changes in their operating environment.

Portland Art Museum had been struggling to involve visitors in a way that would allow them to connect with their own values, so they created Object Stories, a recording and photo booth that invites visitors to share the story of a meaningful object.

Submissions of Excellence

The judges felt that these stories demonstrated a clear challenge, an adaptive response, and had value for the field:

Art & History Museums-Maitland used to be two well-loved organizations that had existed next door to each other for over 30 years – until a conversation that started about sharing a copier turned into a full fledged merger.

Global Action Project developed a culture of critique and affirmation, known as CoCA, to build a healthy, responsive organizational culture, which is essential to moving through difficult times of change.

HowlRound / Center for the Theater Commons developed #NEWPLAY TV, a free livestreaming channel to aggregate and amplify the new works theater sector’s local efforts onto a national and global platform.

Walker Art Center’s new website, which presents content as narratives rather than as promotional vehicles is changing how the Walker staff members function internally and promoting a shared sense of mission.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company developed a new strategy for patrons to connect with their artists and each other – the Connectivity Department.

Intriguing Approaches

We were intrigued by entries from five additional organizations and wanted to share them with you. Click here to read summaries of the entries from Actors Theatre of LouisvilleArts @ Large, Arts to GrowPGK Dance Project, and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.  

Many thanks to all who submitted – we know it takes a lot of time and resources to prepare an entry.   We would also like to thank our judges, Janet Brown, Deepa Gupta, Liz Lerman and Nina Simon.

If you would like to submit an Innovation Story to ArtsFwd, visit this page for more details.  From now on, we will be accepting stories on a rolling basis.


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

  • Penelope Snipper

    While all the projects are wonderful, I feel that Cornerstone will have the greatest and enduring,impact on the most people in our society. HIV among low income, people of color and women in our country is continuing to grow. the intersection of arts and health is critical in our country today.

    I hope more people who receive your notice will appreciate that and vote for Cornerstone.

    Thanks for the work you do!


  • Sara Guerrero

    So proud of the work Cornerstone Theatre Co does with all invovled! Best wishes!!!

  • Angelia Fowler

    I love CONERSTONE!!!! I will always be a CORNERSTONE JUNKIE!!!!

  • Ann Fuller

    For true innovation, incorporating real people who experience whatever topic Cornerstone is focussing on in their productions, panels, and events, this theater company/community activist group gets my vote.

  • Intersection for the Arts
    Every area of San Francisco benefits from the creative energy and the wonderful work that the has been accomplished by intersection for the arts.Marilyn Jones

  • I too am a big fan of the Cornerstone organization, and their productions. The combination of locally based community & professional actors makes for a wonderful experience. I believe their contribution will outreach the local area and spread across the theater community. Cornerstone Rocks!

  • Lorena Moran

    I love Cornerstone Theater Company

  • Patrick

    Go Cornerstone!

  • Bee Nelson

    Yea Cornerstone!
    I have been a follower of Cornerstone for years. Their work will go across the US and elsewhere! They are great!
    They are very professional in their work,. and they accomplished what they start out to do.

  • Wayne Fisher

    What I like about the Arts and Science Council approach is that they also include science in their programming to enrich and enhance student learning. That approach provides a better return on their investment of time, energy, and talents to impact teacher practice and student learning through the science and the arts.

  • Barbara Yarbrough

    The Arts & Science Council of Charlotte-Mecklenburg power2give not only allows our gifts to be matched — it provides opportunities for giving that support multiple interests in the Arts and Science Community. Although I give to the ASC annual campaign, I was intrigued by this program that is structured to allow me to choose an amount, even a small amount, based on a specific need with one of the individual affilates. My daughter was a dancer in a nonprofit company and I know how expensive shoes and dancewear can be. So additional contribution bought dance shoes for several students and I received a thank you note from one of the student beneficiaries. The website shows progress toward the goal that I beleive also encourages donations. It’s a great idea to bring in more funds that appeal to specific interests, especially for those who are unable to make an annual commitment.

  • Christina Mazza

    Intersection for the Arts crosses over into all the areas of the arts, not only offering artists a venue for thinking outside the box, but demonstrated their own forward-thinking momentum by reaching out and responding to the community as they searched for a new space. Crossing traditional boundaries, reaching out to neighborhoods, and constantly challenging the creative process is what’s so innovative about this organization! Intersection for the Arts stays current and stays connected like no other place I know!! They’ve got my vote : )

  • From its seminal role in the development of community theater in San Francisco some 45 years ago to its recent creative and collaborative use of space in its quest for a new facility, Intersection for the Arts has been a leader in innovation and quality community arts. Intersection’s contributions to San Francisco over these many years and the fact that it has stepped up in acquiring and utilizing its space in the Chronicle Building make its story of innovation the story deserving of selection as Finalist for this honor.

  • Jeanne F. King

    Cornerstone is a valuable organization that I hope will continue for many, many years. They give the voiceless a voice and speak to very relevant issues.

  • Theo Couchell Robinson

    My father was in World War 1 and was gassed even though he had a gas mask on. He received care from a French family and my father chaned our last name to Couchell.Then his brothers and cousins also changed their last name. The gas mask is on display in the uptown library history room.
    WTVI did a wonderful education service on Camp Green with the soldiers involvement in Charlotte during World War 1.
    Without the support of the Charlotte Arts and Science Council partnering with our local goverment, this film could not have been made.
    Thank you to all your donors, volunteers, and staff.

  • Intersection for the Arts is actively involved in the community and they support innovative programs that encourage both participants and creators to explore innovative projects that enhance the arts as well as community development.

  • ASC of Charlotte has my vote!

  • William M. Barnhardt

    Heres a vote for the Arts & Science Council.

    • William M. Barnhardt

      I’m voting for the Arts & Science Council.

  • mary lou babb

    A&S is so innovative for the entire community….

  • sally serenius

    I am for ASC

  • Virginia Carstarphen

    ASC has my vote. It’s programs touch our soul and spirit.

  • Stephanie

    tried to vote and nothing I clicked on worked – sending some love out to ASC even w/o the vote!

  • Glenda Gabriel

    ASC is superb and represents fresh, innovative, thoughtful excellence in the planning and executions of everything undertaken.