Story Contest: Intriguing Approaches

In addition to our Finalists and Submissions of Excellence, we’ve selected these 5 additional stories we thought you would find intriguing.

We encourage you to share these stories with your colleagues.

Actors Theatre of Louisville

Since 2001, the Education department of the Actors Theatre of Louisville has been dedicated to engaging the next generation of theatre patrons and artists through in-classroom workshops and the annual New Voices Young Playwrights Festival.  In the Festival, eight of the best submitted plays by young people (developed through playwriting residencies)are chosen to be fully produced by professional theatre artists and the Apprentice Company at Actors Theatre.

The young, high school-aged playwrights often have their first opportunity to truly guide the decision-making and artistic vision of their own work, which can be daunting.  After recognizing that simply encouraging the playwrights to speak up during rehearsal did not enable them to confidently voice their opinions and make crucial decisions, Actors Theatre tried a new approach in 2011.  By “front-loading” the process through the practice of critical thinking and leadership exercises with the students, they built up the necessary confidence to communicate effectively with the team involved with each production.  As a result, these playwrights’ compelling pieces are taken seriously – not just relegated to the “youth” genre.  By empowering the playwrights in the New Voices Festival, Actors Theatre nurtures young artists and inspires future practitioners and lifelong patrons of the arts.

PGK Dance Project

The PGK Dance Project’s repertory company began to perform in donated spaces to diversify their audience by re-imagining and challenging “where” and “how” dance is presented.  Cooperating with businesses allowed them to dramatically reduce their costs, which kept their performances affordable to more people.

Instead of building a stage or other theatrical devices, using stores, warehouses, hair salons, lounges, and other unexpected sites for dance performances responded to younger, new contemporary audiences who may not have had a relationship with theatrical spaces or found them prohibitive for various reasons.  PGK Dance Project continued to do something meaningful and authentically engaging while representing and investing in their community – effectively including them in their success.

By asking audience members for direct input at performances or partnering with host businesses to promote services and products, PGK has developed new ideas, programs, and innovations in audience engagement, customer development, and dance making.

Arts @ Large

Arts @ Large, an organization aimed at connecting arts and academics by collaborating with educators and schools, partnered with students, teachers and others involved with the Milwaukee Civil Rights Project on an artwork installation focused on the fight for fair housing during the 1960s.  After doing investigative research, interviewing and photographing local activists, and identifying the social factors that led to marches, sit-ins and demonstrations, students created “The Box,” a wooden sculpture that represented how African Americans were victims of restrictive housing ordinances that segregated the city.  In addition to displaying their work in the Arts @ Large youth gallery space, the students became tour guides and led hundreds of community members through the exhibition of their own creative responses – which included song, poetry, theater, and a protest march outside the gallery.

The students have continued to use the exhibition at the Arts @ Large gallery as a bridge to engage visitors in dialogue about current issues affecting Milwaukee, and they are currently developing a city-wide bus tour taking community members to various significant sites of the civil rights movement.  Besides impacting their communities, the students involved developed a sense of place and commitment to supporting their own neighborhood.

Arts to Grow

Arts to Grow (ATG), an organization in the New York and New Jersey metro areas that provides free, highly tailored and professionally taught arts education programs to youth with limited access to the arts, took an innovative approach to tapping the skills of professionals in its community to maximize its impact and increase its efficiency.  ATG pays its instructors – the certified teaching artists who ensure the quality of their programs – but utilizes a volunteer corps to fulfill all of the organization’s operations.  Volunteers skilled in marketing and communications, finance, law, technology, graphic design, and photography, have lent over 21,500 hours of their talent and often vast experience to ATG’s mission.

ATG ensures that the volunteers get the fulfillment they seek by extending their creativity and stretching their skill sets, and allocating projects that make a tangible impact on the organization.  ATG also utilizes corporate best practices that respect their volunteers: being honest about commitment hours, defining particular roles, and offering professional recommendations and contacts.  By providing a positive volunteer experience, ATG ensures top-notch professional services, as well as a community of supporters who can remain involved in the future through donations or participation on their board.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

SMoCA Lounge is an active laboratory within the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art where people converge to create refreshing cultural compounds, participate in a living, “functional” art installation and join a space for community engagement.  The physical space, which is re-imagined every two years through a call sent out to artists, designers and architects, presents programming that is relevant to community members who might be less inclined to come to a contemporary art museum.  Contributing to the Lounge’s mission is its Program Coordinator, Tania Katan (noted author, activist and humorist) who uses humor to blur the lines between the art institution and performative practices.  Katan recently launched an online program, Out of the Cubicle, which exposes, challenges and celebrates the very art institution she works for.  Like this initiative, at the core of the Lounge’s programs is a desire to bring divergent ideas, talents and genres together to find moments of exquisite discord and necessary outbursts.


Read the stories of our “Business Unusual” Story Contest Finalists: Arts & Science Council of Charlotte-MecklenburgColumbus Museum of ArtCornerstone Theater CompanyIntersection for the ArtsPortland Art Museum.  Vote for your favorite Finalist by December 21!  Visit our poll.

Read Submissions of Excellence from the contest: Art & History Museums-MaitlandGlobal Action ProjectHowlRoundWalker Art CenterWoolly Mammoth Theatre Company.


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