Co-Creation in Dance

by Clara Pinsky, Program Coordinator; Krissie Marty, Associate Choreographer;
Allison Orr, Artistic Director
Forklift Danceworks

This post is part of a series in conjunction with TRG Arts on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Analysis from TRG Arts.)

allisonelvis21The need to deepen relationships with current stakeholders and build relationships with new audiences is a compelling question for us at Forklift Danceworks. When we are asked this question, we often answer with a question: Who loves Elvis?

In 2007, Forklift’s Artistic Director Allison Orr choreographed The King & I—not the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, but an evening-length, contemporary dance performance work to address her curiosity, “Just what does Elvis Presley have to do with you and me, anyway?” In making the work, Allison knew she needed to find a way to get input and inspiration from the Elvis community. She sought out to find, “Who loves Elvis?”

Meeting the dedicated Elvis tribute artists and hearing stories from fans, Allison decided to loosely structure the performance of The King & I on Elvis’ last concert. Thinking even more about the fans who love Elvis (who also love to get together to talk about their love for Elvis!), she decided to perform the dance over three weekends around the 30th anniversary of Elvis’ death. Through collecting stories about Elvis’ life and work, performances of his songs and of course, choreography that included his iconic moves, this show with three professional dancers and five Elvis Tribute Artists was really a collaboration with many others, with inspiration and input from the Elvis-loving community.

In the years since The King & I, we have choreographed dances for trash collectors and their vehicles, electric utility workers and their equipment, forestry technicians and a heritage pecan tree, and baseball players and a historic field. The key to the success of each project has been asking, “Who loves Elvis–or recycling, or electricity, or trees, or baseball?” and finding the community that already has a stake in the dance we are making and inviting them to join us in the creative process.

In essence, community engagement is inherent in our process of making dances. We hang out, talk and ask questions, and most importantly we listen. We get really excited about the knowledge that exists in the groups with which we collaborate. Each specific community has had an abundance of ideas, expertise, and resources to offer our art making process. Practically, the only way to make a great dance with trash trucks is to work with someone who has been driving a trash truck for years. In the same way, the only way for us to make a great dance about Elvis is to work with people who love Elvis, too.

Our other trick? The people we work with become co-authors of the dance and the stories we tell within it. Baseball players have choreographed the action of 10 pitchers throwing in a circle; linemen have choreographed hanging electrical wire by hand and dropping pulleys in canon. Our projects share the story of our determined community with a wider audience and we often ask about, and listen for, what our community wants the general public to know.

For us as artists the exchange between ourselves and the community we are partnering with is reciprocal. We also ask ourselves what do we have to offer the community we are working with? What is the value add for them? And this ultimately encourages us as artists to make better dance. We want to make great dances, and by seeking relevance, connection and engagement from the get go—we give ourselves an even better chance of making that awesome dance.

And it just gets better. Working in this way—where relationships and listening are central to our dance making process—continues to provide us with rich material for art making. With each project, we engage with a new community that tells us even more about our city. Honestly, we feel blessed. How else could we have learned about what it is like to free climb a 100 ft transmission tower, or prune one of Austin’s oldest trees, or hit a home run in front of thousands of fans?

Our art making is what allows us to deepen and build relationships. So our advice…go find out “who loves Elvis?!”


Photo: by Sung Park [Donnie Roberts, left; Allison Orr, right]

From Arts Experience to Human Experience

by Barry C. Hughson

This post is part of a series in conjunction with TRG Arts on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Analysis from TRG Arts.)

barryhughsonA few months ago, I attended the dress rehearsal for “Dreamers Ever Leave You”. It was a transformational artistic and human experience.

At the National Ballet of Canada, we have two choreographic associates, Guillaume Cote and Robert Binet. Unlike a resident choreographer post, which is often filled with high profile, well established choreographers, our choreographic associates are young, emerging choreographers. Artistic Director Karen Kain created these positions in an effort to nurture a new generation of dance makers, and specifically Canadian dance makers. These talented young artists bring their ideas to Karen, and she provides the platform, dancers, and collaborators required for them to explore and shape their ideas and hone their craft.

Robert Binet approached Karen a year ago about a new idea. Inspired by the work of Canadian artist Lawren Harris, Robert had created a solo that he now wanted to expand on. The Art Gallery of Ontario, one of Canada’s most prestigious and respected arts institutions, was to present a major exhibition of Harris’s work. Curated by the American actor and musician Steve Martin, the exhibition seemed an interesting opportunity to explore a collaboration between the National Ballet and the AGO, and a perfect platform to develop Robert’s idea. We convened meetings with AGO officials, who enthusiastically embraced the idea. Budgets were developed, Robert’s ideas further shaped with input from key collaborators from both institutions, and the spark of an idea became the transformational experience.

Twelve world-class dancers, three floor-level stages in one large white-washed gallery, beautiful and haunting original music by Canadian composer Lubimir Melnik, and no seats.

That’s right. No seats.

The intention was to create a site-specific piece that broke the rules of the traditional theatre experience. The audience was to view the performance and the dancers as if they were viewing an art exhibition. They would be invited to wander around and through the performance. They would be allowed the use of phones to photograph and video the dancers as they watched.

An invited audience attended the dress rehearsal, and we were all curious to see how people would react as they entered the gallery. Would they all stand at one end of the room to view from a more “traditional” distance? Would they wander through, catch a glimpse, and head out of the space? How would the dancers handle the close proximity of the audience, when they are normally separated by an orchestra pit and a wall of light?

As the first group of attendees entered the gallery, you could feel the discomfort as people looked for the traditional theatre trappings – namely, a seat. They gathered around the edges of the space. And then it began to happen. One by one, two by two, people began to explore the space. The more they explored, the more they were enraptured by the experience. They ventured close in, and observed the dancers as glorious statues come to life. As the piece continued to unfold, you could feel the emotion in the room. The act of walking through the space revealed new patterns, relationships, perspective among the artists and the audience. There was no fourth wall. No separation. It was a shared artistic and human experience.

In my mind, this is the future of art. As an arts administrator, this realization is both inspiring and terrifying. This project had a price tag of more than $250,000CAD. With three 30-minute waves per night of 100 patrons at a time, the box office was able to generate about $80,000. That leaves $170,000 of the cost to produce this remarkable event to philanthropy and sponsorship.

How can large institutions move toward these kind of engaging, immersive, collaborative projects, while paying artists a living wage, meeting multiple union requirements and supporting necessary staffing and facilities?

The answer, for me, is a delicate balancing act. National Ballet of Canada was able to finance this mission-critical work because we’re fiscally healthy. Revenue from other repertoire allows us to be as creative as the artists we employ in finding multiple pathways for the public to experience art. We have to recognize that the one-size-fits-all programming mentality of the past is obsolete. We have to accept that patrons of the future will want a very different experience with art and artists – more immediate, intimate, interactive. Arts engagement will be less passive and more active. Sitting in a traditional proscenium theatre will continue to attract audiences for certain kinds of important revenue-generating programming, but that must be balanced with brave new ways to engage audiences with art, like the experience I had.

It’s not about “out with the old, in with the new”, but it is about creating a new eco-system for arts consumption that provides new and exciting ways to engage and inspire audiences and artists alike. It will require reassessing our business models to ensure we can fiscally support and sustain our organizations as we shift to a new reality.

As administrators and leaders, we fight this shift at our peril. We can get ahead of it, or be left behind.


Barry C. Hughson: Executive Director, The National Ballet of Canada

Barry Hughson took his first ballet class in 1976 when he was eight years old. This began a lifelong journey in the arts. In 1979, he founded a children’s theatre company in his hometown, which was formally incorporated and received non-profit status in 1981, when Hughson was 13 years old.

In 1988, Barry graduated from the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts and immediately joined The Washington Ballet in Washington DC. As a professional dancer, he performed classical and contemporary repertoire at the Kennedy Center and on tour in the US, Europe and Asia. An injury cut short his performing career in 1992, and he returned to Connecticut to create a community school for the arts at the Warner Theatre, and in 1997, became the historic theatre’s Executive Director. Under Hughson’s leadership, the Warner Theatre successfully mounted the largest capital campaign in the community’s history to restore the art deco theatre.

Since 2003, Barry has devoted his career to advancing the art of dance. Significant contributions to the field include his leadership in Atlanta Ballet’s Campaign for the Future that resulted in the elimination of the company’s debt and the acquisition, fundraising, and design development of its new home. During his years at Boston Ballet, the company achieved several key milestones, including the development and execution of the organization’s Case for Giving and $10-million-dollar Clean Slate Fund, the completion of a major renovation of the Ballet’s headquarters, and returning the company to the world stage with tours to Canada, Spain, Finland, and the United Kingdom. He joined the National Ballet of Canada in 2014.

As an arts advocate, consultant, and educator, Barry has worked extensively, including teaching and speaking engagements in the US, Europe and South America. He is the Vice Chair of Dance/USA, North America’s largest service organization for professional dance. In 2015, in partnership with Dance/USA and the Royal Ballet, Barry spearheaded the first ever meeting of North American and European dance leaders at London’s Royal Opera House. In Canada, he serves as Vice Chair of the National Council for the Canadian Dance Assembly and serves on the Steering Committee for the Canadian Arts Summit.

Artistic Excellence and Mutual Self-Interests

sueko-seemaby Seema Sueko

This post is part of a series in conjunction with TRG Arts on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Analysis from TRG Arts.)

I serve as a theater director, producer, writer, and, in the past, actor. My artistic collaborators and I vigorously pursue artistic excellence every day. Often, community engagement and artistic excellence are framed in opposition to one another. For me, it is the very pursuit of artistic excellence that drives my self-interest to develop and deepen relationships with current stakeholders and new communities.

A play or musical, regardless of when or where it is set, also lives in relationship with the time and place it is being produced and thus community engagement is essential to artistic excellence.

Consensus Organizing for Theater (CO)
I practice an artistic methodology called Consensus Organizing for Theater (CO)*, through which an arts organization deliberately builds stake in multiple pockets of communities and those communities deliberately build stake back in the art or organization by surfacing and organizing around mutual self-interest.

At Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company, a small, Equity theater company I had founded in San Diego in 2004 and where I developed CO, the results of this methodology included artistic awards, sold out runs, new donors and board members, and a diversification of our overall audience from 5% African American to 21%, 4% Latino to 29%, and 6% Asian American to 17.3%. In addition, we achieved, over the decade, 93% overall capacity.

When I scaled this process up to The Pasadena Playhouse, where I served as associate artistic director, in two years from 2014-2016, the artistic department engaged over 6,500 new audience members through robust partnerships with 70 organizations or college classes, who purchased over $202,000 in tickets. 19% of these organizations or classes returned multiple times to The Pasadena Playhouse in those two years. In addition, the methodology helped to leverage over two million in multi-year grants from The James Irvine Foundation, The Wallace Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts to build new audiences among the Latino, Asian American and African American communities of the region.

Consensus Organizing for Theater is adapted from a type of community organizing that was created by Mike Eicher and traditionally used for community development and urban renewal. Mike wrote the book Consensus Organizing: Building Communities of Mutual Self-Interest.

I adapted Mike’s process to the theater production process and identified six components to the CO:

  1. Play or project selection
  2. Internal consensus organizing
  3. Research
  4. External consensus organizing
  5. Taking care and providing tools
  6. Continuing the relationship

These components aren’t always linear. In fact, an artist often bounces back and forth between internal and external organizing and researching and/or one is often doing both internal and external simultaneously.

When practicing CO, the core question is “what is your self-interest?” or “what do you really want?” We ask this question of the director, the institution, and the communities we reach out to.

We explore the dramaturgical needs of the play. Who are the experts we need to speak with in order to learn and direct or produce the play with an eye towards authenticity? We explore if there are any production needs to which a community organization can provide access. If we want the theater packed night after night with robustly diverse audiences, we explore where we find the people and communities who will pack the theater and support the actors on stage. When we find them, we explore their self-interests and whether they have a stake in the play and if so, we organize with them. And we do all this in the name of artistic excellence.

Some of the philosophical underpinnings of CO are:

  • The process begins with the art, its needs and opportunities.
  • The process takes time and labor – we typically begin a 12-18 months before the production takes place.
  • Don’t assume you know the results or what the community wants. You need to arrive at that together.
  • We are not the experts – we might be expert in putting on a play, but we are not necessarily experts on the content and community. Seek the community expertise and invite it into the work.
  • We put ourselves in the audience.
  • We are transparent about our agenda; and we ask whoever we’re meeting with what it is they really want. What are their self-interests?
  • The individual representing the theater must have artistic power at the organization or access to it.
  • This is just one tool, not the tool, for an arts organization.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated many examples and case studies of CO which I am happy to share. This methodology continues to evolve with each project or production and at each organization that chooses to practice it.

If it serves your self-interests, please feel free to reach out to me to talk about CO… I know it will serve my self-interests.

* Consensus Organizing for Theater AKA Consensus Organizing for Theatre and Consensus Organizing for the Arts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License by Seema Sueko.


Seema Sueko serves as Deputy Artistic Director at Arena Stage. Prior, she served as Associate Artistic Director at Pasadena Playhouse and Executive Artistic Director of Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company in San Diego. Seema pioneered the Consensus Organizing for Theater methodology, created the Green Theater Choices Toolkit, which has been used by theaters and universities on five continents, and is currently engaged in research on the neuroscience of theater. Her directing and acting credits include Arena Stage, Pasadena Playhouse, People’s Light, The Old Globe, San Diego Rep, Yale Rep, 5th Avenue Theatre, Native Voices, Mo`olelo, among others. As a playwright, she received commissions from Mixed Blood Theatre Company and Center Stage. Seema serves on the Diversity Committee of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

Are You Getting Enough Bang for Your Buck?

by Zannie Voss
Director, National Center for Arts Research

This post is part of a series in conjunction with TRG Arts on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Analysis from TRG Arts.)

In the National Center for Arts Research’s Edition 3 report on the health of the U.S. arts and cultural sector, we include insights on trends as well as updates on seven performance indices key to assessing organizational health, all related to earned revenue, marketing and participation. If we look across two of these indices — Response to Marketing and People per Offering – together they tell a story about supply, demand, and the tension between marketing and engagement.

Response to Marketing
image002Overall, marketing expenses per attendee trended upward over time but the rate of increase fell just shy of the rate of inflation. This means that the average organization spent nearly the same on marketing to attract each attendee in 2013 as in 2010 in inflation-adjusted figures. A closer examination, however, reveals different realities for different arts and cultural sectors.

Very different stories emerge from Response to Marketing trends for each of the 11 arts and cultural sectors we studied. It took fewer marketing dollars to bring in each attendee over time in the Arts Education, General Performing Arts (i.e., multidisciplinary performance series), Music, and Community sectors. Of these, all but the General Performing Arts sector saw annual attendance increase over time. When it costs less to bring in each person and more people attend, it’s demonstrates effective marketing and robust demand.

By contrast, the Art Museum, Opera, Performing Arts Center (PAC), Orchestra, Theatre, and Other Museum (e.g., Natural History and Science Museums) sectors experienced true growth in this index – growth that surpassed inflation. In other words, the average organization in these sectors had to spend more in marketing over time to attract every person who attended, and, of these sectors, all but Art Museums saw fewer people attend over time. When it costs more to bring in each person and fewer people attend, it is likely that there is either a marketing problem, a demand problem, or both.

Only the Art Museum, Dance, Community, and Music sectors saw growth in annual attendance; all others saw attendance declines to varying degrees.

People Per Offering
image001Lower attendance could be the result of fewer programmatic offerings – i.e., less supply. However, this was not generally the case. Arts Education was the only sector to average a reduction in the number of programs offered. All other sectors adopted a program proliferation strategy to varying degrees.

As a result, the overall number of people engaged per offering diminished slightly from 2010 to 2012 then declined dramatically in 2013.  The 10.8% drop in this index over time is due to increases in programmatic offerings that outpaced growth in the number of people participating per offering.  As we see in the details of trends by sector, size, and geography, the mushrooming of programmatic offerings is not driven by an outlier.

The Music and Community sectors – which spent fewer marketing dollars over time for every person who attended — added programmatic offerings and had growth in touch points that exceeded the growth in the number of offerings.  As a result, the number of people engaged per offering grew over time. For all other sectors, People per Offering declined.

For six of the 11 sectors, the average organization touched fewer people over time while continuing to add programmatic offerings.  There are numerous reasons why the mismatch of supply and demand might have occurred.  It may be that new programmatic initiatives are taken on for mission-fulfillment purposes, not because they are expected to draw in large numbers of people.  Or, it may be that funders encourage new program development without recognizing an organization’s need to concentrate on attracting more participants to existing offerings.  Another hypothesis is that the divergent trends may be indicative of gaps in communication and strategy between departments responsible for programming and those responsible for connecting the organization to its community. Lastly, organizations experiencing a decline in touch points may see the need to bring in new, diverse participants and add new program offerings intended to attract them.  Audience development is a long-term investment that requires dedicated marketing resources and may show little in the way of short-term returns.

Take Aways
A recent May 11 TRG Arts blog post by Chad Bauman, Managing Director, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, offered keen insights on whether and when to focus resources on developing new audiences or on increasing loyalty to bolster return on investment and per capita revenue. Our findings underscore the extent of the tradeoffs involved.

Supply or demand? Whether through desire, pressure, or necessity, the average organization in 10 of 11 arts and cultural sectors added programs over time. Bauman points out that nothing is sexier to most artistic directors and trustees than developing new audiences. Our data would indicate that developing new programs is right up there with it, perhaps as a means of developing new audiences, or perhaps in pursuit of mission or in response to a creative impulse or funding initiative. In six of the 11 sectors, the problem wasn’t sluggish attendance growth relative to growth in the number of programs, it was that the average organization actually touched fewer people over time with its programming as a whole while continuing to add new programs. Whatever the reason behind the program proliferation, at a minimum organizations should discuss across departments whether there is a mismatch in their supply and demand trends and determine the best path forward based on data, and the alignment of goals and available resources.

Demand or marketing? Organizations in numerous sectors spent more marketing dollars to bring in each attendee while the number of people engaged per offering declined. The marketing dollars requirement depends, of course, on which attendees are targeted. As Bauman points out, it costs more to bring in new audiences than it does to deepen loyalty with existing audiences, so higher marketing expenses per attendee may be a telltale sign that an organization is developing new audiences. In this case, the higher marketing spend is substantiated with a strategic rationale. Or, higher marketing expenses per attendee may also be driven by lackluster demand for the organization’s programmatic offerings. We’ve all been in meetings where marketing is blamed for poor attendance at a concert or production that falls flat. Another underlying cause of high marketing dollars spent per attendee centers on how marketing dollars are spent. It may well be that an organization’s marketing spend is in line with that of its peers, but it isn’t getting the same bang for the buck. It may be investing in marketing channels that are not a fit with its target audience or missing opportunities to better target campaigns.

Where does your organization stand on People per Offering and Response to Marketing relative to organizations like yours nationally? Later this summer NCAR will launch a free, online dashboard that provides organizations their scores on these and other performance indices, taking into account who you are and where you operate. These performance indices are internal conversation-starters. If you’re organization’s performance is where you’d like it be, that’s something to celebrate. If not, then is there a solid reason why, and what strategies and course corrections can guide you to your goals? There is not a one-size-fits-all ideal. It is up to every organization to decide where it wants to be, and whether its current number of offerings, levels of attendance and engagement, and marketing spend are aligned to achieve those goals.


About NCAR
Launched in 2012, the vision of the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) at Southern Methodist University (SMU) is to act as a catalyst for the transformation and sustainability of the national arts and cultural community. The mission is to be the leading provider of evidence-based insights that enable arts and cultural leaders to overcome challenges and increase impact.

NCAR’s Director is Dr. Zannie Voss, also chair and professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business, and Dr. Glenn Voss, endowed professor of marketing at Cox School of Business, serves as Research Director. Through this leadership, NCAR sources its cross-disciplinary academic expertise in the fields of arts management, marketing and statistics from Meadows and Cox faculty.

In 2012, the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at SMU launched NCAR. The Center, the first of its kind in the nation, analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled; investigates important issues in arts management and patronage; and makes its findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public. With data from the DataArts Cultural Data Profile and other national and government sources such as the Theatre Communications Group, the League of American Orchestras, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Census Bureau, and the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the National Center for Arts Research is creating the most complete picture of the health of the arts sector in the U.S.

Artists and Relationship Building

by Laura Zabel

This post is part of a series in conjunction with TRG Arts on developing relationships with both new communities and existing stakeholders through artistic programming, marketing and fundraising, community engagement and public policy. (Cross-post can be found at Analysis from TRG Arts.)

ZabelHeadshotThere is a lot of work right now on building demand, value and interest in the contributions of art and artists to places, social change, economies and communities. This is the long overdue work to knit our creativity back into our daily lives and the way we address and confront the issues and inequities that face us. I am a true believer in this work and its many forms and structures. I also believe that it is not enough to work on the demand for this work – we also need to work on the supply of this work. Essentially, art comes from artists and if we are building the demand for artist-led, community-engaged work, then how are we supporting artists to build the skills and capacity they need to fulfill this demand?

Things that hold us back:

6 artist syndrome: At Springboard, we travel a lot and we’ve started making this joke that every community has 6 artists. There are usually about 6 artists that everyone in a given city points to as the exemplars of work that engages community. We call on them whenever we need a mural, a community created play, an innovative project with the city. These six artists do amazing work, work that is powerful, important and in need of support, but they can’t do everything. By relying on the same people over and over again we’re not building systems of investment, support and training that would allow more artists and more communities to make creative change.

“Of course, this work is not for everyone…”: People say this to mean that OF COURSE not all artists are interested in community-based work, or creative placemaking, or engaging in social issues. I’ve said it myself. But the more I think about this idea, I think it is wrong. ALL artists need relationships, ALL artists need to understand the context in which their work happens, ALL artists are trying to communicate and connect. In repeating the “this work isn’t for everyone” trope we are reinforcing a binary between artists who have a studio practice and artists who have a social/civic/community practice. This perspective narrows down the ways in which artists contribute to community life to a fraction of the full possibility. Yes, some artists work intentionally to co-create work with community members and other artists work alone in their studio. But the reality is that most artists do some of both. Our communities benefit from multiple ways of approaching and defining artistic impact. Even the most studio based artists need relationships with their community to inform and support their work.

Artistic quality vs. community engagement. Honestly, I can’t even bring myself to write about this conversation anymore. This tedious, insider argument serves no one.

What we need:

Expansive definitions: Artists are everywhere and every community has creative capacity within it. We need artists from all backgrounds and all walks of life to be recognized, supported and celebrated for their contributions. There is room for everyone. There are a lot of different ways for artists to build relationships, support communities, use their artistic skills to make contributions. For example, a singer-songwriter who lives in a neighborhood that is changing rapidly and is worried about displacement of longtime residents might write songs with her neighbors, or she might write her own song about the neighborhood and perform it on her national tour, or she might be intentional about playing gigs at bars and restaurants that are important institutions in her neighborhood—these are all equally valid ways to make an impact.

Multiple on-ramps and opportunities: We need to provide opportunities for artist training and learning, and, more importantly, low-risk opportunities to try new ideas and ways of working. Opportunities for artists to build new relationships and test ideas. This isn’t work that can be learned in a classroom alone, artists need an invitation and a charge (and resources) to find partners in their community and begin a relationship. At Springboard our artist-training in community development is almost always coupled with financial support to try out a small project. People learn by doing and when it comes to building relationships, only the experience of actually doing something together gets you farther down the path.

Mechanisms that make it easy for communities to find and connect with artists: In the arts we consistently underestimate how opaque it is for those who are not steeped in this work to navigate our systems and jargon. Here’s a conversation I’ve had approximately one thousand times:

“Hi, I’m calling from a community development organization/city agency/private business and we are working on an exciting new project to build affordable housing/address health disparities/get community feedback and someone told me we should work with artists.”

“Yes, absolutely, you should do that!”

“But how??”

Because we’ve had this conversation so many times, at Springboard we’re kind of obsessed with mechanisms: how to make the bridge between two people or two sectors easy to see and easy to cross? We recently launched a project called Ready Go that is a roster of artist-designed projects purpose-built to pique curiosity, prompt interaction and are available for hire. Our goal is to make it just as easy for a community organizer to work with an artist as it is for them to rent a bounce house. We hope Ready Go is a mechanism that introduces more people to the idea of working with artists, and also introduces them to actual artists.

There is so much opportunity right now to help communities understand and value the role creativity can play in supporting the agency and power of people, in building new social connection, in contributing to health, equity and happiness. So many of our challenges need and want artists’ contributions. We need to make sure we’re supporting, challenging and resourcing artists to make these contributions.


Laura Zabel is the Executive Director of Springboard for the Arts, which operates Creative Exchange, a platform for sharing free toolkits, resources, and profiles to help artists and citizens collaborate on replicating successful and engaging community projects.

An economic and community development agency run by and for artists, Springboard provides programs that help artists make a living and a life, and programs that help communities connect to the creative power of artists. Based in Minnesota, Springboard’s projects include: Community Supported Art (CSA), which is based on the Community Supported Agriculture model and connects artists directly with patrons; the Artists Access to Healthcare program; artist entrepreneurial development; and Irrigate artist-led creative placemaking, a national model for how cities can engage artists to help reframe and address big community challenges.

An expert on the relationship between the arts and community development, Zabel has spoken at leading conferences and events including the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Urban Land Institute, and Americans for the Arts. A 2014 Bush Foundation Fellow, Zabel’s insights on industry trends have also been featured in outlets from The Guardian to The New York Times. Zabel serves on the board of directors of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice and the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers.