Community Innovation Labs: Providence, RI and Winston-Salem, NC

The Providence and Winston-Salem Community Innovation Labs first convened in 2015. Both Labs are currently in the final phase of the program.

In 2015, Winston-Salem, NC and Providence, RI embarked on what was then a pilot program of the Community Innovation Labs. Currently, both cities are in the final phase of the program.

Each city’s Lab members are working in “clusters” to develop strategies and test out initiatives that address urgent, local challenges in their community. In addition, Lab members are working on smaller-scale “seed” efforts to foster collaboration, learning, and experimentation that is in line with the Lab’s core question.

Read our blog series on ArtsFwd, which captures the journey of the Labs from origins to design through piloting, and take a look at each Lab’s photo essays we commissioned from local artists.

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 Winston-Salem Lab centers around the 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?”

To address the core question above, the following initiatives are currently being tested, with the support of $50,000 grants: 
Intersections + Conversations: Building a robust and deeply connected network of local artists dedicated to leading difficult conversations about race, class, and power in Winston-Salem. Lab members and its network of over 25 affiliated artists will produce a dialogue-based event series that uses arts and art experiences to foster relationships between community organizations and bus2inesses while generating awareness of and critical conversations around why some prosper in Winston and some don’t. Get a taste of the kind of conversations emerging here.
Artists Unite for Peace and Diversity was their most recent engagement held on January 20, 2017; the event was produced by over 80+ artists and attracted 3000 people between the ages of 5 to 85. Take a look at photos from this event by the Winston-Salem Journal here.
First Stop Service Center: Intentionally infusing arts and modern technology in all stages of supportive and social service programs to provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere that models and promotes reciprocity, respect, and sustainability. Human service providers in Forsyth County will work collaboratively with residents to screen for and seek out gifts, strengths, and talents, to shape and navigate creative pathways to holistic and individualized success. 
Their most recent engagement, The First Stop Cultural Expo, was held on January 28th, 2017. Over 24 artists groups and 10 various organizations participated in service of the estimated 400 people in attendance. 
Parents in Action: Using artistic practices to activate a trusting network of educators, parents, and community partners to address the root causes leading to race bias and barriers to literacy. Focusing on Cook Literacy Model School, the lowest performing school in the state of North Carolina, this initiative integrates artistic engagement practices into bi-monthly parent and teacher trust-building activities and engages parents, educators and the community in a Time-Banking experiment to enable them to share their gifts, skills, and talents with each other and the school.
The Parents in Action initiative most recently organized a session called Hook Up with Gigi, Time Banking, where parents, staff, and parents learned about time banking within their neighborhood and how to share their gifts, skills, and talents. You can keep up to date with Parents in Action via their Facebook Page.
Inclusive Entrepreneurship: Mutual support structures for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and low-income residents who have been excluded from business development resources and access to capital. Using enhanced networking and storytelling to engage, inform and inspire, this cluster focuses predominantly on people of color, women, and others who have been historically disconnected from local capital and services. You can see the fruits of their labor via the web platform, HUSTLE WS, supporting and serving the Winston-Salem community’s business development needs.
On January 31st, this group filmed local entrepreneurs sharing their stories and elucidating the aspirations, hurdles, achievements and resilience of people of color and women business developers. In mid April, the culminating event included a film screening and community conversation. Peek at the promo video they created featuring local all-stars to encourage the community to join in the evening.
The Seed Grants, each supported by a $3,500 award, are:
  • Mary’s Mavens Loan Fund: The grant supports a 0% interest micro-loan fund of $500 to $1000 for creative women entrepreneurs participating in the Maven network. 
  • Salon Engagement Series: A bi-weekly series utilizing music/performance-spoken word as well as the use of video game and augmented reality (AR) technology to generate awareness, conversation, and action towards conversations about race, class, and power.
  • Parent Arts Advocates Network:  The grant supports the building of a network of parents at the lowest performing schools in Winston-Salem to build a powerful network of parents committed to advocating for arts education.  
  • Elementary Arts Adventures: The grant supports an after-school program in creating learning journeys for students to cultural assets in Winston-Salem, many of whom the organizers met during the Lab. 
  • synHERgy Empowering Women Entrepreneurs: The grant supports the use of video to turn an in-person training program into an on-demand online training program for creative women entrepreneurs. 
  • A Reach Inside: The grant supports thePiedmont Wind Symphony building relationships with the local prison and jail to offer concerts inside and invite people coming out of the prison system as guests of honor at concerts when they return home.
  • Recycling at The Olio: The grant supports the creation of new high-quality jobs aimed at unskilled workers recycling glass for a local glassblowing studio.
The Providence Lab is convened by the City’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism and Rhode Island LISC. The initiatives the cluster projects will be activated alongside ongoing local initiatives supported by ArtPlace and the Local Initiative Support Corporation’s (LISC) Creative Placemaking Initiative.

The Providence Lab centers around the question: 

“How can we together develop and test creative approaches to improving community safety and cultural life in Trinity Square?”

Addressing this core question are the following primary initiatives, each supported by a $10,000 grant: 

Beauty in the Backstreets: Based on a systematic strategy developed be Deanna “Deedee” Brown, this initiative seeks to provide access to communications infrastructure and production tools in the service of community empowerment. By learning to tell their own stories in new ways, participants take control of their own narratives, while shaping the narratives of and about their neighborhoods and communities. 

The cluster is currently finalizing plans for its nine-week workshop (Feb 28 – Apr 27) for adults, ages 17+, interested in developing professional digital media skills and vocabularies using accessible, high-quality smart phone technology and personal computers. Learners will develop proficiency with these tools while practicing sophisticated story-telling and pre-production techniques in consultation with local media arts professionals. 

Violet’s Village Learning Center: Over 7 weeks, this team will prototype a program that adopts an African diasporic lens to engage young people, their parents, and community members to gain perspective on how people have overcome obstacles and gained power through connection with each other. 

Beginning on February 13th, this free after-school program is deep in recruitment with about half its inaugural class full. Youth will learn African history and create engaging projects rooted in Afro-Diasporic culture; build communication, art, and writing skills that affirm self-worth; and visit local museum exhibits and cultural sites important to the African Diaspora. “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” - Marcus Garvey.

Human Services Collaboration: This cluster seeks to bring human service providers together to break down silos, explore shared needs, and develop a thriving ecosystem that collaborates and enables. Moving away from a reactionary stance, the collaborative will also produce a joint video that expresses a shared agenda.

In Providence, Seed Grants totaling $10,000 support the following efforts: 
  • Oral History of Southside Providence: The grant supports the capture of oral histories from residents of Providence’s Southside and the creation of an exhibit at the Southside Cultural Center. 
  • Documentaries about Homeless Residents: The grant supports the creation of short documentaries and custom soundtracks telling the story of three local homeless residents of Trinity Square. 
  • Rhode Island Black Storytellers - Next Phase:  The grant supports an exciting new phase of growth and experimentation for this emerging organization, which has been successfully meeting with a small group of storytellers for over a year.  
  • Performance Celebrating Local Black Artists: The grant supports the creation and performance of a new piece inspired by the traditions of the African Diaspora.
  • Madam’s Backyard Bash: The grant supports an event for youth and adults to celebrate the history of the Harlem Renaissance in Trinity Square.