Community Innovation Labs: Dallas, TX

Announcing Community Innovation Lab Round Two: Dallas, TX

Dallas join Round Two of EmcArts' Community Innovation Lab
Community-based projects to use creative practice to drive social change 
to participate based on the significant work and social infrastructure already in place in each community.

In late 2016, Dallas, TX convened a diverse cross-section of stakeholders, including city agencies, community organizers, business leaders, artists, cultural organizations, and nonprofit service providers, to embark on round two of EmcArts' Community Innovation Lab. The Lab is designed to enable community stakeholders to create long-lasting, robust, and cross-sector networks that empower communities to leverage artistic practices to bring about social change and advance progress on important civic issues. Dallas is now in the middle of their 15-month process to address their self-determined community challenge and numerous original ideas arose from the intensive workshops earlier this year. We’re glad to announce that six are to be supported in the next phase of the Lab.

The three ensembles embarking on larger-scale initiatives are: 
  • Abuela’s Table takes on an inter-generational approach to community-based initiatives to celebrate cultural traditions, food and healthy lifestyles.
  • Extreme Food Desert Makeover will examine the role of a locally-owned and operated grocery store and how it can feed the life of the neighborhood.
  • Re-Imagine the Block will work with local residents to “co-”power a new neighborhood vision, using food and the arts as the engine of change.
Three smaller-scale seed projects to foster collaboration, learning, and experimentation in line with the Lab’s core question have also emerged and will be funded - honest dialogue about equity over formal tea ceremonies, research into needs and landscapes of opportunity in Dallas, and artistic water barrels and food gardens at the local Southside YMCA (a direct result of artistic work surrounding food and gardens).

“In this time of increased uncertainty and deepening inequities, traditional linear planning is not a sufficient response; a coalition of community stakeholders coming together to bring creative experimental approaches to persistent complex challenges is powerful and radical,” said Richard Evans, president of EmcArts. “Community Innovation Labs invite the cultural sector into the change process, priming the environment for creative collaboration. Building on our work in the pilot cities, EmcArts will work alongside the remarkable leaders and organizers in these two vibrant communities to advance a shared understanding of the system and to generate and rehearse new strategies for change that can be effective and long term."

In this time of increased uncertainty and deepening inequities, traditional linear planning is not a sufficient response; a coalition of community stakeholders coming together to bring creative experimental approaches to persistent complex challenges is powerful and radical.

Richard Evans, EmcArts, President
1490036250 184633c14f9d7e40c12aae4a37444953

Lab Principles

Working in ensembles, Lab members from both cities will initiate new arts-based strategies for change over the course of 2017 with the support of $15,000 in grant funds. Funded in part by the Kresge Foundation, EmcArts’ Community Innovation Labs bring together learning from the fields of social innovation and creative placemaking. The process is undergirded by four key principles:

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

The Dallas Lab is convened by Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Meadows School of the Arts through its arts and social justice initiative, Ignite/Arts Dallas, and by Big Thought, the Embrey Family Foundation, Make Art with Purpose (MAP), and SMU’s Hunt Institute.  Using nutritional access as the hub to connect educational, economic, and cultural opportunities for the community, Dallas Lab participants will investigate the core question: “How can we work collectively to ensure equitable access to healthy food and nourishment for and with all the citizens of Dallas, using arts, creativity, and food itself as catalysts?”

The Dallas Lab convenes representatives from some 30 Dallas organizations and independent artists, and receives local funding from the Embrey Family Foundation and SMU Meadows School.

“By bringing together stakeholders from all corners of Dallas, the Lab has already started meaningful conversations about how economic justice and economic security affect equitable food access,” said Clyde Valentin, director of SMU Meadows’ Ignite/Arts Dallas. “We are thrilled to be a partner in this initiative, which aligns so well with our own commitment to creating more just and vibrant communities by building connections between our students, the artistic community, and the city of Dallas.” 
By design, each Lab fosters a deep commitment to collaboration, learning, and experimentation. In each city, dense local networks of cultural and civic organizations, leaders, and organizers are leveraged to build on existing capacity, reveal connections, and enable sustainable change efforts.

You can learn more about EmcArts’ Community Innovation Labs here and Round One cities (Winston-Salem, NC and Providence, RI) here.

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.
The Kresge Foundation is a $3.6 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit. In 2015, the Board of Trustees approved 370 grants totaling $125.2 million, and nine social investment commitments totaling $20.3 million. For more information, visit

The Meadows School of the Arts, formally established at SMU in 1969 and named in honor of benefactor Algur H. Meadows, is one of the foremost arts education institutions in the United States. The Meadows School offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in advertising, art, art history, arts management and arts entrepreneurship, corporate communication and public affairs, creative computation, dance, film and media arts, journalism, music, and theatre. The goal of the Meadows School of the Arts, as a comprehensive educational institution, is to prepare students to meet the demands of professional careers. The Meadows School is a leader in developing innovative outreach and community engagement programs, challenging its students to make a difference locally and globally by developing connections between art, entrepreneurship, and change. The Meadows School of the Arts is also a convener for the arts in North Texas, serving as a catalyst for new collaborations and providing critical industry research. For more information, visit here.