Three Case Studies: Innovating at the Intersections of Arts and Social Justice

  • Case Study
EmcArts launched its Innovation Labs for the Arts seven years ago to support organizations in incubating innovation projects – conceiving, designing and testing new strategies to achieve public value. A few years ago, we were energized to discover that some of the groups applying to participate in our Labs sat at the intersection of the arts and social justice sectors. These organizations were museums, performing arts, and arts development agencies that had social justice missions and mandates, and were deeply connected to histories of social movements in their respective communities. In our Labs, they were negotiating the productive messiness of adaptive change in ways that impacted their artistic practices and positioning, community and stakeholder engagement, and their social justice values and vision.

To learn more about the contours, possibilities and limitations of adaptive change at the intersection of arts and social justice, we commissioned authors to interview, research and write about three organizations in our Labs: Alternate ROOTS, The Theater Offensive and Hull-House Museum.

Complex Challenge The Hull-House Museum

Hull House Museum integrated the intentional practice of “slowing down” in order to facilitate a shift in assumptions about what success and inclusion looks like for museums. They launched The Porch Project which animated the public space of their 1300 square foot wrap-around porch. Through the The Porch Project, they re-examined internal priorities around curatorial control and community engagement, and hosted public dialogues about how race, class and gender shape access to leisure and public space.

Complex Challenge Alternate ROOTS

Alternate ROOTS revamped their organizational membership policies and structures to remove institutional barriers to civic participation and build a stronger, more democratic and equitable pathway to member engagement. They used community organizing frameworks to experiment with new ways to expand their national reach and footprint, while also honoring the contributions of their elders and maintaining a sense of history, legacy and continuity.

Complex Challenge The Theater Offensive

The Theater Offensive examined how a hyper local organization could take on the work of national field building without destroying values that are most precious to them, and explored possibilities for integrating priorities for place-based engagement and youth leadership into the national Pride Youth Theatre Alliance (PYTA) network, which was anchored out of their offices in Boston.

Key Questions
We really wanted to learn from the experiences of these unique groups. We wondered (alongside Caron Atlas of Arts and Democracy, who wrote an introductory essay to the case studies):
  • Could our Labs support and strengthen adaptive change efforts of organizations that hold both artistic practice and social equity at the heart of their work?
  • Are there innovation and adaptive change frameworks, strategies, strengths and limitations that are different for these intersectional groups – as compared to arts-only organizations?
  • Are our Innovation Labs for arts organizations useful in the context of social justice movements, where long-term change occurs through many actors and at many levels, including through networks and community-based coalitions?
In these stories, you’ll find many examples of strategies that create increased alignment between organizational policies and practices, and social justice values like equity, self-determination, inclusion and belonging. You’ll also discover ways that these organizations that employ artistic practice and social justice mandates engage and innovate differently with their communities and stakeholders.

In the introductory essay, Slowing Down in Urgent Times by Caron Atlas, you’ll come across new, emergent questions about institutionalizing innovation beyond the container of our Labs, amplifying community-based adaptive change practices for social equity, and more.

We hope you’ll browse them, and download the full stories in the report here. You can also read some excerpts from the introductory essay by Caron Atlas here.
A video and graphic illustrations about Alternate ROOTS' process and learning in their Labs