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

An arts-integrated approach to addressing complex community challenges

In 2015, Winston-Salem, NC and Providence, RI embarked on what was then a pilot program of the Community Innovation Labs. As of 2017, the Labs have concluded in both cities.

Each city’s Lab members worked in “clusters” to develop strategies and test out initiatives that address urgent, local challenges in their community. In addition, Lab members worked on smaller-scale “seed” efforts to foster collaboration, learning, and experimentation 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 the photo essays we commissioned from local artists.

The Winston-Salem Lab was 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 Lab centered 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 received 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 a network of over 25 affiliated artists produced a dialogue-based event series that used arts and art experiences to foster relationships between community organizations and businesses 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 that emerged here. Attracting residents from all ages, you can take a look at one of their events in January 2017 captured by 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. This cluster prototyped new ways to invite human service providers in Forsyth County to 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. Among some of the prototypes that emerged to bring human service providers together and work collaboratively was The First Stop Cultural Expo in early 2017 where 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, a low-performing school in the state of North Carolina, PIA worked to develop experiments integrating artistic engagement practices into parent and teacher trust-building activities and considered how best to engage parents in a Time-Banking experiment to enable them to share their gifts, skills, and talents with each other and the school. 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 “Hustle Winston-Salem” as an umbrella to capture its energy and dynamism, the group sought to harness the talent, power and vitality of minority, women and other less resourced small business owners who have been excluded from business development opportunities and access to capital. Identified priorities include developing new constituent-driven structures and opening and opportunities with the city’s extensive small business support eco-system.  

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.
The Seed Grants, each supported by a $3,500 award, were:
  • Mary’s Mavens Loan Fund: The grant went towards a 0% interest micro-loan fund of $500 to $1000 for creative women entrepreneurs participating in the Maven network. The Fund is focused specifically on supporting and empowering women personally and professionally in WInston-Salem and the Triad; their network continues to form.
  • Colorblind – an Augmented Reality Game: The grant supported the creation of an augmented reality game that enables participants to navigate through Winston-Salem “capturing” landmarks, statues, and significant public assets that have an untold history related to race, class or power biases.
  • Parent Education Action Network:  The grant went towards 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 went towards the creation of a curriculum for multi-faceted training and coaching program designed to help women entrepreneurs launch and grow profitable and sustainable business ventures in Winston-Salem.
  • A Reach Inside: The grant went towards supporting the Piedmont Wind Symphony's efforts to build relationships with the local inmates at Forsyth County Detention Center by offering concerts both inside and outside the walls of the Center. As a way to provide support for those reentering the community, people who have come out of the prison system are invited as guests of honor at these concerts when they return home.
  • Recycling at The Olio: The grant supports the creation of new high-quality jobs and life skills training to community members who are homeless, living in poverty, with mental illness, nonviolent offenders, teen parents, or anyone else who might be facing significant barriers to employment through the process of recycling glass for a local glassblowing studio.
The Providence Lab was convened by the City’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism and the Rhode Island branch of the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC). The initiatives of the cluster projects were designed to be activated alongside ongoing local initiatives supported by ArtPlace and LISC's Creative Placemaking Initiative.

The Providence Lab centered 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 were 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. Together, they successfully created a documentary media/community storytelling workshop in February 2017 as well as an integrated multimedia solo performance to be premiered at PVD Fest in June 2017. By learning to tell their own stories in new ways, participants took control of their own narratives, while shaping the narratives of and about their neighborhoods and communities. 

Violet’s Village Learning Center: Over 7 weeks, this team prototyped 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. Through this initiative, youth learned about African history and created engaging projects rooted in Afro-Diasporic culture; visited local museum exhibits and cultural sites important to the African Diaspora; built communication, art, and writing skills that affirm self-worth; and visited 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 sought 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 produced a video that shares the stories of a cross-section of area actors - residents, small business people, clients, service providers - to convey how Trinity Square has been impacted by Rhode Island’s towns rejecting the homeless and others in need such that people in crisis from around the state must seek services in this one neighborhood.  Also integrated into the video was footage of recent meetings regarding new development pressures for this area that directly abuts downtown.

In Providence, Seed Grants totaling $10,000 supported the following efforts: 
  • Oral History of Southside Providence: The grant went towards capturing of oral histories from residents of Providence’s Southside and the creation of an exhibit at the Southside Cultural Center. This included the stories of Hmong families that occupied the basement of Southside Cultural Center, particularly Master Cambodian Artist, Song Heng, who taught Khmer classical dancing in 1990s.
  • Documentaries about Homeless Residents: The grant went towards the creation of a series 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 went towards 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 went towards the creation and performance of a new piece inspired by the traditions of the African Diaspora.
  • Madam’s Backyard Bash: The grant went towards expanding an open community event for youth and adults in Providene to celebrate the history of the Harlem Renaissance in Trinity Square.