Innovation Labs

A deep dive program for museums, performing arts organizations, and arts development agencies experimenting with new practices.

The Innovation Labs for the Arts programs concluded in 2017, but their core design principles continue to inform all of EmcArts' ongoing programming. Please read below to learn more about these programs, and click here to read a report on what we learned from designing and delivering them over the course of ten years.

Why do we need Innovation Labs for the Arts?

This is a complex time for the arts sector. The norms of the last 50 years are no longer holding up. Today's leaders recognize that passive audiences, subscription models, hierarchical leadership, and linear strategic planning can no longer solve the challenges they face. In order to navigate a changing world, arts organizations have to explore new organizational models, learn to co-create with their audiences, and bust silos within their organizations and their communities.  

This is all difficult and vulnerable work - it requires letting go of old assumptions and getting comfortable with experimentation and ambiguity. Our Innovation Labs created spaces to support arts organizations as they navigate their most pressing, complex challenges, and build cultures that embrace change. Our Labs were a strategic mix of resources for organizational change and carefully sequenced financial investment: our experience is that both are needed for spurring lasting adaptive change and innovation that sticks (rather than incremental change).

To learn more about Innovation Labs, please contact Liz Dreyer, Senior Programs Manager.

Program Impact

  • Incubated over 50 innovative strategies at museums, theaters, service providers, and more
  • Equipped 500 individuals in navigating complexity with tools, resources and a lasting learning network
  • Invested $2,000,000 in innovation funding to support strategy design and prototyping

Our national Innovation Labs engaged

Introducing the Innovation Labs
The Lab took place over the span of 18 to 24 months, during which EmcArts facilitators would work with innovation teams comprised of senior managers, board representatives, staff, artists, community partners, and external voices from inside and outside the cultural sector. The Lab included individual coaching, group facilitation, and an intensive retreat, as well as a variety of extended support systems tailored to the needs of each organization.

A catalyst for an organization’s journey in adaptive capacity building, the Lab framework helps that organization question core assumptions and engage in intense planning around a practical innovation project. It also provides support critical to enlisting organization-wide investment in change and testing new strategies with the support of change capital grants.

We've long had laboratories for testing our most difficult scientific challenges. Now we have laboratories to discover new ways for cultural organizations to remain community-focused, artistically vital and relevant. 

See the full list of organizations that have participated in our Innovation Labs for the Arts here.

The entire Innovation Lab process has been a gift to Geva. The Lab helped us shift the way we do business and opened us up to a more positive approach to theatre-making. It has changed our DNA for the better.

Mark Cuddy, Artistic Director, Geva Theatre Center
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For the most recent rounds of Innovation Labs for Museums, Performing Arts Organizations and Arts Development Agencies, proposals came from across the country – from rural communities to large cities; from small collectives to some of the largest institutions in the country. In this pool of applicants, several strong themes emerged in their complex organizational challenges, including:
  • Issues of social justice, equity and changing demographics 
  • Creative placemaking, community engagement, and rethinking the use of physical space
  • The intertwined relationship between local institutions and civic ecosystems, and the role of arts organizations in fostering change   
  • How organizational structures can reflect aspects of artistic process and creativity   
  • The dilemma of traditional membership organizations and what it means for the field  
  • How transitional moments can act as catalysts for larger adaptive change
Program Elements
During the Lab, organizations research, design and prototype innovations, testing novel approaches to field-wide challenges in a laboratory-like setting. The Innovation Labs unfold in four distinct phases, shown below:
Featured Participant - Meet Alternate ROOTS
From its inception in 1976, ROOTS has been at the forefront of community-based art and social justice in the south, providing its members with various resources that help sustain and grow their artistic and activist practices and skills. Entering the Innovation Lab with a Membership Innovation Ensemble already in place, ROOTS was grappling with repurposing their membership policies to make their resources more accessible while also affording their members more flexibility in deciding their level of involvement and responsibilities in the organization. Watch their video below and read their story here.
Alternate ROOTS' participated in the Innovation Lab for Arts Development Agencies
Program Funders
Innovation Labs for the Arts were funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the MetLife Foundation.