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Launched in 2015 with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts —and in partnership with 30 local, state, and national arts organizations, arts agencies, and foundations—the New Community Visions Initiative was an ambitious three-year effort to explore the future of local arts in America and the role of community-based arts enabling organizations, funders, cultural institutions, and artists in shaping that future.

Incorporating twelve regional and national convenings, ten commissioned essays, ten conversations between veteran and emerging community arts leaders, and the release of a library of resources and digital engagement anchored by three books, this project aimed to put forth a forward-looking blueprint for 21st century local arts development that will drive ten years of local-level capacity building, transformation, and change in order to create healthier communities over time.

At the completion of the New Community Visions activities, bodies of work were launched at Americans for the Arts engaging with core areas identified through the project. These areas include:

Creating Fertile Ground (managing a healthy cultural ecosystem)
Arts-based community development is not possible without access to a full, vibrant creative life and community for all. Ensuring that a fertile ground for arts and culture exists in as many communities as possible in the United States—and that local arts agencies exist to support that fertile ground for their communities, artists, and arts organizations—is a necessary prerequisite to any transformative arts-based change.

Nurturing Core Skills (thinking about production and participation)
Forward momentum must be built off of a bedrock of core skills and competencies. The support of core skills development (including the nurturing of creative assets and resources…. business skills, management and leadership skills, and the skills necessary for both organizations and individuals to be an active part in creating and maintaining healthy, vibrant, equitable communities) for those working in local arts agencies as well as practitioners and administrators in the field may not be sexy, but it is essential to the ongoing health and vibrancy of the cultural ecosystem (and the broader community).

Spearheading New Community Visions (integrating the arts)
Arts and culture are essential to healthy, vibrant, equitable community development—and looking to the future, the success of relationships between the arts and culture sector and sister community contributors will be driven by five core areas of opportunity and need. In pursuing and encouraging competency in these five core areas, local arts agencies, creative workers, and arts organizations will transform themselves into more visible, meaningful, and relevant components of a healthy, vibrant, equitable community vision going forward. These five core areas are:

  • Community and Culture. The boundaries of what, when, and where communities come together, create or experience arts and culture, and ripple out the impact of that work over time and space continue to shift and blur. In a country where nearly 100% of all the residents participate in some form of arts and culture each year—where we are steeped in culture all the time to the point of being mostly unaware of it—how do we work to be seen? How do we serve an ever-expanding constituency, where the boundaries of cultural life go far beyond practitioners and attendees—and with what capacity, time, and money?
  • Equity and Engagement. As demographics shift and people attempt to navigate an ever more diverse society, competing and complementary cultural narratives that were previously obscured by dominant European narratives are gaining attention. Meanwhile, the engagement and impact potential of the arts now extends far beyond the single cultural experience, and ripples out from a single person and a single moment over time and space into a full community. With these rising understandings, how do we determine and meet the need of a broader, richer cultural fabric? What personnel and systems shifts are required when cultural workers and institutions, as well as agencies and other nexus organizations, take as their mission the support of these myriad narratives and this extended cultural impact in their communities?
  • Partnership. With cross-sector cooperation at the forefront of many minds to ensure community success, the arts often find themselves either not invited to the table or expected to build it, dress it, and serve the food. How do you manage the complex nature of an equitable partnership over time—and the organizational stress that can create as more requests and pressures for complex partnerships come into play? If you have limited capacity, how do you choose what opportunities to take advantage of (or create), and what capacities need to be addressed for success?
  • Investment (including and beyond grantmaking). The underwriting of artists and organizations is transforming as changes in philanthropic culture, inherent challenges and inequities of the non-profit model, and a desire to distribute (and access) funds more equitably drives a growth in arts-based community investment beyond traditional grantmaking. Meanwhile, the overall economics of the arts continue to become more and more challenging, and an increasingly diverse set of skills are necessary to succeed at the “creative hustle.” How and where do nexus organizations need training and skills development to serve a field seeking new avenues to revenue, and how and where do they need to be training that field?
  • Communication of Value. In a crowded landscape that has always been a challenge for the arts, advocacy and communication are continuous challenges—particularly for a field where formal training in these skills is sparse. How do you become conversant in other sectors, the needs of a broad spectrum, and the role that the arts can play in addressing community goals? How, in a moment when data continues to drive the day—but where the timelines of impact can extend far beyond the grant period—do you develop metrics that are legible but true to the work? And how do you do that all without abandoning the core intrinsic value of the arts?


The Essays

The program launched with the release of ten essays—short white papers authored by field leaders—commissioned and released online and in a printed book called Arts and America: Arts, Culture and the Future of America’s Communities. These papers focus on the future of ten non-arts sectors, and the role the arts can play in mitigating negative change and enhancing positive change.  

The papers, and authors, are:

The Forums and Convenings

Over the course of June 2015 to June 2016, Americans for the Arts conducted New Community Visions-related activities in a variety of convenings. These events included:

  • Annual Convention, Chicago, IL, June 2015
  • National Arts Leadership Roundtable, Sun Valley, ID, August 2015
  • National Arts Policy Roundtable, Sundance, UT, September 2015
  • Community Vision Forum, St. Paul, MN, September 2015 (view the Summary Report draft)
  • Community Vision Forum, Oklahoma City, OK, October 2015 (view the Summary Report draft)
  • Community Vision Forum, San Jose, CA, November 2015 (view the Summary Report draft)
  • Community Vision Forum, Philadelphia, PA, December 2015 (view the Summary Report draft)
  • Community Vision Forum, Macon, GA, February 2016
  • Community Vision Forum, Charleston, WV, March 2016
  • Community Vision Forum, Burlington, VT, April 2016
  • Community Vision Forum, Santa Fe, NM, May 2016
  • Annual Convention, Boston, MA, June 2016

These forums, collectively, gathered thinking from grassroots and grasstops leaders both inside and outside the field about how communities will change over time, what will happen in various sectors including those outlined in the Monographs, and what role artists, arts organizations, and arts agencies can play.

In addition to these official twelve events, Americans for the Arts created a Community Visions DIY Toolkit to allow anyone who wants to to conduct their own visioning workshop, and launched a new interface to allow the notes and materials from those gatherings to be loaded into our website and incorporated into the outcomes of the work.

The Community Vision Forums were created and conducted in conjunction with noted theatre artist and civic engagement specialist Michael Rohd through his Center for Performance and Civic Practice. The gatherings culminated in a major event at the 2016 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in Boston.

The Conversations

The Conversations

In this series, Artists & Communities, veteran community arts leaders come together in conversation with emerging community arts leaders to share their visions for, experiences with, and challenges to making healthy, equitable, vibrant communities through arts and culture. As community-based work receives more recognition, and intersections and collaborations become stronger, these conversations illuminate just how artists and community arts leaders can work to sustain and maintain healthy communities through their practice.

The Books and the Blueprint

Emerging from the visions of thousands of people across the country, two books were released during the course of this project. 

The first, Arts and America: Arts, Culture, and the Future of America’s Communities, includes the ten commissioned Monographs on non-arts sectors, as well as an opening essay from Americans for the Arts Vice President of Local Arts Advancement Clay Lord and a robust set of resources for learning more about engaging in work with other sectors.

The second, To Change the Face and Heart of America, a collection of writings by Robert E. Gard, will be released in June of 2016 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of Gard's seminal texts, The Arts In the Small Community.  In this unique collection, Gard’s daughter, Maryo Gard Ewell, collects 50 years of Gard’s writings into a set of 10 beautiful, simple, profound meditations upon the value of the arts in communities. Gard’s words are as resonant now as when they were first written and exhort all Americans to “change the face and the heart of America” through the arts. Speaking across time, the visionary artist and advocate Robert E. Gard, one of the founders of the local arts movement, reminds us that healthy, vibrant, equitable communities are not possible without arts and culture.

Plans for a third book, New Community Visions: A Blueprint for 21st Century Healthy Communities through the Arts, meant to celebrate the 25th anniversary of another seminal text, Community Vision, first published by Americans for the Arts in 1990 were adjusted into a set of planning documents and new bodies of work--including the current Americans for the Arts Strategic Plan, an ongoing body of work around "arts and" integration and social impact, and our Statement on Cultural Equity.  The infusion of the results of New Community Visions into all of what Americans for the Arts will do over the next 10 years is ongoing, and will include the programming, capacity building and training, and support mechanisms for local arts organizations and others throughout the country as we move together towards tomorrow.

Together, these works will drive programming and field education initiatives from Americans for the Arts and our local partners for a decade—primarily through our new, robust suite of field education tools Arts U, which will be leveraged to create digital, regional, and national opportunities for training, engagement, and cross-community support in communities of all shapes, sizes, and demographies throughout the United States.


Curators and Documentarian

The New Community Visions project was curated by Clay Lord, Americans for the Arts. The Community Visions Forums were designed and implemented by Michael Rohd, the Center for Performance and Civic Practice.  The entire project was documented by Margy Waller, The Topos Partnership.

Partners and Funders

This ambitious project is made possible through an ever-growing list of funders, partners, and advisors.

Americans for the Arts would like to thank the following funding partners for their significant support of the New Community Visions Initiative.

We would also like to thank the City of San José Office of Cultural Affairs, Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Applied Materials Foundation, The California Wellness Foundation, Ken and Mary Ann Fergeson, Kirkpatrick Foundation, Cultural Development Corporation, The Saint Paul Foundation, The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc., Arts Council Oklahoma City, Mayor Weinberger and Burlington City Arts, the Vermont Community Foundation, Allied Arts, Norman Arts Council, Oklahoma Arts Council, and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art for their generous support of the New Community Visions Initiative.

(Support as of March 15, 2016)

The New Community Visions Advisory Committee, which has informed the nature and trajectory of the project, includes:

  • Jennifer Cole, Metro Nashville Arts Commission
  • Deborah Cullinan, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
  • Shannon Daut, Alaska State Council on the Arts
  • Carla Dirlikov, opera singer
  • Randy Engstrom, Seattle Office of Cultural Affairs
  • Floyd Green, Aetna Inc.
  • Jamie Hand, ArtPlace America
  • Tatiana Hernandez, The Hemera Foundation
  • Maria Rosario Jackson, Kresge Foundation
  • Michael Killoren, National Endowment for the Arts
  • Jeremy Liu, PolicyLink
  • Ron Ragin, composer and artist
  • Bahia Ramos, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
  • Holly Sidford, Helicon Collaborative
  • Nick Slie, theatre artist, Mondo Bizzaro
  • Regina R. Smith, The Kresge Foundation
  • Katie Steger, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
  • Carlton Turner, Alternate ROOTS
  • Nella Vera, Serino Coyne
  • Laura Zabel, Springboard for the Arts

Finally, the regional gatherings associated with New Community Visions would not have been possible without the participation of this growing list of regional, state, and local partners who have contributed thought leadership, proposed the names of participants, and assisted in crafting the regional events.

Arts Midwest
Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation
Mid-America Arts Alliance
New England Foundation for the Arts

California Arts Council
Georgia Council for the Arts
Minnesota State Arts Board
New Mexico Arts
Oklahoma Arts Council
Pennsylvania Council on the Arts
Vermont Arts Council
West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Allied Arts
Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia
Arts Council of Oklahoma City
Burlington Arts
Burlington City Arts
City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy
City of San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs
City of Santa Fe Arts Commission
Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences of West Virginia
Creative Santa Fe
Cultural Development Corporation
Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance
Metropolitan Regional Arts Council
Minneapolis Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy
Norman Arts Council
Oklahoma Arts Council
Oklahoma City Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs
Oklahomans for the Arts