Special Initiatives

Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change
Arts & Social Change Mapping Initiative
Arts & Civic Engagement IMPACT Initiative

Exemplar Program

Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change

Aesthetic Perspectives is a framework created through the Evaluation Learning Lab to enhance understanding and evaluation of creative work at the intersection of arts and civic engagement, community development, and justice.  Aesthetic Perspectives describes 11 attributes of excellence defined by artists that can be observed in socially engaged work in all artistic disciplines.  These attributes address the potency of creative expression to embody and motivate change. 


Arts & Social Change MAPPING Initiative

The Arts & Social Change Mapping Initiative maps and highlights the spectrum of ways the arts are being activated to engage and make change. This centralized resource makes this important work visible and serves to link change agents, artists, funders, and an interested public.  Check out:

Online PROFILES of artists, cultural and community organizations doing and supporting arts for change work.

Working Guide to the LANDSCAPE of Arts for Change.  A growing collection of brief papers that describe:

  • types of arts for change work within the community and contemporary arts, community development, and social justice fields;
  • work focused on particular issues, populations, and settings (such as the environment, corrections, immigration, youth); and
  • work in creative disciplines such as popular media and music, and more!

FUNDERS supporting arts for community, civic, and social change -- A 2010 portrait of  funding support available from a range of arts, social change and other funders:

Trend or Tipping Point:  Arts & Social Change Grantmaking report, published by Animating Democracy

Directory of Funders that profiles more than 150 grantmakers who support arts strategies to make community, social, and civic change 

The MAPPING initiative advances understanding of:

  • the growing spectrum of arts activity that fosters civic engagement and social change
  • the expanding circle of artists and arts organizations actively pursuing this work
  • the funders who support such work.

The Arts & Social Change Mapping Initiative is supported by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, CrossCurrents Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Lambent Foundation, and Surdna Foundation.

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Arts & Civic Engagement IMPACT Initiative

The Arts & Civic Engagement IMPACT Initiative works to advance understanding among practitioners, funders, and other stakeholders of the social impact of arts-based civic engagement and social change work.

Goals are to:

  • Coalesce knowledge and advance learning among practitioners, researchers, evaluators, and funders.
  • Strengthen the capacity of practitioners to assess and describe social/civic outcomes.
  • Position the arts as valid and viable contributors to civic engagement and social change.

The Impact Initiative aims to inspire and motivate evaluating thinking and assessment. The initiative is a holistic set of programs and activities through which we seek to drive evaluation practice forward by activating practitioners and specialists to build knowledge and improve the efficacy of arts for change work. It aims to:

  • Improve the quality and efficacy of arts for change work through better assessment and evaluation;
  • Synthesize and disseminate relevant indicators and methods for credible and useful evaluation; and
  • Communicate arts for change impact.

The first phase of the initiative furthered practitioner and field learning through: a Field Lab connecting arts for change practitioners and evaluation professionals in collaborative inquiry about evaluation, a national Working Group, and commissioned writings and case studies.

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Exemplar Program

The $1.2 million Exemplar Program provided two years of support (2005-2007), totaling $150,000 to each of 12 small to midsized arts and cultural organizations nationwide. These organizations, many culturally specific and others that demonstrated a commitment to diversity are generally more reflective of the shifting demographics of their communities than are larger mainstream arts organizations. They use artistic and cultural expression as the primary catalyst for engagement around civic, social, and community issues. The organizations were recognized for outstanding cultural work in their communities and in the field, based on their participation in the Animating Democracy program of Americans for the Arts and the Working Capital Fund.

Supported by the Ford Foundation, the two-year Exemplar Program was implemented in collaboration with LarsonAllen Public Service Group of Minneapolis, MN, which also managed the Working Capital Fund. The joining of Animating Democracy and the Working Capital Fund in this Exemplar Program aimed to foster a holistic and integrated approach to organizational health, institutional growth, civic engagement, and aesthetic investigation.

Animating Democracy, in its first phase, supported cultural organizations to develop artistic activity that encourages civic dialogue and engagement on important contemporary issues. The program has stimulated field-wide, cross-disciplinary exploration of the philosophical, practical, and aesthetic aspects of arts- and humanities-based civic engagement activity. The Working Capital Fund helped midsized African-American, Latino, Native American, and Asian-American arts groups build sustainable organizations that support their artistic and community missions. The program has contributed to field-wide thinking about the capacity and capital development requirements of midsized and culturally specific nonprofit organizations.

Exemplar Program grants supported operations and programs to sustain and advance outstanding work. Additional resources enabled grantees to define special initiatives outside of their regular work that would build organizational knowledge and/or capacity or enhance approaches to creative, civic engagement, or organizational work in the long term. The Exemplar Program also supported the learning interests of Exemplar participants and facilitated collective and collaborative learning that included and benefited the broader field.

These exemplary organizations demonstrate superior leadership in the field. They use artistic and cultural expression as the primary catalyst for engagement around civic, social, and community issues. Their resourceful leadership energizes the field despite chronic undercapitalization as small and midsized groups. The committed leadership within these organizations has successfully encoded true diversity into its core values, mission, and practice.

To view brief descriptions of the Exemplar Program Awardees, click here.

According to Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, “midsized and small arts organizations like those supported by Animating Democracy and the Working Capital Fund provide a critical function in the ecology of the arts as incubators of emerging artists’ work, sites of artistic experimentation and innovation, and leaders in community engagement for many reasons, including their size, location, flexibility, and mission-driven approaches.”

“Significantly, these types of organizations are where cultural diversity has been concentrated with the greatest commitment”, said Roberta Uno, program officer for Arts, Media and Culture at the Ford Foundation. “By supporting the Exemplar Program, the Ford Foundation is investing in the development of leadership that is actively responding to the changing demographics of America, the increasingly complex interplay of local, national, and international cultures, and the powerful voice of the arts in sociopolitical discourse.”

See Ron Chew’s reflective essay, “Community-based Arts Organizations: A New Center of Gravity,” and other essays and case studies resulting from the Exemplar program here.

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