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Arts and Culture Organizations Leaning into Local Economic Growth Strategies

Written by Zachary Nieder and Kim Zeuli

As we wrote in our Arts and Culture Organizations—The Overlooked Anchors blog in May, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and the Kresge Foundation’s Arts and Culture Program have joined forces to explore the degree of anchor engagement among arts and culture organizations and learn what it will take to catalyze more anchor engagement. We share a strong belief that arts and culture organizations have the power to change their communities—not only through art, but also through investing in economic growth strategies that combat economic inequality.

While our research is still underway, it has revealed that some larger arts and culture organizations are leaning into the national anchor movement and economic growth strategies in their cities, while smaller organizations are playing interesting roles bringing them to the table and establishing effective strategies. This blog highlights several of our early findings, including key drivers for anchor engagement among arts and culture organizations and the complementary nature of creative placemaking and anchor strategies. Our complete research findings will be published in a report scheduled for release in late spring 2019.

Anchor Strategies that Drive Local Economic Growth

ICIC’s anchor framework was developed to help organizations identify the seven levers within their organizations that can be pulled to drive greater local investment and economic growth. We utilize this framework to assess current anchor engagement.

A National Scan of Arts and Culture Organizations

Our early findings are based on in-depth case studies of 18 arts and culture organizations drawn from a review of 125 arts and culture organizations in 57 cities across the U.S. The final sample represents diverse levels of community engagement and other criteria that allowed us to test several hypotheses drawn from anchor and organizational theory. We also looked at six different cities to study the effect of place on anchor activity, analyzed public and proprietary data, and have conducted 115 interviews to date. A 13-member advisory committee, consisting of representatives from diverse arts and culture organizations, academia, community development organizations, government agencies, and foundations, has also helped to guide our research.

Organizations Changing the Narrative

We identified five arts and culture organizations that are already leaning in as anchors and changing the narrative about the role arts and culture organizations can play in fostering local economic growth. The five organizations meet the anchor prerequisites: substantial size and strong roots in the local community.

The Adrienne Arsht Center was built as part of a broader neighborhood revitalization strategy. In 2011, the Arsht Center developed a neighborhood master plan and then created their own Office of Neighborhood Development in 2013 to better collaborate with local institutions to implement the plan. In 2014, the Arsht Center built a citywide jobs site for the arts sector with an explicit focus on developing the next generation of arts administrators, marketing staff, and production staff. The Arsht Center also partners with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Florida International University and private sector companies to improve STEAM education within the school district.

Building and sustaining strong connections to its surrounding community has been a long-term priority for the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which made the conscious decision to stay in its Mid-North community rather than relocate to the city’s central business district. The museum developed affordable housing on adjacent, previously vacant land, and leads the Old National Bank Mid-North Promise Program, which provides support for families with children by connecting them to resources focused on educational and career readiness, as well as financial and job training.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is a member of the Greater University Circle Initiative anchor collaborative and is engaged in the initiative’s buy, hire and live local strategies. The museum recently released a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan aimed at removing access barriers for underrepresented groups at every level of the organization, including audience, staff and leadership.

The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is an active member of both the Baltimore Integration Partnership and Central Baltimore Partnership anchor collaboratives and was one of the first arts institutions to create an Office of Community Engagement. In addition, MICA recently created the Center for Creative Citizenship to integrate civic action and engagement throughout the institution, while the Office of Strategic Initiatives focuses on external community partnerships. MICA led the creation of Baltimore Creatives Acceleration Network (B/CAN), which includes boot camp and incubator residencies for growth-track creative enterprises in Baltimore. MICA is also home to the Baltimore Think-a-Thon, which explores how arts and humanities can address some of the most pressing challenges facing the city.

Newfields (inclusive of the Indianapolis Museum of Art) is a member of the Midtown Anchor Coalition and is engaged in the coalition’s live local strategy. Newfields also supports locally-owned Midtown-area businesses through a partnership initiative and offers the nation’s first preschool in a general art museum, which is open to the broader community.

In addition to these five, we also uncovered several organizations that do not appear to have robust anchor strategies yet, but do offer leading practices for implementing specific anchor strategies. For example, in 2014, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City founded NEW INC, the first museum-led cultural incubator, which supports innovation and entrepreneurship across arts, design and technology. NEW INC has served over 80 organizations, and is actively focused on increasing the diversity of the program.

The common entry points for arts and culture organizations into anchor strategies are through the Core Product/Service Provider and Community Developer levers. Tailoring their services to serve the community typically includes engaging more diverse audiences and supporting diverse artists and public art programs. Community development strategies include providing resources and expertise to support community programs and projects.

Drivers of Anchor Engagement

In our sample, 14 of the 18 arts and culture organizations meet the prerequisites. Our research uncovered the forces that compelled the five organizations to develop robust anchors strategies. They include:

An Important Role for Smaller Arts and Culture Organizations

We uncovered several smaller arts and culture organizations that are playing pivotal roles moving larger arts and culture organizations towards anchor engagement. Through both intentional and unintentional pathways, these organizations influence and support the strategies of larger arts and culture organizations. One organization playing this role framed it as “uplifting the issues and walking alongside.”

Deliberate strategies that arts and culture anchor catalysts are employing include advising the strategic planning processes of larger arts and culture organizations to encourage the incorporation of more innovative and impactful community engagement strategies. They also induce behavior change at larger arts and culture organizations when their arts administrators, already deeply engaged in cultural equity and local economic development, are hired by the larger organizations.

Positioning Our Work in the Creative Placemaking Context 

Creative placemaking is a powerful platform for arts and culture organizations, as well as other community organizations, to address community development and urban planning. It integrates arts, culture, and community-engaged design strategies. Kresge’s unique niche in creative placemaking is their commitment to influence community development-related systems and practices that expand opportunities for low-income people in disinvested communities in American cities.

Both the anchor and creative placemaking approaches are meant to advance deep and transformative investments in communities. They are not “ad hoc” projects or community affairs. While creative placemaking is focused on community development, including community planning, anchor strategies target economic growth. They should be considered complementary, rather than competing, approaches. Organizations that look to both constructs when building their community engagement strategies will develop more comprehensive investments that maximize impact.

A full report of our findings will be released in spring of 2019. ICIC and the Kresge Foundation look forward to engaging arts and culture organizations, funders and the public sector in tackling economic inequality in our cities by catalyzing deeper anchor engagement and creative placemaking.


ICIC drives inclusive economic prosperity in under-resourced communities through innovative research and programs to create jobs, income, and wealth for local residents.


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