The Overlooked Anchors

Arts and Culture Organizations as Anchor Institutions 

Anchor institutions are large or otherwise influential organizations that participate in community engagement activities and have relatively deep roots in (are unlikely to move from) their communities. ICIC’s report The Overlooked Anchors: Advancing a New Standard of Practice for Arts and Culture Organizations to Create Equitable opportunity in America’s Cities introduces a framework – with examples drawn from arts and culture organizations – that strategically leverages organizational operations for community development. It is primarily a call to action for arts and culture organizations and their funders. We hope city leaders, community and economic development practitioners and the anchor field will also pick up the report – to change their perspective and start to consider arts and culture organizations as anchor institutions alongside hospitals, universities and corporations.

The formal anchor framework that was developed by ICIC to guide the community development efforts of other types of anchor institutions (e.g., hospitals, universities and corporations) can be applied to arts and culture organizations in ways that will strengthen and lift up communities. The intentionality and defined strategies of an anchor approach to community revitalization is new to the arts world. For many arts and culture organizations, anchor engagement will require a shift in the way that they think about themselves and the ways in which they can affect their surrounding communities. They will need more awareness building about their potential to be a change agent and the direct role that they can play in their communities beyond making art and culture more accessible. In this report, the anchor framework is unpacked within the context of the arts sector and positioned within the set of values advanced by Creative Placemaking. Creative Placemaking is still a nascent field, but it is beginning to upend the traditional approach to community engagement prescribed by most arts and culture organizations. Where Creative Placemaking lifts up arts and culture as forces of community and economic prosperity, primarily through programmatic channels, the anchor framework provides specific operational strategies by which arts and culture organizations can explicitly drive local economic growth. Arts and culture organizations that are able to connect the two approaches will create more equitable outcomes in their communities.

The purpose of this report is a call to action, to activate the arts and culture sector to drive more equitable economic growth. As such, it diverges from other reports that simply tally the existing economic impact of the sector. All anchor institutions, by definition, are important engines of local and regional growth. The anchor framework shows how the operations of these institutions can be leveraged to address the needs of their surrounding communities by, for example, purchasing more goods and services from local small businesses or training and hiring neighborhood residents.

Arts and Culture Organizations Leaning in as Anchors

While all large arts and culture organizations are positioned to act as anchors alongside hospitals, universities and corporations, clearly not all are doing so. The main body of the report highlights notable examples of large arts and culture organizations leaning into the anchor framework and illuminates engagement pathways for different types of arts and culture organizations. The challenges arts and culture organizations face with anchor engagement, and the ways some have found to overcome the challenges, are integral parts of the discussion. We profile the robust anchor strategies of the following four large arts and culture organizations:

  • Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
  • The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County .
  • The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
  • The Cleveland Museum of Art.

We also highlight five other large arts and culture organizations that offer leading practices or provide interesting examples of the journey towards anchor engagement:

  • The Cleveland Institute of Art.
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • New Museum in New York City.
  • Newfields in Indianapolis.
  • The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The anchor approach was created for large organizations—specifically universities and hospitals. The strategies have the power to drive significant growth because of the scale of these organizations. However, the impact of smaller organizations on the neighborhoods they serve can be just as significant, and nowhere is this truer than in the arts and culture sector. The vital community revitalization efforts of many small and mid-sized arts and culture organizations throughout the country have already been recognized in other reports. Our research finds that small and mid-sized arts and culture organizations are also playing important roles in anchor ecosystems, with some serving as “anchor catalysts.” Their influence and community partnerships help remove barriers to anchor engagement, and their participation in anchor collaboratives demonstrates a path forward for the arts and culture sector. The following organizations, whose community investment has been covered in various reports over the years, are included in this report as examples of anchor catalysts and to show the outsized impact that can be created by small and midsized organizations in their communities:

  • Project Row Houses in Houston.
  • The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio.
  • Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA) in San Jose.
  • Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans.

Key Insights into Driving Anchor Engagement

The objective of the anchor framework is to leverage existing organizational assets to create more opportunity in communities of low income. Leveraging assets in new ways will require changes in the organizational behavior and intent of arts and culture organizations. ICIC’s anchor framework was created to help organizational leaders develop a comprehensive, efficient and strategic approach to their community investment. It defines strategies that cut across an organization’s operations and are meant to be integrated into the organization’s mission instead of considered as separate philanthropic efforts. This report posits that five primary factors will drive anchor engagement among arts and culture organizations: awareness, enlightened self-interest, funding, anchor infrastructure and models and leadership. It is some combination of these drivers, and not a single factor, that is already moving some arts and culture organizations to commit to a robust anchor strategy. Arts and culture organizations have found their way to anchor engagement along various pathways, but Creative Placemaking creates an important gateway for anchor strategies. Organizations that have a Creative Placemaking practice already realize the importance of investing in their communities. The growth in anchor collaboratives (i.e., partnerships of multiple anchors working towards common goals) is also having a noticeable impact – both pulling in arts and culture organizations and providing the infrastructure for their engagement. Place also matters. Economic, cultural and political forces influence the uptake of anchor strategies among arts and culture organizations.

A Call to Action

This report provides recommendations to spur the adoption of anchor strategies by arts and culture organizations. It recognizes that engaging as an anchor is not a binary proposition – there are different degrees of engagement. Developing robust anchor strategies may feel out of reach for many organizations. Therefore, we also identify how arts and culture organizations can leverage their particular assets to implement specific anchor strategies. Exposing the sector to diverse anchor strategies and practices should provide all organizations with an accessible entry point to anchor engagement (that makes sense for their organization) that may not require any additional resources, but instead would redirect existing resources towards community revitalization. For example, large arts and culture organizations already foster economic growth by purchasing goods and services. To help grow local businesses and create jobs, they can leverage this role by implementing strategies to expand purchasing from local businesses.

The report concludes by offering a set of recommendations to spur the adoption of more anchor strategies by arts and culture organizations. It includes actions for arts and culture organizations, private and public sector funders and city leaders:

  1. Build awareness throughout the arts and culture sector Organizations that have adopted a robust Creative Placemaking practice or other community impact strategies (e.g., robust community partnerships or workforce development) are the proverbial “low hanging fruit,” and awareness building for this group should focus on the anchor framework. Other arts and culture organizations may first need to realize that they should play a role in fostering local economic growth and creating expanded opportunity in communities of low income.
  2. Secure interest and goal alignment with organizational leaders and trustees. At the core of any successful anchor engagement is a compelling business case that what is good for the organization’s community is also good for the organization’s long-term interests. This may include building a local audience, attracting more funding or attracting and retaining great employees. For some organizations that already prioritize equitable outcomes, this case may be self-evident. For others, more awareness building will be needed.
  3. Build the capacity of arts and culture organizations to drive inclusive, equitable growth. The leaders (current and future) of arts and culture organizations need examples of specific, proven anchor strategies and technical assistance to help them develop robust, effective anchor engagement plans for their organizations. They also may need training on inclusive, equitable development to better understand what it is, how it impacts them, and why it is important for their community.
  4. Change the narrative about arts and culture organizations as anchors Anchor collaboratives and economic development agencies should expect the same commitment to economic development from large arts and culture organizations as they do from other types of anchors (universities, hospitals and corporations) and bring them to the same planning tables. The other anchors may wield significantly more economic power than even the largest arts and culture organizations – employing more people and contracting for more goods and services – but large arts and culture organizations have enough scale to stimulate local economic growth.
  5. Consider allocating funding to anchor engagement Given that arts and culture organizations overall rely more on contributed revenue than other types of anchors, funding, and therefore the role of funders, will be a stronger driver of anchor engagement for arts and culture organizations than for other types of organizations and a necessary resource for their anchor engagement. Federal, national and local arts and culture funders should consider adapting funding programs to support meaningful anchor engagement by arts and culture organizations. This could include supporting specific anchor strategies or anchor catalyst activities. In addition, foundations, as well as public agencies within city and state governments, should consider shifting funding to support the development of anchor collaboratives that would include arts and culture organizations.

Download the full report to read the complete findings and recommendations.


Overlooked No More: Advancing the Anchor Framework to Arts and Culture Organizations Blogpost


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