A smiling woman with blond curly hair
Senior Program Director, Research & Creative Economy

On June 6 and 7, NEFA and co-host Creative Portland gathered over 240 leaders from around the New England region (and a few friends from further afield) to discuss specific strategies organizations are using to leverage the creative sector for community revitalization and growth. For two fast-paced days, model creative placemaking projects from around New England were presented and discussed in workshops held at locations around the Portland Downtown Arts District. The CCX model offers a practical exchange where all attendees – whether presenting or not – are considered participants with expertise to share. Presenters go in depth about a single creative economy project that has been implemented, but equal time is given for questions, discussion, and networking among all of the experts in the room. The goal of the CCX is that participants will connect with resources from across the region - information, colleagues, inspiration - that are useful in a local context, serving to strengthen the role of the creative sector in the broader community.  The CCX builds upon NEFA’s 30+ year legacy of creative economy research and networking activities, all of which gather and share information about the interdependence of the creative sector and its impact on New England communities in as public and accessible a way as possible.

So, how did it go? A healthy 40% of the 2013 participants responded to the CCX evaluation survey and we’re proud to say that the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. But as with the model projects, there are always lessons to be learned from constructive feedback that we’ll consider carefully as we start planning the next creative economy event. 

In-person networking is key.  Overall, CCX 2013 met or exceeded expectations for 97.5% of respondents due to the networking opportunities and workshop content in equal measure. Participants value the ability to access information at any time on creative placemaking projects around the region via user-generated profiles in the Community Initiatives section on nefa.org, but the impact of face time to ask questions and connect with others working on creative economy projects cannot be overestimated. Without meaningful time for in-person interaction, community and economic development work is often done in isolation, without visibility or potential for sustainability. We repeatedly heard that events like CCX that bring people together are so important for energizing the people doing the work and encouraging cross-pollination of ideas and practical strategies, all of which are crucial for the longevity of leveraging the sector for community impact.

75% of respondents offered specific comments that they value the CCX because they gain (in descending order):

  1. Creative ideas and solutions
  2. Connections and potential partnerships
  3. Inspiration/renewal of their commitment
  4. Visibility for their project or community

The content was considered relevant and practical, and participants praised the structured format and logistics. Comments gave validation for the Q&A time which allowed for deeper discussions about practical challenges as well as sector-wide topics and themes, but an ongoing challenge for an event like the CCX will be accommodating both the “nitty gritty details” with the meta-concepts such as gentrification, that emerge from discussions in real time.

[The CCX was] extremely valuable. I plan on preparing a summary for my Board, and to share with community members as well as write an opinion piece for our local paper on what I learned.  In addition, I have already told my board that one of them will have to come with me next year, and I will attempt to recruit someone from our community to attend as well (Chamber Director is top on my list).
- Valley Arts Foundation, Waitsfield, VT.

Now that we’ve had a few years since the 2011 Creative Communities Exchange in North Adams, MA and the 2010 Connecting Creative Communities in Providence, RI, we also surveyed participants on the longer term impacts from those prior events. Participants said they:

  1. Gained ideas and information that they still remember and find useful
  2. Initiated new partnerships
  3. Strengthened existing partnerships
  4. Developed a program based on a model learned about at a prior event
  5. Avoided pitfalls they might otherwise have suffered

Having attend[ed] both the Providence and North Adams events, I have been able to make and maintain connections over these years.  I have shared information and ideas with those I have met outside of the meetings, strengthening my professional network.  I hope to have some new projects grow out of the connections I made in Portland.
– Greater Hartford Arts Council, Hartford, CT

Specific models from 2011 that were cited as having been replicated include: Assets for Artists, Project Storefronts, and the Berkshire Creative Challenge

The sections that follow focus on the specific elements of the Creative Communities Exchange, beginning with those of primary importance to the participants – networking and workshop content.


What role(s) do you play 
in the Creative Economy?
Response %
Administrator - Nonprofit60%
Business Owner/Entrepreneur/Artist35%
Board member/volunteer30%
Community Organizer25%
Administrator - Government10%
Administrator - school4%
Economic Developer1%

The CCX provides professional development and capacity building for leaders around New England who do creative economy work by supporting and leveraging the creative sector for local community and economic development projects. These types of placemaking projects are often initiated by leaders from outside of the creative sector, and almost always feature partnerships between the creative and other sectors. CCX therefore attracts a broad range of participants – though not surprisingly mostly from nonprofits – and while this can always be improved, respondents commented positively on the overall diversity of the event.

Equity of access is a priority for all NEFA programs, and as resolved after the 2011 CCX, a focused effort was made to encourage participation from an even broader range of communities that demonstrate diversity of industry, geography, gender, race, and age.

  • 70% of respondents had NOT attended prior NEFA creative economy events and were new to CCX 2013
  • 1/3 of respondents presented at this CCX
  • 24% of respondents had received a scholarship of some kind. Of those, 28% said they would not have attended otherwise.
    • There was an open application for scholarship seekers to describe their financial need and relevance of the CCX to their work. One applicant said: The surroundings, the speakers, the atmosphere of the gathered creative community, and the networking opportunities not found anywhere else makes this event unique and must attend for anyone involved, or even interested, in the creative community.

During online registration, all participants were asked to provide information about themselves in order to advance our understanding of New England’s creative community. This will become routine at future events so that we can compare one year to another and address gaps in participation.

  • All six New England states were represented, as was a range of ages, races and income levels, with a few friends from Washington DC, Canada, Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Making connections with peers at the Exchange is of primary importance to participants, and respondents noted that a Reconnect with old friends“respectful and supportive” quality to the discussion time allowed all of the participants in the room to feel like peers. They were able to:

  • Meet new colleagues across communities and/or sectors
  • Meet new colleagues within their own communities 

While there was satisfaction with the connections participants were able to make at the CCX, and high praise for the facilitated networking, it’s clear that there can always be better accommodation of the varying levels of experience of the participants and more attention paid to those who are newer to this work than others. It’s also important (as the event moves to new locations each time) that the workshop venues and setup facilitate group discussion and peer meetings.

Why is networking so important to CCX participants?

  1. It offers opportunity to evaluate and gain perspective on the work they’re already doing
  2. It infuses new and creative ideas to try in their community
  3. It provides personal validation and support to adjust what they’re already doing or try something new
  4. It identifies partners or collaborators for current or future projects

Some even identified specific meetings or next steps they’re eager to follow up on:

  • Trips planned to Pawtucket, Biddeford, Lewiston, Haverhill.
  • Follow up planned with: Art at Work, Homeless Voices for Justice, Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, Watershed, Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum
  • Quarterly meeting in Maine planned for creative economy directors to stay better informed on local activity

It is wonderful to hear how other communities are attacking obstacles and negotiating with local officials and the business community. Many had creative fundraising strategies. Found we shared many of the same issues and did not feel so alone. Meeting these folks gave a different perspective and helped think outside the box.
- Team Haverhill, Haverhill, MA


What are participants keen to learn more about?

  • Cross sector collaboration
  • Funding
  • Downtown/local progress
  • Community engagement/participation
  • Arts/artists integration into creative economy work
  • Research/Data
  • Branding
  • Creative placemaking in general
  • Sustainability
  • Business development
  • Policy
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Economic development
  • Innovation
  • Tourism
  • Public art
  • Space development
  • Equity/justice

The topics of interest that relate to local community and economic development projects matched well with the content they found at workshops this time around and give us a good idea of what workshops to choose for future events. We invite all who are working on creative economy projects in New England to post them in the Community Initiatives section on nefa.org, which provides a space to share projects and lessons learned, sparks ideas for new connections, and helps NEFA – and others focused on the broader creative economy community – stay informed about the work being done on the ground.

All CCX survey respondents said the workshops were at least somewhat useful. Comments across the survey consistently described a high degree of relevance and strength in the presentations. Many complained that they had a hard time choosing between workshops at the same time (a good problem to have!), but were grateful for the ‘to do’ handouts to bridge the gap. (A reminder that all ‘to do’ handouts can be found under each workshop’s Community Initiative on nefa.org.)

I am eager to share the links and information on NEFA's site with our region's constituents and plan to write an article about these resources to encourage folks to explore these many creative options to engaging their communities.
- Northwest CT Arts Council, Torrington, CT

Comments also reinforced the need to keep the CCX focused on practical creative economy strategies that can be replicated in other communities. Thus far the exchanges have been geared toward how the creative sector intersects with community and economic development (creative placemaking). However, those working within the creative sector are also looking to improve their own work, so it’s important to continually assess the needs of the field in order to determine what might be addressed by other NEFA programs, or other organizations entirely.


The majority rating by participants for each element of the Exchange was positive (except for the Dine-arounds, where the majority rating was N/A – No doubt that the number of excellent dining choices in Portland led many to make their own dinner plans).

There was particularly high praise for the presentation/Q&A/Networking workshop format and the overall management of the event – it was consistently characterized as well organized.

I like the structure of each workshop - with enough time to learn from the presenters, ask questions, and network - without getting bored or tired or late for the next session. It was really great!
- Unnamed

Prior to the event, CCX hosts did in-depth coaching sessions with each presenting team. The value of this coaching to focus their presentations on the practical steps of how to do a single project was specifically called out by many survey respondents (both participants and presenters) and is one element of what makes the CCX unique. The workshops themselves were seen as a positive experience for the presenters, and no technical or logistical challenges were noted.

Setting and Venues

Everyone who commented on venues noted that they liked moving around to multiple spaces and appreciated getting an inside view of them. There was some concern that some were more “inspiring” and comfortable than others.

There was high praise (and envy) for Portland and its many arts district assets, and a few requests for future host locations.

What's Next?

Many survey respondents gave additional suggestions for NEFA’s next creative economy event, and we’ll take close note of those as plans for next steps unfold. In the immediate, stay tuned for news about the forthcoming CreativeGround site launch, and if you’re interested in learning more about NEFA’s creative economy research, network meetings, and ongoing support of leaders of New England’s creative community, or would like to keep the conversation going by writing a guest blog post about a particular creative economy topic, please contact me at research@nefa.org.

Thank You!

Thank you to the many partners who helped make the 2013 CCX such a success:

  • Our co-host Creative Portland, especially Jennifer Hutchins, her board members, and volunteers
  • Our sponsors and funders for the event:  the Surdna Foundation, Garrand, Sea Bags, Designtex, the Maine College of Art, Down East: The Magazine of Maine, and the Portland Society of Architecture
  • The National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Office of the Arts, the Maine Arts Commission, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and the Vermont Arts Council
  • Our CCX presenters – see the full list and project descriptions
  • Our 240+ participants and the vibrant creative economy community in New England – we look forward to staying creatively connected!