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

In June, we gathered for the sixth Creative Communities Exchange, bringing participants from around the region to the community selected in the final New England state to host CCX, Montpelier, Vermont.

This was the biggest CCX we’ve produced to date – in participation, but also in content.  The CCX is made up almost entirely of workshops with a specific format that discuss a single project that focuses on an aspect of arts-based community development or creative placemaking. There is typically one full group session where we focus on a topic instead of a project, but we’re always focused on tools you can use. In 2019 we added two additional full group sessions and designed them all to focus on one topic: inclusion. We wanted to spend intentional time creating spaces to connect with all participants, especially around various ways to challenge ourselves to make our creative work inclusive. Because an inclusive community is naturally more creative, and a community can’t call itself creative if it’s not inclusive.

CCX is equal parts about learning and connecting, two things we hope will continue beyond our time together. The reflections here in Part I of the CCX Recap blog are from the participants’ perspective – your survey responses and real-time reflections during the event whether verbal, online, on big sheets, or in table notes.

In the CCX Recap Part II: NEFA Learnings, you’ll see a summary of some processes we experimented with to adjust our planning and outreach for CCX 2019 to enable more inclusive programming and participation, as well as summative reflections on all six CCX events. We made some important first steps last year that will inform our future activity across NEFA and across the New England Creative Economy Network.

Several CCX sessions, including the Creative Economy Awardees, are available to watch on NEFA's YouTube channel

Thank you for your participation at CCX and beyond, and your continued work to build the New England Creative Economy Network, its strength and its capacity, and its inclusiveness. You shared your expertise and your heart this summer in Vermont, as I know you do in your daily interactions. Hopefully the reflections below are a welcome reminder to keep it up, because our communities need you!

Participants

CCX participants are diverse community advocates who make creative communities happen. They connect arts, culture, or creativity to the social and economic needs of their communities and come from various sectors and perspectives: artist, entrepreneur, cultural nonprofit, creative business, economic development, planning, philanthropy, research, government, cultural heritage and preservation, main streets, and more. They share successes, challenges, and lessons learned to gain tools they can use to strengthen their own communities.

In what sectors do you (registered participants) primarily work?

A pie chart of CCX participants' primary work sector. In descending order: Arts, No Response, Other, Community Development, Economic Development, Municipal government and planning, Cultural Heritage, Downtown preservation or Main Streets, Design/Architecture, Philanthropy, Social action and justice, Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Real Estate

What role(s) do you (survey respondents) play in the creative economy?

A bar graph showing the various roles CCX attendees have. The majority is Arts/Culture nonprofit staff or board (47), followed by artist/creative business owner (22), and government agency staff (12). Community development, consultants, city planners, social service, real estate development, higher ed, research, funder, and creative business staff member round out the remainder.

What are the top ten creative economy topics of particular interest to you and/or your community? (In descending order)

 
  1. Cross-sector partnerships
  2. Funding
  3. Planning
  4. Public Art
  5. Community building
  6. Organizational health
  7. Workspace
  8. Access
  9. Creative Placemaking/placekeeping
  10. Equity

What met your expectations (or didn’t) at CCX 2019?

Ninety four percent of you said that the CCX met or exceeded your expectations – which is exciting, since 67% were new to the experience! When it comes to the logistical elements of the event, you loved the event setting, venues, schedule, length, and workshop format. You liked registration and the overall networking time.

Content and materials that you loved: the variety of workshops, the advance information about them – both online and in the program booklet – and the optional evening activities. You liked (didn’t love) the advance information about the event itself, the New England map, the networking lunch, special sessions, workshop handouts, and networking breakfast.

Seventy five percent of respondents stayed through Friday lunch, so if you missed the Creative Economy Awards, check out the 2019 Creative Economy Award recipients!

 

Programming/Content

Workshops

Eighty six percent of you found the workshops “useful” or “very useful,” with 13% noting they were only “somewhat useful.”

All the speakers were very prepared and organized. I appreciate how honest they were about what worked and what did NOT work. I felt like I got an authentic impression of what their projects were and what impact they had.

The top reason that workshops were very useful were if they were relevant to the participants attending CCX and the projects they are working on right now. This is impossible to predict when selecting the workshops of course, but feedback suggests that the format does support learning that is transferable.

workshop priorities:

  • Range of workshop leaders (from different types of size of entities)
  • Range of project scope
  • Specific and clear project design and impact
  • Good level of detail about rationale along with strategies
  • Honesty about challenges
  • Stimulating questions and discussion with all participants
  • Well-prepared, dynamic workshop leaders

Don’t forget, you can catch up on any of the descriptions and handouts from the workshops by downloading them from their Community Initiative.

Workshop leaders worked hard to prepare and share the primary “how-tos” of their projects. Overall, they appreciated the guidance from NEFA, both in advance and on event day, and learned a lot from session participants. One suggested a meetup with other session leaders to do a practice run in addition to the review time with Dee – great idea!

Special Sessions

At this CCX, we tried something new by introducing three special sessions, facilitated by Dawn Ellis, focused on how to build more inclusive communities. Before the CCX workshops began, we stretched ourselves to open the possibilities of what inclusivity can mean and address where we are now. At the end of the first day, we explored complex collaborations with a panel including artists and cultural connectors and a large group brainstorm. After the Creative Economy Awards were distributed, we closed the event by re-imagining resources together, uncovering what we can each bring to our communities and finding new ways to include and value others for their unique perspectives.

We collected your feedback on the special sessions in real time, though handwritten notes, recorded group brainstorms on large papers posted around the ballroom, and through electronic note taking.

A flip chart page on a wall with notes from a conversation on engaging new partners
Participant feedback recorded and posted on the wall. Photo by Cat Cutillo.

Live Feedback

Coming into these sessions, you shared a range of feelings about inclusion in your work in response to the prompt, "In my community, how inclusive is our work? What makes me think this?"

  • “We are moving past inclusion and are focused on equity.”
  • “We are in the midst of a journey where old ways of being are challenged. It’s scary but energizing.”
  • “[We are] definitely not inclusive at all [and] statewide/region-wide we could be better. Awareness helps to move things forward.”
When asked about your experience collaborating, you shared challenges such as finding diverse folks to be leaders for new ideas and dividing responsibility and financial burden equitably when two or more organizations partner on a project.  Then, you brainstormed ways of overcoming challenges together.  What is your overall approach or process for partnering? How have you overcome challenges? 
 
  • “Acknowledging different strengths from the beginning is really important. [We need to] search for common ground and look for projects where there's more than one reason to be in the project.” 
  • “What is the language that they speak? Listen to what [others] have to say instead is coming to the table ready to tell them what to do. Then, think about who's not at the table and ask how to get them engaged.” 
  • “Where are shared values? This helps to focus on the larger picture rather than individual interests.” 

Finally, reflecting on taking your learning beyond your CCX experience, you noted resources that were shared: “great ideas to steal from other communities and organizations and funding ideas for projects and for city arts organizations,” and “I am taking away the obvious need to center inclusion in all aspects of arts development.” 

You envisioned new ways you could be ongoing resources for each other, citing your own expertise in: 

  • Rural life
  • Business network connections
  • Young families
  • Disabled experience 
  • Working with non-English speaking communities 
  • LGBTQIA+ experience 
  • Creative equipment (i.e. technology like lasers, artistic techniques like sand sculpture, etc.) 
  • Sexual harassment
  • Motherhood
  • Immigrant experience

Arts-based Engagement

A figure made of pipe cleaners is on a table over an event worksheet.
Photo by Marta Martinez, Rhode Island Latino Arts

Through all three special sessions, you also got your creative juices flowing through artistic practices like poetry, movement, and breathing exercises. You took advantage of the visual art materials like colored pens, paper, cards, and pipe cleaners, dispersed around the room without direction. By the end of the sessions, pipe cleaner figures appeared in various social media posts to tell the story of CCX. 

In the first session, you responded to prompts to write a poem about yourself, which catalyzed introductions with other attendees you didn’t know. Prompts included phrases like, “I feel at home when…” “My special power is…” and “I deeply hope…” Volunteers shared lines of their poetry with the full large group, then Dawn ended the creative sharing by launching into a vocalized, improvisational, wordless sound piece; an exercise that was repeated with all participants at the closing of the whole CCX.

Post-Event/Survey Responses

While we gathered some data in real time, we also asked you after CCX how you felt about the special sessions: How useful were the special sessions on inclusive creative communities?

A pie chart with feedback on the utility of the CCX special sessions; Very useful: 2%, Useful: 46%; Somewhat Useful: 39%; Not Useful: 13%.
How useful were the special sessions on inclusive communities?

Themes from comments about the special sessions:

  • It’s challenging to dive deep with a broad range of experiences regarding inclusion, but worthwhile to try – some participants thought the information was too basic, some were very engaged and learned concepts new to them
  • It’s good to be reminded to think about personal responsibility for learning and also being a resource for others
  • More time was needed, especially to set the container and review community agreements before discussing challenging topics like privilege
  • The interactive and artful activities were appreciated, but these might have been challenging for the non-arts people in the room, who we do try to integrate into an event like CCX and our focus on community development
  • More consistent prompts for all to share gender pronouns when introducing themselves were needed
  • Preference for meeting new people by mixing up the seating, but not everyone did this naturally
  • Dawn was engaging, and also gave time to focus on the wisdom in the room

How would you characterize your organization/community's work in relationship to inclusion?

Pie chart: How would you characterize your organization/community's work in relationship to inclusion? 19% very inclusive; 64% can be more inclusive; 9% Starting to learn; 5% focused on other priority areas; 3% we have been excluded and looking to be included

Networking

Were you satisfied with the connections you made with peers at the CCX?

A pie chart showing how satisfied CCX attendees were with networking opportunities. Over half were very satisfied, just under half were satisfied, and a sliver were dissatisfied.

Ninety eight percent of you were satisfied with the event networking. You specifically mentioned meeting people you only knew by name previously and the importance of informal time to exchange cards at meals in addition to connecting during workshops. Many of you mentioned follow-up meetings with people you met at CCX. Keep us posted on those and please share if anything develops!

Overall there was appreciation for the mix of enterprising artists, arts administrators, planners, and others that are engaged in creative economy initiatives. And special shouts out to the National Arts Strategies’ New England Creative Communities Fellows in attendance!

  • "I made about 10 really solid connections. All the networking opportunities were well placed, times and framed."
  • "Great to meet people who I have known by reputation and to see others that l know but live a little too far away to see on a regular basis."
  • "I actually expect to be in touch with several of the people I met there."
  • "I will be visiting with a peer organization in a neighboring but much larger city to learn more details about how they resolved some issues we are currently struggling with."

Who should we all be sure to invite to future creative economy events?

Your top suggestions:

  • People of color
  • Economic development/real estate development
  • Business District/Main Streets
  • Younger, emerging artists/administrators

How does connecting with your peers affect you and/or your organization? 

  • "Very important - I operate in an isolated, rural area and being able to connect with others in the field is invaluable for connections and substantive, content-related work."
  • "It allows us to make important connections to continue to do our work and allows us to bring fresh ideas back to our organization and community."
  • "It's a great inspirational boost. The value of being reminded that others in the field are working and succeeding through some of the same issues can't be overstated."

Resources

What top three resources do you need to help your local creative economy thrive? 

We’ve already shared the importance of networking, so the other top three you listed are:

  • Equitable distribution of resources
  • Organizational capacity/infrastructure
  • Community (local government) buy-in

Resources Roundup

During the last special session of the CCX – and in the follow up survey – participants brainstormed about tools, information, and people that could be accessed after the event to help with inclusion and creative economy work. Please feel free to access and add to these lists throughout the year:

resource Recipients

Of course, we couldn’t produce the CCX without the support of sponsors. And one very important outcome of those sponsorships is that it gives NEFA the ability to pass along that financial support to make the event accessible and affordable for the participants.  This year many of NEFA’s state arts agency partners and the Barr Foundation also offered support to get their constituents to the CCX. We are proud that the CCX is considered a valuable investment in professional development that we hope brings more efficiency and cohesion to the sector across the region. Fifty five percent of you who responded to the survey said that you would not have attended the CCX without registration or travel support, so we join you in thanking everyone who made that possible.

What's Next?

Stay tuned for the CCX 2019 Recap, Part II – our own CCX Workshop where we describe the process and outcomes of producing a CCX. CCX as creative economy community initiative, if you will. Very meta.

 

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