Rising Tide Series

New London, CT

Contact Name
Wendy Bury
Project Dates
January 2016 to present
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2017
The Rising Tide Series consists of two tracks of activities: Cultural Conversations and Cultural Summits. In 2016, we hosted 22 events throughout the course of the year as part of this project. Those activities provided our partners with access to information about best practices, available opportunities, and resources, which would otherwise have had to be found on their own. Our partners have been able to secure creative and economic opportunities for southeastern CT, which they would otherwise be unable to achieve alone. The impact of the Rising Tide Series is that our partners are more able to effectively leverage resources and capitalize on opportunities for economic growth so that our region becomes knowns as a hub of artistic and cultural excellence and innovation.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
With a regional footprint, the Coalition is intensely aware of and capitalizes on the diversity within the region. The Rising Tide Series provides a regional lens to find common ground and leverage differences. The Coalition serves as a regional platform to identity common ground that unites the twenty-two municipalities through the arts, cultural, and heritage assets, which range in size and scale.

Our Rising Tide project aimed to foster a collaborative environment for arts and culture, and by extension our communities, to thrive in Southeastern CT. The project brought together our partners—municipal, community, business, education, tribal, military, and tourism sectors—and provided opportunities for collaboration, capacity building, information sharing, and addressing common challenges within the arts, cultural, heritage, and creative sector of southeastern CT.

Cultural Conversations are small, informal meetings that invite specific sub-sector groups to come together from across the region or with specific commonalities. These meetings bring together like minds, like projects and like missions. These meetings provide vital information to us and their peers in the form of critical issues, trends, and insights affecting their organizations and businesses so that the Cultural Coalition can represent the sector locally, regionally, and statewide.

Cultural Summits are marketed to all of our Partners and to the public. They are intended to address larger topics and critical issues that affect a majority of our Partners for professional development. The Summits focus on providing informative and proactive panel discussions, presentations, and educational forums.

The Rising Tide Series creates an information pipeline to gather information from our partners, respond to needs by delivering tools and resources, and offer models of innovative solutions. The Rising Tide Series unites the creative community. The objective of the Rising Tide Series is to establish networks, roundtables and platforms for increased collaborations to benefit our Partners, their audiences and our region.

With the Coalition acting as a catalyst and encouraging partnership through the Rising Tide activities, the arts and heritage organizations and businesses that operate in the creative sector are realizing that there are economies of scale to working together and are beginning to embrace partnering on a variety of levels. The Rising Tide project has produced regional initiatives and helped to meet a goal of raising the profile of the arts, cultural and creative sector in our region.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
The goals for this project evolved and changed. Originally, we designed our Cultural Conversations to bring together specific sub-groups of our partnership, including museums, libraries, historical societies & sites, galleries, arts centers, artists, communication arts, etc. Through the discussions at the Cultural Conversations, vital issues were identified across the sector and turned into one-time events, Cultural Summits, designed to address those issues.

While the Cultural Conversations were productive in many ways, we found that some meetings turned into on-going roundtables and others never gelled. Further, most of the groups benefitted from having a project to focus on and unite the group, while a few groups found it more productive to meet informally without a project to work on. Therefore, we have had to allow for the goals themselves to change over time.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
The key individuals and partners in the Rising Tide Series are our partners themselves. Not only do they attend and participate in the activities regularly, they have roles and responsibilities in regional collaborations and initiatives.

The Coalition serves more than 480 nonprofits and for-profits that are located in and/or serve southeastern CT.
Our partners are made up of the following:
Artists 27%
Arts Centers and Museums 5%
Creative Retail or Service Businesses 20%
Educational Institutions 4%
Performing Arts Organizations 10%
Historical Societies & Sites 8%
Economic Development Agencies/Chambers 4%
Libraries 2%
Municipal/Gov't Agencies 3%
Social & Community Service Organizations 5%
Arts Groups 5%
Funders 1%
Other 6%

We also look to our board of directors and regional and statewide partners- including CT Office of the Arts, Southeastern CT Enterprise Region (our region's economic development agency) and Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT - to provide referrals, resource information and technical support.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
In 2011, our region's Comprehensive Economic and Development Strategy (CEDS) identified the need for a regional arts council, which was realized with the formation of our organization in 2013. Also identified in our region's plan was the need for better coordination among cultural agencies in their programs and services offered to the public and to educators.

In addition, the CT Office of the Arts strategic plan includes roles and responsibilities for its network of Regional Services Organizations. Our organization serves as one of these nine regional "field offices" to support the Office of the Arts and the Department of Economic & Community Development. We serve as a liaison between our partners and the Office of the Arts and disseminate information from the State to our partners, and vice versa, from our partners to the State.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
The Rising Tide Series consisted of two tracks of activities: Cultural Conversations and Cultural Summits. While the Summits, one-time events, provide important and relevant information to our Partners in a succinct format, the ongoing Conversations provide the backbone of support for long-term collaborations, coordinated marketing, and advocacy.

Cultural Conversations, which have turned into roundtables, bring together partners with their peers from across the entire region. These meetings bring together like minds, like projects and like missions. Utilizing the 'collective impact' methodology, the Coalition's role in Cultural Conversations is to create and maintain the five conditions for collective impact: common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication and backbone support.

When Partners register with the Coalition (we are a free membership organization), they provide basic contact information, check off boxes to describe organization (i.e. nonprofit or for-profit), and self-identify categories with which they belong (i.e. museum, library, historical society, creative business, etc.). We utilized these tags to target these groups and bring them together for an informal meeting. For each meeting, we customize the format, questions and conversation to its audience. We offered a menu of options to continue the conversation monthly, quarterly, or annually. We host the meetings in central locations.

For each Cultural Conversation, we invite the representative(s) from each Partner organization/business, or specific individual Partners (artists, craftspeople, musicians, etc.). Some roundtables are for high level executives and some are for staff who serve in similar capacities. We also allow for each organization or business to send those who they determine is the best representative.

The Cultural Conversations have led to five distinct ongoing roundtables for museum directors, historical societies & sites, performing & visual arts organizations, communication arts, and arts in health. The roundtables generally meet quarterly with the exception of arts in health and performing arts organizations that meet monthly to work on specific projects.

Cultural Conversations serve as the mechanism to identify vital issues across the sector and region. Those vital issues are addressed through the Cultural Summits, which invite experts within the targeted field to serve panelists, guest speakers and/or participants to a broader audience.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
We are constantly learning from our partners at our Rising Tide events. Information and feedback shapes future meetings and events. In our Cultural Conversations, the meeting outcomes and feedback helps us to plan future meetings more efficiently. We are finding that some roundtables like to use the meeting time to share information and provide updates, other groups want to work on or discuss a specific project or topic.

A Rising Tide committee discusses the feedback and outcomes each month to help shape the trajectory for each group, increase participation, and provide a regional positive impact.

The Cultural Summits provide a springboard for long-term regional goals. The actual panel discussions at our summits often identify opportunities for the region. We evaluate the summit discussions, receive attendee feedback via survey, and identify potential solutions and/or goals as outcomes. It is a constant learning process that we continue to adapt.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
While some Cultural Conversations have turned into on-going roundtables and have gelled, strengthened, and produced tangible, positive outcomes, other roundtables have really never experienced lift off. The major obstacles are actually finding times and dates that work for most people and not being able to establish the value of coming together quick enough.

We maintained our plans to retain and grow the number of individual participants at existing roundtables. However, we did not add as many new groups (new Cultural Conversations) as planned. We found that each group we brought together did indeed want to continue to meet on a regular basis. With each new group that comes together, there is an exponential addition of meetings to manage. The amount of ongoing roundtables would have been unwieldy to manage and we wanted to strengthen the foundation of the existing roundtables.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
We remained very flexible and open to changing course along the way. As an organization, our role is not to pull or push any organization along, but rather to focus on having all of us move forward together as a group. We had to be willing to let some things go and admit that they did not work as we expected, and, at the same time, be open to adding in new elements so as to capitalize on unexpected opportunities.

By allowing ourselves to suspend roundtables that were not as active or productive, we were able to overcome the obstacle of not having enough capacity to manage the project effectively.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Never assume people/organizations know each other or know much about each other.
Build trust through communication and transparency. Trust is vital and can make a project much easier or much harder.
For successful projects, it must be mutually beneficial for all participants.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
The Rising Tide Series has forged partnerships and collaborations to produce new and innovative local and regional initiatives. In 2016, we hosted 19 Cultural Conversations (roundtable meetings), which have enhanced community and economic development efforts.

Historical Societies & Sites roundtable
16 historic house museums collaborated on a cooperative marketing brochure and launch event in spring 2016. Organizations shared in costs in order to reduce expenses and increase exposure. 100 people attended launch event. State Tourism Office created a webpage for digital version and promoted the initiative. There was broad media coverage. Recent post-summer survey of participating organizations indicated majority of sites experienced increase in attendance last summer.

Another result of the Rising Tide project is that 18 performing arts organizations began working collaboratively on a similar regional initiative. These organizations joined together in 2016 to create a guide to performing arts in the region and a collaborative event (March 2017). They worked together to increase exposure, attract larger audiences, and enhance visitor experiences. Initiatives like this contribute to the identity of our region, and leverage assets to benefit the individual organizations, the audiences, and the creative industry in southeastern Connecticut.

Additionally, our arts in health roundtable worked collaboratively on a 4-agency grant application to share and reduce costs on art supplies while working on a collaborative art therapy project, which resulted in a $3,726 grant.

At our Museum Directors roundtable, attendees learned about and provided vital feedback on State advocacy issues, DOT projects affecting their organizations, and grant information, which they would otherwise have been unaware of.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The Cultural Coalition's Rising Tide Series provides core services to create and support a thriving arts and cultural sector in southeastern CT.

The Rising Tide Series is committed to achieving the following outcomes:
1) Arts and cultural organizations have access to information about best practices, available opportunities, and resources, which they otherwise would have to find on their own;
2) Arts and cultural organization and community stakeholders forge partnerships and collaborate to produce regional initiatives;
3) Arts and cultural organizations secure creative and economic opportunities, which they would otherwise be unable to achieve alone;
4) Arts and cultural organizations experience economic growth; and
5) The public is aware of and has access to arts and cultural events, opportunities, and educational programs.
How did you measure this success or progress?
The Rising Tide Series measures and monitors results in a number of ways. First, we have a program committee that meets monthly to plan, discuss, and review each event and on-going metrics. Second, we track indicators through various collection tools. Third, we analyze the data, communicate regularly with participants, and track outcomes.

We monitor success by tracking outcomes, which our partners otherwise would otherwise be unable to achieve, find, or advance on their own.

We monitor success by measuring:
1) Number of new collaborations as a result of our program and its activities;
2) Number of times we provide support to help develop and implement regional initiatives;
3) Technical assistance provided by our organization;
4) Partner engagement in Coalition activities;
5) Quality of our activities through surveys to receive feedback from participants about using information learned, connections made, and initiatives created;
6) Partner activity (attendance/registrations, website analytics, e-blast analytics, partner engagement metrics, etc.); and
7) Track economic impact where available (grants funded, attendance, ticket sales, job growth).

We constantly assess the Rising Tide Series. Our board, staff, and Rising Tide committee evaluates performance and impact monthly, quarterly, and annually.

20.2% of our total 480 partners have attended a Cultural Conversation/Roundtable.
25.8% of our total 480 partners have attended a Cultural Summit.
When the Rising Tide Series is combined with other programs and services, we know that 80% of our 480 partners are actively engaged with the Cultural Coalition.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The unexpected impacts have been the new-found connectedness and support amongst our Rising Tide participants and the sector in general that have transcended our project. We found that when our partners openly shared information (in the informal environment of our roundtable meetings) about challenges, struggles, and opportunities, they were quick to offer resources and support to help each other well outside the walls of our meetings. New partnerships, new programs, and new goals, completely unrelated to our Rising Tide project, have developed.
CCX Workshop Handout

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