Driving Innovation: Sustainability and the Center for Cultural Innovation

When it comes to sustainability, a sustainable planet starts at the grassroots level with its communities. This month, Art Business Journal takes a look at ways in which artists and creatives can pool resources and share insights, creating a better environment for sustainable artistic careers and practices. Our first exploration of this topic involves a deep dive into innovation, looking at how artist-led initiatives and opportunities can impact on the arts & creative community.

Looking at the intersection of sustainability and innovation, our attention shifted to the Center for Cultural Innovation’s SCI Artist-Innovator Fund. A unique opportunity for artists struggling through spinal cord injury and rehabilitation, the fund supports these artists in developing and realizing artistic projects that generate positive effects across the wider community. Take a look at these lessons and insights gained from exploring this one-of-a-kind, innovation-focused opportunity.

Sustainability Through Empowerment

Empowering Creativity through Adversity for Sustainability

The Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) takes a pivotal approach to sustain artists in the wider community by considering how communities are impacted at the micro level by ascertaining how to best support the individuals within it who may be suffering. Managing Program Consultant Reveca Torres & Angie Kim, President & CEO of CCI, join voices in explaining the impact of their SCI Artist-Innovator Fund program. “This opportunity is unique because it helps artists and innovators with SCI (spinal cord injury) think differently of what their injury and disability means and how it has impacted their lives. More often, this type of injury is viewed negatively with feelings of loss and helplessness. The SCI Artist-Innovator Fund turns that completely around and celebrates the SCI experience as one that can impact one’s life positively and helps cultivate creativity.”  By considering the role which artists feel they can play within the wider community, and working to minimize the impact traumatic injury such as spinal cord injury can play on negatively affecting that role, CCI takes actionable steps to build communities through joint healing and creative expression.

Through research and community conversations, CCI stumbled upon a truth hidden in plain sight: artists and creatives suffering from SCI are frequently overlooked, and unable to control their financial circumstances to reach financial independence and stifled from seeing their concepts benefit the greater community. Buoyed by data and both quantitative and qualitative data, CCI put their insights into actionable steps to support marginalized members of the arts community through targeted funding.

“The Fund came about because we wanted to offer artists more than a patronage model of the arts; …we wanted to move from need-based to opportunity-based funding.  The SCI Artist-Innovator Fund is an investment in people,” note Kim and Torres. By targeting the people who comprise the larger community, the Center for Cultural Innovation is focusing on sustainability through empowering specific members of the wider community to create positive social impact while overcoming personal and professional challenges.

Opportunity Through Innovation

SCI Artist-Innovator Fund Promotes Positive Community Impact

When considering opportunities to fund, CCI demonstrates foresight by directly identifying and selecting those projects that have the ability to eventually fund themselves and provide positive impact across the wider community. Bringing innovation to wider communities through an initiative with a single artist and/or creative professional lies as a core value of the SCI fund. “We are looking for projects that have the potential to be revenue-generating and will have a positive social impact. The project can be in the idea stage or already be an established project,” explains Kim. Sustainability starts with innovating how communities interact and provide self-supporting infrastructure, and the SCI Artist-Innovator fund intuitively benefits both grantee and their community as a whole.  In focusing primarily on projects that can continue to generate interest and positive connections across a wider population, CCI ensures that the impact of their funding is widely felt, and will continue to generate even more opportunities. “Social impact is a key criterion in the review process,” explain Torres and Kim. “Well-designed projects are often beautiful because they are useful and, thereby, have an impact!”

Sustainability is a key factor in determining project eligibility. So how does innovation play a part in identifying the best projects for funding under the scope of SCI? Kim and Tourres outline the role of innovation for selecting awardees for the SCI Artist-Innovator Fund.”Innovation is such a funny word these days and means so many different things to different people. Innovation can be deeply personal, and in this regard, we’ve never met an artist who isn’t constantly questioning, problem-solving, and innovating.,” observe the Center for Cultural Innovation’s CEO and the SCI managing consultant. “We call this spirit of innovation and inquiry “deep practice.” Innovation is also referred to as presenting something new, and we perceive that there is so much that still needs to be invented, innovated, hacked, and fixed. People move through the world uniquely and, we need more diversity of impactful contributions, not more investment in homogeneity and cookie-cutter paradigms.” By celebrating the diverse challenges and opportunities that make us unique, we can better hone in on the ways we can support one another for sustainability and innovation that can enact demonstrable change.

What lessons can we glean from initiatives such as the CCI Artist-Innovator Fund? We can start by challenging homogeneity in our existing artistic communities. Find ways to support artists struggling through adverse circumstances, and elevate their cause to draw positive attention to their artistic practice. Join forces with these artists who are working to overcome challenges to their career to become advocates for those whose artistic and creative ideas may be overlooked. Work for an organization that has the ability to fund community projects? Identify creative projects enabling greater self-expression for diverse communities, with a focus on innovative approaches to continue their cause in a scalable, sustainable manner. Rooted with the knowledge that innovation means different things to different communities, arts supporters can better patronize arts initiatives that create the opportunity for a wide range of participants and stakeholders to come together and find creative solutions to establishing a stronger sense of community-building.

The Center for Cultural Innovation’s SCI Artist-Innovator Fund is an incredible case study into how funding can empower and enable innovation-focused opportunity. Alongside other arts sustainability initiatives, including nonprofits and galleries seeking to boost environmental sustainability, there can be a wide array of approaches that prove beneficial to the wider community. By identifying and promoting the initiatives that empower spinal cord injury artists toward greater connections and community-building through realizing their projects, the SCI Artist-Innovator Fund provides a role model for other organizations seeking to enact demonstrable community change.

Know of a creative project creating positive impact on the wider community? Witnessed the impact of social innovation for artists and creatives? Know of an opportunity for artists working through adverse conditions? Share your insights in the comments below!


About the author

Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant and editor.

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