Community Innovation Labs

In Fall 2015, the Kenan Institute for the Arts, in partnership with The Winston-Salem Foundation and the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, convened the first Community Innovation Lab in the nation. The Lab brought together a coalition of 40 city officials, business and faith leaders, artists, academics, low-wage workers and others, who sought to address formidable local disparities using a change process deeply informed by artists and artistic practices.

The framework for  Community Innovation Labs was developed by EmcArts of New York City with funding from the Kresge Foundation as an innovative response to complex social challenges we see across the United States today. The Labs bring those who have been historically disempowered from civic planning, as well as those with privilege and positional power, into new relationships in order to co-create responses to seemingly intractable social problems. Participants seek to help local communities collaborate across sectors, question old assumptions, develop deep understandings of local system dynamics, and rehearse potential strategies for change.  

The Conveners

  • The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts
  • The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County
  • The Winston-Salem Foundation

The Core Questions

  • How can we create a more equitable and abundant Winston-Salem?
  • How can we move systems of race, class and power to do so?
  • How can we, as a community, build enough trust to enable transformative change to happen?

The Clusters

Lab members are working in “clusters” to develop strategies for four system interventions: 

  • The Art of Dialogue: Connect and recognize arts-based forums for our community to share ideas, information, experiences and assumptions about race, class and power for the purpose of personal and collective learning. 
  • An Inclusive Economy: Engage with existing structures and build radical new structures of mutual support for entrepreneurs and small-business owners who traditionally have been excluded from access to capital, such as people of color, women, artists, creative enterprises, Eastside residents and low-income residents.
  • Holistic Social Services: Create a prototype to help identify community residents’ needs, assets/knowledge and desire for community art; integrate community and social services; and develop a long-term strategy and a shared database system by neighborhood.
  • Equitable Education:Activate a network of dynamic community partners to foster a learning environment that is culturally humble and respecting by addressing the root causes that lead to race-based bias and barriers to literacy.


Bringing the labs to Winston-Salem