ASU Herberger Institute Supports Thriving Cultures

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The Challenge

The Challenge: 

What does a thriving arts ecology look like in Arizona?  What are the conditions necessary to support deep collaboration between artists, culture workers and community leaders that center arts-engaged practice as a means to address wider civic challenges? and how does that work look different in urban, suburban, rural and border contexts?  What is necessary for true collaboration and support?  what policies and practices are necessary to strengthen the overall cultural ecology in our state?

The Approach

The Approach: 

Nine communities collaborated with HIDA and the Arizona Commission on the Arts to pilot a variety of community-initiated projects and interventions aimed at improving public engagement and public space activation through the arts. Teams included local artists/culture workers, elected officials, business owners and young people who worked over 2+ years creating and adapting creative approaches to public problem-solving. 

Over the grant cycles, teams were supported with project funds and individual stipends to facilitate team participation with professional sessions and coaching. This included project planning resources, documentation and ethnographic evaluation support from the Southwest Folklife Alliance and access to a network of local subject matter leaders who were able to provide formal (workshop) to informal (coaching) support on a wide range of topics, from working with young leaders to public art regulations to collaborating with residents experiencing homelessness. 

Our intent was to identify WHAT funding and support are necessary to support complex arts-based problem-solving, to identify HOW policies and processes work to disrupt effective, equitable collaboration and to identify WHEN universities, public agencies provide specific value to hyper-local collaborations that advance just, equitable and thriving arts ecologies in the state.

Findings and Impact

Findings and Impact: 

Overall the project was a success. Our outputs became learning and process. Eight of the nine teams were able to devise and implement vital projects within the research/grant period, all nine teams were actively working on and continuing some form of long term collective collaboration. 

Team project updates and the AZCCI podcast are available for more detailed review at

Critical learnings:

  • Make flexible, support investments in artists and communities so that projects can adapt to community conditions

  • Eliminate barriers to funding for individuals and communities

  • Support teams in navigating decision making, conflict and planning—particularly to build common ground around racial equity and power at the outset of collaboration

  • Invest in tools and approaches that allow for folkloric approaches to assessment and documentation

  • reimagine the university and other public partners as supporters not leaders of vital grassroots work and policymaking

Areas of Impact

Areas of Impact: 
  • Equitable community development and creative placemaking
  • Equity and inclusion