Arts LAB

A Capacity Building Program for Small and Mid-Sized Arts Organizations

2003, 13 pages. Saint Paul Foundation, 651-224-5463,

Arts LAB reports on a three-year pilot program developed by a collaborative of six Twin Cities foundations, convened by the Saint Paul Foundation, to strengthen small and mid-sized arts organizations in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The results of that capacity-building effort are documented in two reports that are available on the Saint Paul Foundation Web site. The first is an executive summary of the project – its design and outcomes – that also includes a detailed program description as well as lessons learned. The second, Stories from Arts LAB, presents detailed profiles of each of the eight organizations in the program. There is a section for each organization that includes goals identified, progress on goal achievement, the Arts LAB difference, and “the road ahead.”

The foundations hired an independent evaluator who found that the project achieved all five of its program goals. These included providing access to the most current thinking on issues relevant to small and mid-size arts organizations today; building upon each organization's internal knowledge and support system through leadership teams; providing learning opportunities for participants at a variety of levels – individual, peer, team, and group; furnishing opportunities for peer interaction, networking, and support; and providing access to general operating support.

The program worked with organizations from a variety of artistic disciplines with budgets ranging from $100,000 to $780,000. Outcomes varied, depending on a variety of internal and external factors affecting each of the groups, but the eight told evaluators they are “better positioned to address future challenges, are smarter, more organized and better able to see solutions and carry out plans to achieve them.”

Funders said they also learned several things – capacity-building grants are better spent when combined with training and support, small arts organizations are more complex than they seem from the outside, growth means more than budget increases, the nuances of readiness (for intervention) are not easy to assess, and systems give courage.