Convening the Creative Strategies Incubator

Reflections and Lingering Questions

Metcalf’s Creative Strategies Incubator (CrSI) supports performing arts companies over a three-year period as they explore new strategies to address an intractable issue facing the sector.

Each cohort of CrSI participants convenes throughout the year to share their learning and build upon each other’s solutions. Metcalf hopes that these Learning Network meetings inspire a sense of community around the process of adaptive change.

On April 4, Metcalf brought together all three CrSI cohorts for the first joint Learning Network meeting. The cohorts’ respective focus issues are unique — engaging audiences and building communities; exploring new approaches to, or alternative sources of, revenue; and providing greater opportunities for artistic work to achieve its potential — but each requires companies to navigate the essential relationship between art, people, and resources.

We hoped that the event would provide new opportunities for inspiration, connection, and collaboration among the diverse organizations tackling these enduring challenges. We understood that convening so large a group would necessitate the prioritizing of breadth over depth in some respects, and so we chose to structure the day with conversational prompts and group activities to ensure that participants had a variety of entry points into the discussion.


Much like the funded strategies themselves, Learning Network meetings are inherently experimental —meeting formats continually shift in response to the unique needs of each cohort. After the event, we sent a feedback survey to participants to determine what resonated, and how to best amplify their experience in the future.

Attendees were unanimous in their praise for the opportunity to share with their peers, and all found it fruitful to hear from other organizations experiencing similar challenges. However, a few felt rushed by the structured format of discussions, and suggested that the ability to break into smaller groups would have provided greater opportunities for more meaningful exchanges. One respondent expressed frustration with the theoretical nature of many discussions, and called for the group to adopt a deeper grounding with practical plans for sectoral change.

Metcalf wants to ensure that these unique convening opportunities are as compelling and constructive for participants as possible. As organizers, we’re left with three lingering questions:

  • How can we enable CrSI participants to draw from the wisdom, abilities, and experiences of their peers in the most effective, efficient manner?
  • How do we create an environment in which underrepresented voices have greater prominence?
  • How do we ensure that the groups’ ambitions and focus-specific outcomes are given the best chance for success?

We have much to ponder after this ambitious experiment, and look forward to sharing our learning on an ongoing basis.

For more information about the Creative Strategies Incubator, and its participants’ strategic initiatives, visit the Stories from the Inc.

Metcalf Foundation activities are continuing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about our response here.