While the Investing in Creativity study illuminated the important contributions being made by artists in all kinds of places, it also highlighted the atomized nature of the national artist community and the lack of organized, consistent, and strategic advocacy by artists and their supporters. The study showed that, for the most part, local efforts to improve conditions for artists were not interconnected and didn’t combine to change conditions for artists overall. The study also pointed to the lack of coordinating intelligence, at both the national and local levels, that could connect the various initiatives, accelerate learning, and deepen impact.
LINC stepped into this gap, developing an information strategy to bridge disparate efforts and build knowledge about effective work in multiple domains and at multiple sites. LINC’s information strategy had two components: commissioning research and building knowledge networks through a national learning community. The goal of the research program was to address many of the gaps in information about artists that Investing in Creativity had highlighted, and to build a comprehensive understanding of the nature of the artist population (where it is located, how artists are supported, and how they support communities). Resulting studies focused on counting artists, counting benefits, and counting resources, creating an informal alliance of academics working on artist-related research. LINC also sponsored peer-to-peer exchanges, facilitated its partners’ participation in other national conferences, and generally promoted a self-sustaining flow of relationships, ideas, experiences, practices, and evolving knowledge.
These two elements—research and knowledge networks—operated in tandem to build a substantial resource pool of quantitative and qualitative data and establish continuing pathways for peer-led, field-tested learning.
The initial concern for counting artists derived from Investing in Creativity’s recognition that census and Bureau of Labor statistics data significantly underestimate the artist workforce. Narrow definitions of employment and the fact that many artists make their living through non-artistic jobs required fresh approaches to understanding the demographics and labor economics of the artist population. LINC sought to understand the range of definitions that are used to collect statistics about artist populations and perform analyses and studies; the data sources and their usefulness; and the gaps in each definition. Ann Markusen, an economist based at the University of Minnesota, quickly emerged as an important partner in this work. In the summer of 2003, Dr. Markusen published The Artistic Dividend: The Arts’ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development, a breakthrough study showing that artists’ activity is a significant contributor to the economic vitality of communities. LINC invited her to develop profiles of artist populations in the initial cohort of nine Creative Communities, and to work with these sites to interpret and apply the data in their projects. Subsequently, Dr. Markusen released a publication on understanding employment and careers among California artists, titled Crossover: How Artists Build Careers across Commercial, Nonprofit and Community Work.
“Counting benefits” centered on the contribution of artists’ live/work space to community revitalization in urban neighborhoods. In 2007, LINC supported two additional Urban Institute reports, one on financing for artist space and the other on the case for investing in artist spaces. With support from the Ford, Kresge, and Surdna Foundations, and working with research partners at the Social Impact of the Arts Program (SIAP) at the University of Pennsylvania, the Center for Creative Community Development (C3D) at Williams College, and Metris Arts Consulting, LINC produced additional research studies addressing the challenges and opportunities in artist space development, and explored the connection between cultural development and community health, economic growth, and social change. A number of LINC’s Creative Communities partners also commissioned and published research as part of their work, including the Center for Cultural Innovation, Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the San Francisco Foundation and East Bay Community Foundation.
Simultaneously, LINC placed a heavy emphasis on convening grantees and partners in all its programs, and worked to cross-fertilize learning among various program initiatives. National and local partners convened at least once a year, beginning with the first Creative Communities meeting in New York City in January 2004 and culminating in the final LINC gathering across program areas in Kansas City in June 2012. Altogether, LINC hosted more than 20 national meetings, bringing together artists, practitioners, researchers, funders, political leaders, and experts in sectors beyond arts and culture to discuss practical challenges, review new research, analyze the progress of LINC-sponsored projects, and debate and refine strategies for building support for artists.
Participants in LINC convenings represented a wide spectrum of organizations—grassroots cultural centers, state arts councils, museums, service organizations, performing arts presenters, social service organizations, community development corporations, dance companies, tribal nations, film societies, private foundations, hip hop organizations, folklore organizations, literary centers, universities, and think tanks. This diversity encouraged and ensured lively debates, which were both reassuring and challenging and sped the exchange of information about emerging aesthetic practices as well as effective artist support strategies in different contexts. The fruits of this can be seen in the widespread borrowing of ideas and the adoption or adaptation of specific strategies from one partner or grantee to others. And this knowledge exchange is likely to continue, as many of the personal and organizational bonds created and nurtured in LINC’s meetings will last long after its end.