Introducing Creativity Connects

By Douglas Sonntag, NEA Director of Dance
Graphic of various buildings and artists.
The Creativity Connects pilot grant opportunity is a dive into the unknown for the National Endowment for the Arts. We are hoping this initiative will expand the NEA’s reach well past its traditional constituents and embrace businesses and organizations in non-arts sectors of the economy that have much to learn from as well as much to teach to artists and arts organizations in all disciplines. How will this happen? Well, two of the three components of the Creativity Connects initiative are all about partnerships and how unlikely partners (an arts organization and a partner from the non-arts sector) can sometimes produce unexpected results that benefit all parties. Let me quote from the guidelines: “Creativity Connects will show how the arts are central to the country’s creative ecosystem… explore how the arts connect with other industries and invest in innovative project to spark new ideas for the arts field.” With pilot initiatives, it can be a challenge to describe what kinds of projects and partnerships we hope to see, but applicants always surprise us. That said, there are really endless opportunities when arts organizations can work with non-art sector partners from such diverse arenas as business, education, environment, faith, finance, food, health, law, science and technology. The primary goals of Creativity Connects grants are to demonstrate the value of working with the arts; support infrastructure for the arts to work in new ways with new sectors, build bridges that create new relationships; and, create innovative partnerships that advance common goals. While ambitious, I believe those goals reflect how much traditional definitions of art and creativity have changed. There is now tremendous overlap between artistic disciplines and the creative practice of what we define as the non-arts sector. Artists now work with science and technology, while scientists analyze dance and music performance to understand movement and sound. Each partner brings a unique contribution to the table and the synergy that results produces something new whether it is a work of art, a style of working, a curriculum, or an entirely new artistic discipline. In addition to the Art Works: Creativity Connects grant opportunity, there are other components that are integral to its success. One is an infrastructure report, in which we’ll identify gaps in the support systems for artists –  things such as material supports, networks, and training – that will ensure artists have access to key resources that they need in order to produce their best work; We’ll also produce an interactive, digital systems graphic that focuses on how the arts connect with non-arts sectors. This graphic will show examples of who’s out there doing good work in the arts and how the creativity that exists in the arts is of use to other sectors. It is our hope that the grants will build new relationships and constituencies between the arts and other sectors and support creating innovative projects that advance the arts when they’re connected to other non-arts fields. This initiative will make the case for inclusion, and help people understand the valuable impact the arts have on our lives, in ways they may or may not be aware of. As you can imagine, there has been a great deal of interest in the Creativity Connects grant opportunity. To help applicants navigate the process we have developed some tools. There is a dedicated email address for any questions you might have and it is monitored throughout the day to ensure that all queries are answered promptly. The questions we have received to date are about eligibility, potential partnerships, and whether university art departments can partner with another non-arts department on the same campus. The answer to the last question is “no.” Please see the Frequently Asked Questions. We have also scheduled a Creativity Connects webinar for January 27, 2016 at 3:00 PM EST where applicants can ask questions and get clarification on the submission process. We’ll also spend time encouraging applicants to make sure their and SAM registrations are up to date since expired passwords and such seem to trip up the best of organizations. Due to the overwhelming interest in Creativity Connects, we have reached our registration limit. The webinar archive and PowerPoint will be posted on January 29th here. And, finally, please see the Art Works: Creativity Connects guidelines