Home News & Events ArtsLab Iowa Kicks Off with 33 Partner Organizations

ArtsLab Iowa Kicks Off with 33 Partner Organizations

In April, ArtsLab gathered the leadership teams of 25 Iowa-based arts organizations and a group of eight peer mentors to get serious about building long term capacity for the arts in Iowa.


ArtsLab Iowa participants. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Arts Council.

A blizzard, a financial crisis, and a room full of artists. It’s not the beginning of a Dada play. It was Des Moines, Iowa, on April 26th, 2018.

ArtsLab gathered the leadership teams of 25 Iowa-based arts organizations and a group of eight peer mentors to get serious about building long term capacity for the arts in Iowa. The ArtsLab Iowa retreat kicked off a seven-month peer cohort aimed at building capacity, leadership, strategy, and community for Iowa arts and cultural organizations.

ArtsLab retreats are intense. Participants spend three days doing a deep dive into strategic thinking. People need breaks during the process to step away, reflect, and let the information they are learning really sink in. They also need a chance to come back together and reflect on what they learned, and what seems most important moving forward. By hearing what their peers took away from various sessions, participants are able to expand their understanding of their own experience, and walk away with a big picture view of the work they engaged in over the three days.

“Upon leaving this retreat, I have lots of new ideas from peers and am excited about planning using tools from these workshops. I have renewed vigor for my job!”
ArtsLab Iowa Participant

A key concept that Iowa participants found useful was to consider why they do the work they do. Our tendency when introducing our work is to tell people what we do. Perhaps we might share some details of how we do our work. Rarely do we get to why we do it. What’s our purpose? In what ways do we seek to make a difference in our communities? In his TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek makes the case that the why is the most compelling part of our story, based on how humans (biologically) make decisions. We asked participants to consider the golden circle and to identify their ‘why.’

Across the board, people identified this as a top takeaway for further exploration with their board and staff. After all, organizations are comprised of, supported by, and serve humans. So how can we find the why at the center that inspires people to better guide our actions and the engagement of our community?

“The ArtsLab opening retreat really opened my eyes to the leadership role I have within the organization and how I need to communicate with board members…I have tools now that can help me start these conversations.”
ArtsLab Iowa Participant

These retreats are opportunities to create understanding about the unique environments, communities, organizations, and individuals that are the fabric of Midwest arts and culture.

All in all, the weekend demonstrated that Iowans are creative in the face of new challenges, be they April blizzards, budget shortfalls, or strategic workshops.