MicroFest: USA | A synthesis of learning about art, culture & place
This paper synthesizes key insights from MicroFest: USA—part festival, part learning exchange—orchestrated in 2012–2013 by the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET) to take a fresh look at the roles of art, culture, and artists in creating healthy vibrant communities. MicroFest shone a light on a spectrum of cultural production, including ensemble theaters, that is traditionally under the radar in official or conventional creative placemaking strategies, but that constitutes a critical part of the cultural ecosystem. This paper draws from the experiences and dialogues of Microfests in Detroit, Appalachia, and New Orleans and shares substantially the illuminating ideas and examples offered in a set of eight essays that NET commissioned. These essays provide perspectives from locally and nationally situated artists, activists, cultural leaders, community developers, and others who were at MicroFest with the task of exploring NET’s four core questions: 1) What does the work look like? 2) What makes the work work? 3) What are we learning about working across sectors? 4) What difference are we making, and how do we know? The paper also surfaces implications for NET and ensemble theaters; for those in the field working at the intersection of art/culture and placemaking, social change, and civic engagement; and for funders to advance the full spectrum of arts and culture in creative placemaking and healthy, vibrant communities.