Performing Our Future

Performing Our Future will demonstrate how the assets of local culture enacted through theater can enable communities to imagine, construct, and own their civic and economic future. Our claim is that culture and artistic expression are fundamental to the development of a democratic culture because of the way they shape individual and collective identities; bound or expand imagination; and influence micro- and macro-economic incentives and behavior.

How can theater artists most effectively help communities tap their rich cultural assets for economic and civic development?

Bringing together the expertise of theater artists, economists, and scholars, Performing Our Future will generate and share new knowledge about three related challenges:

  1.     How can theater artists most effectively help communities tap their rich cultural assets for economic and civic development?
  2.     How can performing arts organizations create a sustainable economy for such work?
  3.     How can performing artists and arts organizations work with colleges in mutually beneficial ways to advance the effectiveness of such community cultural development?

In this two-year action-research project, three communities in different geographic locations will create original theater in order to support, and in some instances initiate, equitable community development. To enrich learning, ensure national impact, and develop and disseminate findings, the three local projects will interface with each other and with a national team of scholars.


Project Leaders

  •    Appalshop’s Roadside Theater has honed a methodology over three decades of practice that guides artists (including folk and traditional artists) in ways to engage a community in the discovery of its local assets. Roadside’s process privileges diversity and inclusion to develop solidarity across lines of community difference.
  •    Lafayette College’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project (EEGLP) is skilled in community asset-mapping, as well as tracking and measuring economic impact. EEGLP’s approach uses entrepreneurism, market competitiveness, and synergies between existing assets and newly introduced technology and human capital.
  •    Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life (IA), the national higher education consortium, develops knowledge through publicly engaged scholarship that draws on arts, design, and humanities. IA supports a reconsideration of the land-grant system’s extension work in ways that advance the satisfactions of democratic living.

Action-research participants will include three teams representing three communities and their local colleges as well as a national research team of artists, scholars, and economists. Other community and college teams will be invited to shadow the process in preparation for future projects in their home communities.

Funders include the National Endowment for the Arts, ArtPlace America, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Imagining America, Lafayette College, and Appalshop.

Summer Institute At Appalshop, Whitesburg, KY

July 14-18, 2016

Join artists, scholars, and community leaders from across the country for a 5-day hands-on institute at Appalshop. We will examine the culture hub being built in Letcher County, Kentucky, in the sickest and poorest congressional district in the nation, where the assets of arts and culture are being mobilized into new forms of value creation. During the Institute, participants will explore what’s taking place in Letcher County and create an arts- and culture-based development plan to take back home.

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