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Horizontal Integration – A Model for the Twenty-First Century Nonprofit

Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Arts & Culture, Education issues, Nonprofit organizations | 0 comments

“The Reel Connection: Videos, Jewelry, and Tanning,” “Bakewell Auto Parts & Pet Supplies,” “Harbison Enterprises: Military Surplus and Lingerie,” “Rose Computers & Antiques.” Not exactly your business school idea of “horizontal integration,” these real business combinations are the funnier side of a serious nonprofit organization strategy that integrates missions and strategies in education, youth development, community development and community organizing, and arts and culture.

I wanted to share two organizations where mission drives a complex, multi-faceted enterprise. Though very different in program and activities, both are dedicated to the development of young people into successful adults and the development of their communities. And, unlike our silly businesses above, both move their diverse enterprises forward with an integrated vision of human potential and empowerment, strong values of environmental sustainability, and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Boston-based Artists For Humanity’s ( mission is to bridge economic, racial and social divisions by providing underserved youth witSusan Rodgersonh the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in the arts. Founded by artist Susan Rodgerson in 1990, AFH recruits 250 Boston teens annually as paid apprentices to work with professional artists and designers on commissions and client projects in mural production, industrial design, photographAFH Sceney, graphic design, motion graphics and other art and design disciplines. The AFH model fuses an after-school destination for youth and a commercial art and design operation with STEAM career-oriented training, youth mentoring and leadership development, and college readiness and retention programs. An important overlay is a focus on environmental sustainability and community development, realized through the construction of the AFH EpiCenter, a LEED Platinum building situated in the Fort Point arts district, functioning as a public and private event space, gallery for youth-created art, and resource for environmental awareness.

Isles, Inc. ( is the creation of Marty Johnson, who has devoted his life to empowering people in communMarty Johnsonities, especially Trenton, NJ, to improve their circumstances and environment. Isles’ mission—fostering self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities—is realized through a breathtaking scope of programs and community initiatives. An article last year in the Princeton Alumni Weekly called Isles a “think-and-do-tank.” ( The results: a 20,000 sq.ft. former paint factory renovated as a solar-powered alternative high school and solar-vocational training center, coupled with a weatherization and home-safety business, has helped 650 high-school dropouts earn diplomas, prepared 870 people for high-demand energy industry jobs, and conducted lead-paint testing and removal in more than 2,000 Trenton-area homes. Add to the list community gardens and bee keeping, a new vacant property mapping website, community organizing training, home foreclosure services, real-estate development for affordable housing and countless other examples of Johnson’s self-characterization as a “serial entrepreneur.” Then there’s Mill One, an abandonedMill One historic 130,000 sq.ft. textile mill down the road from our client Grounds For Sculpture. Johnson wants to turn Mill One into a center to house nonprofits, artists, private businesses, and housing. Grounds For Sculpture and Mill One together would form the core of an arts district on Trenton’s border, creating a new economic engine in one of the poorest communities in New Jersey.

Marty Johnson characterizes himself as a “serial entrepreneur,” but there is more to it than that. Both Johnson and Susan Rodgerson seem to be natural “systems thinkers” who are not just creating program after program, but rather develop multi-faceted, complex, and highly responsive ecosystems that broadly serve their missions. Artists for Humanity and Isles provide thought-provoking examples for non-profit organizations struggling to define an essential position in the larger systems in which they operate. Organizations that understand and embrace the full potential of their roles within community systems may open up new possibilities for partnership, impact, and support.

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Posted by on Apr 28, 2014 in Education issues | 0 comments

A puzzling course/workshop/research list from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD): The Art and Science of Ecocentric Practices; Evolutionary Network Analyses & Visualization; Experimental Data Visualization; Diffusion Limited Aggregation in G-Speak.

Not so puzzling if you understand that STEM + ART = STEAM.

STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Math—is on the lips of many CEO’s, K-12 educators, college presidents, funders, and policymakers.  STEAM asserts that Art and Design should be at the STEM table, shaping education, workforce development and STEM practice.  STEAM specifically refers to a RISD initiative ( that is spreading its influence around the country, leading to many experiments in integrating art and design across the STEM curriculum as an effective learning tool.  Google “STEAM education partners” for a host of examples.

RISD’s  STEAM extends beyond education: “The goal is to foster the true innovation that comes with combining the mind of a scientist or technologist with that of an artist or designer…. [RISD] art and design education teaches the flexible thinking, risk-taking and creative problem solving needed to solve today’s most complex and pressing challenges – from healthcare to urban revitalization to global warming.”  RISD’s students are being trained not to be passive observers of society, but rather to understand their responsibility and have the skills to engage constructively with vastly divergent sectors of endeavor.

The arts community has believed in and asserted the essential nature of the arts for many years without making much of a dent in thinking, practice, policy or funding among the corporations, schools and school districts, legislative bodies, funders, and policy makers who control the money, and therefore the agendas of those sectors. That’s changing.    (See

A recent article from the Miami Herald described four new STEAM magnet schools, noting, “Teaching creativity, at its root, is about teaching the ability to think divergently: to not only know your facts but to find new approaches and solutions to existing situations.”  An obvious point? Maybe, but a growing number of power and funding brokers in the public and private sectors are newly interested in and talking about it.  There’s even a STEAM Caucus in Congress, chaired by a Republican from Illinois.

Unlikely allies (“divergent” artists and Republican congressmen!) see the growing mismatch in workforce resources and industry/public sector needs; the failure of the NCLB’s standardized test model of education, which stifles creativity and does little to truly prepare students for the world of post-secondary study and technical careers; and the potential of art to turn the ship around.

The STEAM movement heralds a fundamental change in the perception of art and its role in society. STEAM advocates, educators, and practitioners—and increasingly, thought leaders and policy makers— are recognizing that art is, in fact, a “public good” available and beneficial to all.  We cannot compete globally, we cannot advance society without it.  Let us know: Is STEAM rising in your community?

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