NPN’s next chapter

November 8, 2018  •  5 minute read

A letter from Caitlin Strokosch, President & CEO

Dear NPN Friends:

Our strategic plan was born in a time of disruption, not just at NPN, but all around us — in our country, our communities and throughout our world. Over the last two years, this spirit has carried us through a holistic process of transforming the way we work. We’re excited to share some of the major changes and lessons from our planning process as well as what to expect from NPN moving forward.

Transformation takes time, and we have allowed our values to bloom as we have disrupted our processes, resisting the tendency to rush to outcomes. Moving forward, we recognize being nimble and responsive to the evolving needs of our constituents requires an intentional and ongoing practice of critical reflection, imagination and growth.

In this spirit of iteration, there is no final document. We plan to continue this process and share along the journey where we commit to change, reassert our values or set new intentions. I invite you to be part of this dialogue! In addition to the reflections and changes offered below, we’ve included some next steps and ways our colleagues can be part of this work.

Laying the foundation

Our mission articulates the four pillars through which all of NPN’s work — programs, practices and policies — will flow as we move forward:

  1. building power for artists,
  2. advancing racial and cultural equity,
  3. fostering relationship-building and reciprocity, and
  4. working toward systems change.

NPN contributes to a more just and equitable world by building and shifting power for artists; advancing racial and cultural equity; fostering relationship-building and reciprocity between individuals, institutions and communities; and working towards systems change in arts and philanthropy.**

Our vision reaffirms our long-standing focus on our core areas of impact — artists, our network of Partners, the communities with which our Partners engage and the broader cultural infrastructure (funders, colleagues, policy-makers, etc.) in which NPN is situated.

We envision a world in which artists have greater power and resources for meaningful, sustainable careers; strong networks maximize their collective wisdom, resources and leadership; cultural infrastructure reflects deeper partnerships and more equitable practices and communities have greater capacity for civic engagement, representation and joy.**

**While these statements are not yet fully wordsmithed, the concepts and values they embody have been enthusiastically adopted by NPN staff and Board of Directors.

Summary of changes & impact on Network

  • Justice: NPN is committing to justice, as both an outcome and a practice. Advancing equity moves beyond diversity and inclusion, and prioritizes work of, by and for people of color, immigrants and Native and Indigenous peoples; people with disabilities; trans and LGTBQ people; people in rural communities and others who are systemically marginalized.
  • Belonging: We believe systemic disruption calls on us to engage in inclusive, spirited movement-building. We welcome everyone who is committed to the core principles in our mission to be part of our work, and we know our network composition will inevitably change as we put these values into practice. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to advancing equity in our field, and our intention is to foster a collaborative and reciprocal network where our entire learning community participates fully in this work in diverse and responsive ways.
  • On the move: In September 2018, NPN bid farewell to the Arts Estuary, which we operated as an office space for other arts nonprofits, a community gathering place and an event rental venue since 2014. Our new office allows us to streamline operations and opens up new partnerships for programs and gatherings in support of our New Orleans arts community.
  • International exchange: In this time of increased xenophobia, we assert our belief in global humanity. We have discontinued NPN’s stand-alone Performing Americas Program and U.S.-Japan Connection in order to better respond to our Partners’ international exchange activities, engagement with immigrant communities and support for artists working toward global justice. We invite Partners and other presenting organizations to participate in NPN’s survey on international engagement so we can focus our resources and attention where they can have significant and timely impact.
  • Return to “NPN“: In August, the Board of Directors adopted the return to National Performance Network (“NPN“) as our organizational name. This reflects our recent decision to clarify our artistic focus on supporting live, experiential exchange between artists and communities and to integrate the Visual Artists Network into this framework. We recognize “performance” does not adequately describe the full scope of our work, and while our Board considered a full name change at this time we wish to challenge ourselves to reimagine our work while still honoring the legacy embedded within the name NPN.

The process

NPN approached strategic planning with a holistic examination of our history, operations, programs, finances, context within our sector and alignment with other social justice movements. We set out to address two major areas in parallel: to deepen our work in building a more just and equitable field, and to address significant, long-standing financial challenges. We entered this work with openness and humility, examining NPN’s internal practices, our outward-facing programs and the systems in which we are rooted.

External teams: Our planning engaged with the expertise of consultants Justin Laing and Ian David Moss (overall strategic planning), Nonprofit Finance Fund (financial assessment and capitalization planning), a collaboration with Creative Capital, MAP Fund and New England Foundation for the Arts (peer assessment), our Knowledge Building Initiative (KBI), led by Paul Bonin-Rodriguez and participation in Grantmakers the Arts’ racial equity committee.

Internal teams: Committees of NPN staff, Board members, artists and Partners developed strategies, outcomes and guiding principles around major impact areas within NPN:

  • Team Artists: advance equity through direct support to artists
  • Team Organizations: advance equity through direct support to arts organizations
  • Team Network: build a stronger network committed to systems rooted in justice
  • Team Praxis: model and advocate for more equitable organizational practices
  • Team Vernacular: embody our values in words

What’s next?

  • Resource library: We are building an online library linking to readings, models for organizational practices, ways to evolve our language, and more. Do you have an article or model you believe is essential for advancing our work? Please share!
  • NPN’s identity: In 2019, we plan to share a new website, logo and branding to embody NPN’s values and offer a platform for more collaborative information-sharing. Stay tuned!
  • Engaging artists: In December, we will host a roundtable of artists to explore how NPN can better build and shift power for artists.We will also develop a survey, in collaboration with Grantmakers in the Arts’ Support for Individual Artists committee, to develop priorities for expanded support for artists within NPN.
  • Founding documents: We are working with writers and visual communicators to fine-tune NPN’s new mission, vision, values and guiding principles.
  • Network composition: In December, our Partners will explore ways we can foster greater collaboration and resource-sharing within the network. And throughout the year, our Partnership committee, Board and staff will be developing a new evaluation process for current and potential Partners. We expect to begin a new process in FY20.
  • Quarterly updates: We want to share more about upcoming opportunities, programming changes, highlights from our network and lessons learned in cultural policy and philanthropy. Look for in-depth quarterly updates, as well as more regular blog posts and social media stories.

Thank you to all who have walked this journey of reflection and transformation with us, including the NPN staff and Board of Directors, Strategic Planning Chair Shannon Daut and all who have shared feedback, advice and inspiration throughout this process. We are so grateful to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Lambent Foundation for their support of our strategic planning and for being such extraordinary thought partners to NPN.


Signature of Caitlin Strokosch, President & CEO
Caitlin Strokosch President & CEO