The University of Chicago

The University of Chicago Cultural Policy Center

Skip to: main navigation | utility navigation | main content



CultureLab is a partnership between an informal consortium of arts consultants and the Cultural Policy Center (CPC) at the University of Chicago.

University of Chicago Partners
Consultant Partners

During the pilot phase of CultureLab, membership is closed, although we are very open to ideas and suggestions for how we might strengthen the partnership.



CultureLab was formed to break down the silos of research, policy and practice, and create a new capacity and approach to tackling challenging issues. Our goal is to spur relevant research, innovative thinking and in-the-trenches experimentation that will allow the cultural sector to respond more rapidly to changing conditions. Generally, we aspire to:

  • Connect academic research with the needs of practitioners, and aid in setting research and development agendas for the sector
  • Support each other in our work as consultants
  • Stop practices that are hurting the field
  • Disturb the status quo, and speak truth to power
  • Get to the root of problems, particularly sensitive issues that are not being addressed by others, and identify opportunities for paradigmatic change
  • Work with funders to explore new models of supporting culture
  • Help to establish more systemic approaches to the diffusion of promising new practices
  • To foster international collaboration to further develop intellectual property in a responsible and cooperative manner across countries.
  • Promote new kinds of research, and do work that is no client is willing to pay for, and no funder is thinking about


As consultants, our desire to address the cultural sector’s systemic, structural problems stems from our experience working in the sector for many years. We operate at the nexus of research, theory and practice. We solve problems, sometimes the same problems over and over again. Moving from project to project and across disciplines and organization types, we recognize patterns and see opportunities for new models, new practices and new partnerships, but often lack a means of advancing systemic solutions.

While many funders, service organizations, academic centers and other players in the cultural sector work diligently to advance their various agendas and priorities, we have found that some of the most important problems facing the cultural sector have no ‘owners.’ As consultants, we feel a special obligation to tackle issues that others either can’t see, choose to ignore or presume are too difficult or complex to solve.

We also recognize that much of the intellectual property we generate for both private and public clients does not yield as much value as it could to the sector. For example, we generate datasets that could be further analyzed by students and used for learning purposes.

Historically, the competitive nature of the consulting field has been a deterrent to knowledge sharing amongst consultants. CultureLab provides a forum for enriching each other’s work and strengthening our professional relationships. We all share a deep interest in advancing policy, research and practice beyond what any of us can do individually.

In joining together with the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago, we hope to create a new capacity in the cultural sector for coordinating research agendas, generating new ideas, injecting knowledge and new practices into a highly decentralized system, and for tackling important issues that others are reluctant to approach.



As funding and staff resources allow, CultureLab will undertake programs that advance its goals. These programs include:

Research Agenda

To assist the Cultural Policy Center, CultureLab will provide ideas for research projects that address significant problems or policy issues, and will serve as a resource to faculty in considering the implications of their findings.

Student Fellowships

Fellowships will be designed for students to participate in research and consulting projects run by CultureLab’s partners, providing an important bridge between academic work and practice.

Emerging Practice Seminar

CultureLab will be a nexus of information about new and emerging practices in the cultural sector. Initially, this program will take the form of a one-day seminar during the annual CultureLab convening, followed by a series of webinars. The first Emerging Practice Seminar took place on April 30, 2010. Eventually, this program could include a website devoted to tracking innovative practices in cultural management, an online publication to speed diffusion, and student fellowships to research and catalogue new practices.

Hot Button Papers

CultureLab will serve as a publishing platform for essays, debates and other communications designed to address key issues in the field, especially sensitive issues that are not being addressed in other forums. Initially, our goal is to publish two papers annually. Students will assist with research and writing. In Winter 2011, Betty Farrell will teach a class entitled Hot Button Issues in Cultural Policy.

Culture in the Clouds

CultureLab will host a shared digital library of reports, articles, videos and other knowledge for the benefit of CultureLab members, the CPC and other stakeholders (possible one or more arts administration programs). A web-based platform will be used, such as DSpace or EPrints. Knowledge would be added to the library by students and by CultureLab members, who would ‘add value’ by meta-tagging the documents and adding comments using a Wiki feature. This library will also house information on emerging practices (see above). To be sustainable, this program will require the involvement of one or more arts administration programs.

We have also discussed the possibility of developing new standards for release of proprietary intellectual property (e.g., research reports, strategic plans) after a holding period of several years.

↑ return to top