Fellow Arizonans,

In 1966, with a $25,000 federal incentive, a coalition of elected, community, business, and arts and cultural leaders began exploring what it would mean for Arizona to establish its own state arts agency.

At the time, a handful of states already had arts agencies. Utah, our northern neighbor, formed its arts council in 1899.

Throughout the 1960s, following the expressed interests of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, states that had not yet instituted arts commissions were encouraged to consider the opportunity, and to consider the role of the arts in fully realizing the creative potential of every American, regardless of her income or his proximity to a big city.

The Arizona Council on the Arts and Humanities was formally established as an agency of the State of Arizona in 1967. In time, Humanities became its own entity, and the agency we are honored to shepherd was renamed the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

Since 1967, the Arts Commission has invested in communities, supported the steadfast service of arts organizations, and championed the practice and professional growth of artists across our great state. Robust support of arts education, or as we now call it, lifelong learning in the arts, has been a chief priority in all agency work, throughout decades of programs and initiatives too numerous to list.

In these 50 years of service through the arts, the Arts Commission has seen incredible progress on many fronts. And yet, many challenges remain, for the greatly expanded arts sector, creative makers and workers, for the diverse communities they labor to serve, and for equitable access to arts learning.

So with our 50th anniversary approaching, we asked ourselves a lot of questions. We took inspiration from within and beyond arts-based practices. And we built a flexible framework, meant to evolve in partnership with you, Arizona residents.

We call the initiative NextAZ.

NextAZ is a statewide planning process designed to empower communities to activate creative assets and co-create ideas to fuel Arizona’s next 50 years.

This planning initiative and its programs focus on listening to your stories, your triumphs and aspirations; learning about your unique talents and your community’s challenges and opportunities; and leveraging – lending our creative and collaborative skills to help Arizonans, and Arizona communities, achieve their most significant goals.

We aim to ensure NextAZ activities, programs, and funding opportunities provide clear value to participants, as participants’ contributions are of great value to us. Ultimately, the results of NextAZ initiatives will form the basis of our next agency plan and drive our adaptive service approach.

As you’ll see in the NextAZ Description and Initiatives Summary, this endeavor is ambitious. But based on our first 50 years of service and our understanding of the power of the arts in Arizona, we feel determined.

We believe Arizonans possess boundless creative potential. We think creativity should join other valuable resources on Arizona’s 21st-century list of “5 Cs.” We know that creativity thrives here.

And we can’t wait to imagine Arizona’s creative future, with you.



Jaime Dempsey
Deputy Director of the Arts Commission


Robert Booker
Executive Director of the Arts Commission


Mark Feldman
Governor-Appointed Chair of the Arts Commission

On behalf of the staff of the Arizona Commission on the Arts

On behalf of the appointed Commissioners of the Arizona Commission on the Arts


One of 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies across the United States, the Arizona Commission on the Arts is a 50-year-old agency of the State of Arizona and a leader in the creative and professional development of Arizona’s arts and culture sector. Through robust programs, research initiatives, and strategic grantmaking, the Arts Commission catalyzes arts-based partnerships that strengthen Arizona communities through the arts.

The Arts Commission is governed by a 15-member Governor-appointed Commission and a professional staff, grounded in arts and culture. Through the Arts Commission, the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts make strategic investments of public dollars in support of the agency’s mission:

To imagine an Arizona where everyone can participate in and experience the arts.


The Arizona Commission on the Arts’ NextAZ is a three-year visionary planning initiative designed to empower communities to activate creative assets and co-create ideas to fuel Arizona’s next 50 years.

Timed to launch in FY2017, NextAZ’s interconnected community engagement, programming, research, field work, and grantmaking will result in the development of innovative creative activities and products, new intra- and cross-sector partnerships, publications, policy papers, interactive online tools, and an agency plan. In addition, NextAZ programs and investments are designed to help communities discover their assets, help stakeholders better leverage assets, and encourage Arizona funders and policymakers to seed and foster networks for long-term resource-sharing and support.

These outcomes align with the NextAZ initiative’s ultimate goals: to empower the arts and culture sector to deepen and extend its contributions to Arizona communities, and to position arts, culture, and creative practice at the center of a fresh narrative about Arizona’s boundless potential and prosperous future.

Component Summary

In devising NextAZ, the Arts Commission has been inspired by agile development methodologies from the technology and software development sectors, particularly in the Agile Movement’s focus on iterative, incremental development and release, continuous improvement, and the primacy of flexibility. NextAZ is therefore meant to be iterative in terms of precise tactics over the initiative’s three years, shaped by Arizonans’ participation and contributions.

Initiative components have been initially organized within a three-arm framework: Investigation, Ideation, and Investment. Brief component summaries provided herein (this document is meant as an overview and does not include comprehensive partner commitments, program timelines, communications strategies, or spending plans).


  • First50 Research: Through a comprehensive scan and analysis of extant research/literature and up to 50 individual interviews, First50 research will explore goals articulated by the Governor, State Legislature, and arts, education, and business leaders at the time of the Arts Commission’s establishment, against sector outcomes achieved in the subsequent 50-year period. Analysis and interviews to be featured within NextAZ interactive online tools.
  • 50+ Creative Insights: A multi-year collection of Arizonans’ stories and perspectives related to individual creativity and the creative potential of Arizona communities.
    • “Creative Spark” insight collection: Photos, short videos, audio recordings, drawings, poems, and brief personal narratives will be collected via a simple web-based application and traditional mail; solicited broadly and via targeted flyers in public gathering places as well as placed advertisements in local, rural, and neighborhood circulars. Submissions to be featured within NextAZ interactive online tools and other media.
    • Community pop-up insight collection: Via competitive process, Arizona artists will be selected to develop creative engagement strategies for deployment within up to 20 public events and locations (such as community festivals and main street storefronts) across Arizona. Strategies will engage Arizonans in one-on-one dialogue and artmaking, resulting in a “creative product” each engaged Arizonan can take away from the exchange, a document of which will also be included in a larger statewide project. Specific “creative products” and statewide project to be devised with selected artists.
  • Arts Funder, Policymaker, and Service Provider Research Consortium: A public/private collaboration to leverage existing resources and overlapping interests regarding the present state of Arizona’s arts and culture sector, to reduce redundancies in data collection and analysis, and ultimately, to improve grantmaking methodologies, technical assistance, professional development practices, and other services. Specific consortium initiatives not yet determined, but will aim to explore:
    • Where there are synergies – to define and strengthen collaborative opportunities, to develop new language and metrics, and to evolve services to better meet Arizonans’ needs/desires.
    • Where there are disconnects – to challenge fixed assumptions about audiences and limitations in sector resources, and to begin the work of dismantling ineffective practices and frameworks.
  • NextAZ Vision: 50 Aspirational Arts Ideas for Arizona’s Next 50 Years: The culmination of the entire initiative’s engagement, analysis, ideation, programming, and investment – a visionary statement, a collection of ideas, an inventory of the expansive process, and an agency plan. Meant to reignite a collective effort to leverage the sector’s potential as a contributor to the improvement and future success of Arizona communities. Deliverable format(s) TBD.


  • NextAZ Conversations: Gatherings to discuss topics of interest and current events affecting arts and culture workers, local and national arts and culture sectors. Facilitators and topics to be crowd-selected. Conversations will take place in broadly accessible, informal, unexpected locations. Meant to provide opportunities for dialogue and “belonging” for artists, arts and culture workers, and other interested parties who are unaffiliated or otherwise unwelcome in existing arts or community networking and leadership groups.
  • NextAZ Creative Communities (small communities): Meant to help small communities discover their assets, learn to better leverage those assets, and create lasting networks – using creative practice as a foundation.Arizona cities/towns with populations under 125,000 will compete for “NextAZ Creative Community” designation. Communities will assemble teams comprised of elected or municipal leaders, diverse community leaders from any other business or service sectors, and artists/arts organizations/creative businesses/arts and culture workers. Lead applicants will be cities/towns.

Through a statewide creative competition, 4-6 communities will be selected for 12- to 24-month engagements, to include some or all of the following:

  • Asset and relationship inventories/mapping.
  • Artist-facilitated conversations, professional development, and creative activities to help community members articulate community challenges, related goals, and potential arts-based experiments/solutions.
  • Artists embedded in non-arts “third spaces,” as listeners and community resource providers.
  • Public events co-sponsored by the Arts Commission.
  • Investment of up to $30,000 (in cash grants and artist services) in each community to advance a community-sourced arts-based experiment over the course of the engagement.
  • Video and photographic documentation.
  • Support in comprehensive engagement evaluation.
  • Arizona Creative Exchange Summits (population centers): Active conference-style convenings of artists/arts organizations/creative businesses/arts and culture workers, diverse community leaders from other business or service sectors, and elected and governmental leaders.
    Assembled into diverse teams, summit attendees will participate in artist-led opportunities for enthusiastic ideation and knowledge sharing, and workshop arts-based experiments/solutions in response to community challenges. Idea-workshops will involve fast-pitch and gaming principles, among other creative methodologies. To take place in 1-3 more populated Arizona metro areas (likely Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff or Prescott).
    Arizona Creative Exchange Summits will be preceded by in-person and web-based learning opportunities to prepare interested parties for active summit participation.


  • Arizona Creative Congress/NextAZ ArtPrize: The public culmination of the NextAZ initiative and a celebration of community-focused, artist-led creative enterprise. At a highly-visible, festival-like public event, participants of all prior initiative components will have an opportunity to report on their learning and experiences.The event centerpiece will be an ArtPrize competition, wherein individuals and groups will compete for investment in the best arts-based solution to an Arizona community challenge. Designed to attract and engage a large and diverse audience, including community leaders from all sectors, the Creative Congress and NextAZ ArtPrize will showcase the arts and culture sector’s capacity for ingenuity, reinvention, public engagement, and creative problem-solving.
  • Realigned Arts Commission Grantmaking: A commitment on the part of the Arts Commission and its authorizers to realign certain agency investment strategies in support of NextAZ programs and goals during the initiative’s three years, and to reimagine future grantmaking in response to ideas and outcomes resulting from the comprehensive NextAZ initiative over time.
  • Other Collaborative Investments: Cooperative public/private partner investments in NextAZ programs, to pair the Arts Commission’s statewide relationships and community-embedded programs with other public and private resources, for greater impact and to extend funders’ scopes of service. In active discussion with other Arizona funders.

As stated, NextAZ is meant to be iterative in terms of precise tactics over the initiative’s three years, shaped by Arizonans’ participation and contributions. Named components and the descriptions provided within this document are therefore not comprehensive and are subject to change as the initiative advances.

NextAZ summary updated January 2017.