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We all have values. We have valuable things and we value things. Dig deeper than our possessions and you find more personal, subjective values. Our values shape us and simultaneously we shape our values. They orient us, help us make decisions, set our priorities, and help us know when to say yes and when to say no.

At The Cornerstone Group, we turned the corner into this new year by meeting for a day to discuss our goals for 2014. The quality of our conversation changed when we started to focus on values. Colleen wanted us to know the origin of TCG and so she told us the story of her life and why she is in this business of transforming ordinary places around us to extraordinary places that inspire us. She shared an anecdote about how she was taught to wipe the sink when she was done washing her hands in public restrooms. This little lesson was part of a bigger value system that her family encouraged her to embody: leave a place better than you found it. This core value is applied in her approach to real estate development.

TCG's President Colleen Carey's values are reflected in her choice to commute by bike whenever she can.

TCG’s President Colleen Carey’s values are reflected in her choice to commute by bike whenever she can.

As a company, we have dedicated time and attention recently to articulating our values in partnership with Activ8, consultants who have helped us align our actions with what we really care about. Part of my work is thinking critically about our creative community engagement strategies, but it has become clear to me that before we work to identify the how’s, we must take time to reflect on the why’s—the values that drive our actions. While these statements are all works-in-progress, I wanted to share them so you know what values are behind events like the Solstice Festival of Lights and our upcoming Spring Lake Clean Up and Participatory Art Event that still needs a name (email me with your ideas, mvanavery@tcgmn.com).


What we value and cultivate through our work:

1. People Feel attached to their home and community and have strong social connections with their neighbors

  • Events help people meet each other and share unique experiences they wouldn’t have anywhere else, creating shared memories, stretching comfort zones, playing, learning, and witnessing each other’s skills, talents, and capacities.

2. People are safe in their environment

  • Events create a sense of ownership in a space and this leads to caretaking of physical spaces and the people who live and/or use them. Connected communities are safer communities, when people feel cared for, celebrated, and seen, they care for, celebrate, and see others.

3. Intergenerational, culturally, and economically diverse people foster vibrant arts and culture by engaging, learning and creating together.

  • Culturally-based events expose people to other ways of living, eating, creating, playing, acting, being, or leading so people have a wider world view and are able to feel more connected and celebratory of differences.

4. People lead active lives, are accountable to their own health, the health of others and the health of the environment.

  • Our work is embodied, involves the body, the participation of the senses, and our events we host get people moving, playing, and feeding their body in healthy ways.

5. We secure community support to develop and manage in ways that meet our evolving vision and goals.

  • Our events are born out of the communities we serve, help empower leaders, fill a need, and are designed in concert with the city, businesses, organizations, and people that surround our projects.


At The Cornerstone Group we know that our values will continue to evolve, deepen, and become more actualized over time. But before, during, and after we build our projects, we will come back to these values as touchstones. They help us become who we want to be. And that process is the most valuable one of all.



As an Artist Organizer, I am also inspired by Springboard for the Arts, my guides through this work. They also have 7 Key Principles that help them determine their strategies and goals as an organization. Check them out below:

1. We view artists as vital contributors to their communities: We believe deeply that economically and creatively productive artists are community assets that build social and economic capital. We also believe that artists make art to communicate, to move, to change, and to build. We believe that ALL artists contribute to community – including artists who work in education or neighborhood programs, and artists who work in a studio.

2. Our programs are delivered by artists to artists: The simple act of naming people as artists and giving them responsibility for programs is an important means of empowerment and building artists’ agency. This doesn’t mean that all our services are delivered directly by artists – we tend to leave the medical care to doctors, for example. Everyone who works at Springboard is an artist and we all work one-on-one with our clients.

3. Our capacity to build relationships is the basis of our effectiveness: With all our local partners and artists, we seek mutual respect, trust, commitment, and reciprocity. Our programs are customized, not one-way transactions. We don’t do anything unless we have a partner share the experience.

4. We emphasize building systems of investment and support: We believe that interdependent networks foster new levels of community impact by artists in ways that single interventions cannot. We are out to change the system for artists and their communities. We want to create new economic models and change the way our culture values art and creativity.

5. We develop cross-sector collaborations: To integrate art work with the whole of people’s lives, we break down traditional boundaries between disciplines and professions. We’re not interested in keeping art in a silo or making it precious. We help artists leverage existing resources and systems, both because we believe there is great efficiency in using resources that already exist and because it brings artists to the table and connects them with their communities.

6. We operate with a sense of transformational possibility: That sounds fancy but it means fun. All our work is characterized by optimism about the potential contribution of artists to communities, and vice-versa. We are excited by the possibilities and fundamentally believe that change is possible. Artists aren’t victims in need of service – they are a powerful, creative force to be mobilized. “Thrilled and daunted” is our favorite phrase at Springboard. We know that in order to engage people, this movement has to be fun.

7. We are non-judgmental about artists’ work: We engage with the full spectrum of creative individuals who make art and don’t exclude any for artistic reasons. This might be the most important and the most controversial to some people. We believe in the broadest definition of who is an artist. We believe that everyone has creative capacity and that there are many different ways to be an “artist.” We know that there are many different definitions of success for an artist and we help artists define success for themselves – financial success, recognition, community support, respect, or social change – those are all equally valid.