Back Home

LEANARTS: The Working Group, MaRS & Canada's Performing Arts Alliance

LEANARTS Pilot Takes Startup Thinking to the Performing Arts Sector

We’re joining forces with Canada’s Performing Arts Alliance and MaRS to help performing arts organizations de-risk their project ideas by applying the tools and methodologies used by startups.

LEANARTS will bring together teams from a range of performing arts disciplines for a five-week crash course in startup-style ideation. Working with experienced mentors and instructors, participants will learn new strategies for shaping project ideas, explore new revenue models and improve their probability of funding. Up to ten teams will be selected for participation from a range of performing arts disciplines: Opera, orchestra, theatre, dance and presenters.

The program draws from some of the tools and methodologies familiar to anyone who’s ever launched a startup. From Steve Blank’s approach to customer discovery to Alex Osterwalder’s Value Proposition Canvas, the program emphasizes the importance of face-to-face interactions to help teams validate their ideas and build better, more engaging solutions.

At The Working Group we’ve seen first-hand the impact that this type of program can have on the lives of entrepreneurs. We know that amazing things happen when you bring together people who are passionate about changing the world and help them validate their ideas with the support of peers and seasoned mentors.

With LEANARTS we’re testing an idea about testing ideas. What can happen when arts organizations are given the tools – both mental and practical – to think and behave more like startups?

LEANARTS: The Working Group, MaRS, Canada's Performing Arts Alliance
Photo: LEANARTS connects performing arts organizations with seasoned mentors like Chris Eben, Managing Partner at The Working Group.

LEANARTS is an inspiring opportunity to explore, test and document the value of this approach for the performing arts sector. There are many unanswered questions to be addressed, and assumptions of our own to be challenged along the way. But we hope that by sharing our knowledge with the arts community we can create lasting and meaningful impact, both for the program participants and for the sector as a whole.

Innovators in the performing arts sector are beginning to pay attention to the startup approach to problem solving. The San Francisco Opera recently reached out to Silicon Valley’s Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote, to explore opportunities for partnership and collaboration with the tech sector. And in San Antonio, The 3 Day Startup ran a bootcamp for performing arts organizations that introduced them to formal ideation processes and exercises to generate a large quantity of possible solutions to a given industry-specific problem.

But these examples are exceptional, and so far little has been done to explore the value of empowering the arts community to engage with this framework over a longer timeframe.

Up to ten teams will be selected to participate in the program, which begins in January 2015. Organizations are invited to apply by submitting their ideas for sustainable new projects or initiatives. Performing Arts organizations in Toronto can find out more about participating in this ambitious experimental pilot by visiting

LEANARTS Pilot: The Working Group, MaRS and Canada's Performing Arts Alliance
Photo: Christina Loewen of The Performing Arts Alliance meets with strategists from MaRS to discover how they can get outside of their buildings and listen to their customers

“There are parallels between the startup world and the arts sector in terms of scant resources. Risk capital is essential to research & development, and in the arts, we have no money to waste on inevitable and essential failure. How can we learn to prototype on a small scale, test our ideas, and fail faster and cheaper? How can we make our limited public money work harder and smarter for us?

We think applying Lean methodology to great ideas in the early stages of development might offer an answer to these questions. LEANARTS is the realization of this idea, and the first ever program of its kind for the arts.”

– Christina Loewen, Executive Director, and LEANARTS program lead

Teams interested in participating have until October 1st to submit their applications. Those interested in finding out more are invited to attend an information session at MaRS Discovery District (Room CR3, 101 College St.) on Friday, September 12 from 5.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.

LEANARTS is funded through a Leadership for Change grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

For more information please contact:
Holly Knowlman: Marketing Manager, The Working Group , 647 920 9650


Good People Crafting Great Software: About The Working Group

The Working Group is one of North America’s leading design and development studios. Established in 2002, we work with leading brands and exciting startups to design and build market-defining software products.

We love what we do, and our approach is guided by our unwavering drive to solve problems for our clients. Pairing our domain expertise with yours, we collaborate to craft the right solution for your business.

We actively invest in startups through our accelerator program. Partnering with driven, committed teams, we help them prepare for their next milestone using a hands-on model that blends strategic advisement with expert production support from our senior designers, developers and product strategists. Startups are invited to apply for consideration by contacting Dominic Bortolussi at



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>