Case Study #4: Reaching new audiences through art events

The challenge: Events that centered refugees were drawing an audience of existing supporters, but weren’t attracting other people in the community.

The solution: A unique art exhibit made connections between the experiences of veterans and refugees during times of conflict to draw in a new audience of potential welcomers.

Why it matters: Events that use art to reach broad audiences can expand and deepen support and empathy for newcomers.


According to Unite Cloud, the #WhatIFoughtFor traveling art exhibit during Welcoming Week “brought larger-than-life portraits of veterans and refugees in black and white to highlight the humanity of all people in the world, especially those touched by conflict.”

Executive director Natalie Copeland shared that Unite Cloud had previously organized a refugee portrait exhibit. She said the event was great, but because refugees were the sole subject, Unite Cloud was not sure they had reached an audience beyond their regular supporters. In an effort to broaden their audience, they brought the #WhatIFoughtFor refugee and veterans art exhibit to their community through Washington, D.C.-based organization Veterans for American Ideals.

The exhibit in Minnesota featured stories of refugees and military service members and how their lives intertwined. One story challenged typical perceptions of veterans and refugees by highlighting the connection between a Somali-American veteran and a Syrian refugee. At a local church, a veteran told his story of serving in Afghanistan and bringing his interpreter and family to the United States via the Special Immigrant Visa program. This specific exhibit had older military veterans in the audience.

Reaching new audiences

The traveling exhibit had six traditional and community-based locations in St. Cloud, Minnesota and neighboring communities, including a museum, performing arts center, gallery, library, and neighborhood church. One location was purposely located in an outlying community.

Overall, Natalie said they reached new audiences with the #WhatIFoughtFor art exhibit, as well as built new partnerships, including with churches and other organizations. She said that these events — that challenge perceptions and push conversations — create ripples in the community.

Along with these events, Natalie and Unite Cloud began developing a training curriculum for “moving from indifference to action.” They see this as a critical next step following their Welcoming Week events.

Lessons learned

Natalie said that they learned from their previous art projects to partner with local artists to curate exhibits and provide their expertise. Through Welcoming America’s Belonging Begins With Us funding, Unite Cloud hired a local artist, Heidi Jeub, to curate this project, using her connections across Central Minnesota to organize exhibits that were streamlined and professional. She said that is a best practice they are continuing during their fourth grant project with the artist-curator from the #WhatIFoughtFor exhibit.

Natalie also emphasized the importance of finding exhibit hosts in rural and suburban areas outside of your home communities. She shared that there are not many Somali or Muslim families who live in the areas surrounding her community. However, since St. Cloud residents are in close proximity to an increasingly diverse community, they hear rumors and misconceptions about newer residents but don't often have a chance to hear directly from newcomer communities. This is something Unite Cloud is seeking to change.

More examples of events that reached new audiences:

Bridge dinner experiences in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Sarnia-Lambton virtual events in Ontario, Canada, Multicultural Passport program in Palmerston North, New Zealand

Thank you to Natalie Copeland, executive director of Unite Cloud, for sharing insights about this Welcoming Week event.