Cadherin cell adhesion molecules are major determinants of tissue patterning which function in cooperation with the actin cytoskeleton. In the context of stable adhesion, cadherin/catenin complexes are often envisaged to passively scaffold onto cortical actin filaments. However, cadherins also form dynamic adhesive contacts during wound healing and morphogenesis. Here actin polymerization has been proposed to drive cell surfaces together, although F-actin reorganization also occurs as cell contacts mature. The interaction between cadherins and actin is therefore likely to depend on the functional state of adhesion. We sought to analyze the relationship between cadherin homophilic binding and cytoskeletal activity during early cadherin adhesive contacts. Dissecting the specific effect of cadherin ligation alone on actin regulation is difficult in native cell-cell contacts, due to the range of juxtacrine signals that can arise when two cell surfaces adhere. We therefore activated homophilic ligation using a specific functional recombinant protein. We report the first evidence that E-cadherin associates with the Arp2/3 complex actin nucleator and demonstrate that cadherin binding can exert an active, instructive influence on cells to mark sites for actin assembly at the cell surface.