We Value Artist Input

Another thing that we’re really careful about is a lot of our programming, like with the arts exhibitions that we do at the community center for the arts, we don’t just employ a curator to choose what shows that we’re going to do. We have an advisory council that’s made up of local artists, and we value their input on deciding what shows, what exhibitions and what art programming is going to best serve the local community and also consider what artists are doing locally. A group will sit down for about a half-day meeting and they will review concepts, both from outside the organization and from within, and make determinations about what shows we should be planning in 2019, 2020 and beyond. It has been really great to see many of the artists step into that role and share ownership of the organization and its programs.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Engaging with Artists

Working with Artists to Shape Our Conference

There were two components to our state-wide convening, where we worked with artists from all across the state to really shape our conference. One was a leadership development program on day one where we brought these artists together. There was really lively and intense, vibrant, dynamic conversation. Then, on the second day, in the larger convening, it included cross-sector people and arts organizations and we had those individual artists present their work in a “Pecha kucha” format. Being able to convene so many art sector people in the same room at the same time, the impact of that is really felt years later and people refer back to those moments of, “Yeah, I found out about that artist because of this event and the ideas that we were exploring.” So, the engagement is really dynamic. A large team of artists were provided an opportunity to show their work with more than two hundred people across the state. And then there were also parts of that conference where we had an additional team of artists that were doing hands-on work with conference attendees at a different time. So, there was actually a making component, in which the engagement was really intense and exciting.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Engaging with Artists

Connecting Artists to Resources

We constantly try to make sure that artists are aware of all opportunities and resources that are available. These can be the opportunities and resources that we provide, or opportunities and resources that our grantees provide. We are trying to make them aware and also to forge relationships with organizations whose primary audience is artists. And we lobby these organizations to make sure that their constituents are primarily artists that are aware of the services and resources available to them.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Services and Programs

Working to Pay a Fair Wage

Regardless of the programming we do, we always want to compensate. Whether or not that compensation will meet the artist’s fiscal needs or not is another question – we are nonprofit and our capacity to compensate is based on funding and grants that we’re able to secure. Still, we really do try our best to be within what the fair market value would be for their work. We try to compensate them to the best of our ability that would equate what they would get from someone else. It’s a really important thing for our organization to invest monetarily in creatives, as well as through education and professional development.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Paying Artists

Financial Support for Artists Is an Essential Component of Our Work

Our stance here is clear: we believe support for artists comes in many ways, but financial support is an essential component of the work that we do. And, in that vein, we feel that the compensation for artists is important in all of our programs. For example, in the past year we have been fortunate to host a major political event, and as a public agency we considered that opportunity and asked, “What can we do to provide a meaningful support for the organizations and the artists that we fund, and create an opportunity for them to connect with the community and really help showcase our community as a destination for arts and culture?” So, we developed a program wherein artists and arts organizations could apply to perform at the airport or to activate public spaces downtown during the convention, and through that process we ensure that artists would have meaningful stipends and compensation that was there, whether that was a group of performers or an individual artist. And we look forward to replicating that this year in the heart of downtown through a partnership with the public park in the center of downtown that’s been newly renovated. We feel strongly that artists should be fairly compensated for their time and for their work and we look for that to integrate that kind of perception through all the work that we do.

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Connection to Community Is Paramount

One success is that our agency is now investing time and resources in gathering broad input from our community. We can now develop new approaches to support artists in 2017 and beyond that reflect artists needs. We understand that we are providing meaningful support, and the program going forward will be designed in such a way that that the connection to community is paramount to any other element of the support.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Community Connections

Building Connections Between Residents and Artists

I’ve spent many hours in the field with artists in their studios, in their homes and having conversations with them about being publically supported so that they can both connect with communities and develop as artists. I think what’s been successful about that program is that it’s helped them to see their ability to create and connect with the community in a new way. We are exploring new approaches to provide meaningful support to artists in line with our mission over the next year, but that program was designed to really foster connections between residents and artists, and I think that has been successful in ways of building connections between the arts community and other local communities. As we revamp the program this year, our focus isn’t really on creating new opportunities, but to more overtly build connections between residents and artists, to position artists as problem solvers in the community, and to more directly enable residents to come together through a network that can more directly foster collaboration.

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Understanding How Residents Want to Connect with Artists

Over the past eighteen months our organization has spent hours connecting with over two thousand residents through online surveys, street team intercepts, and focus groups. It has really been an opportunity for us to cast the vision for our next decade: a vision where all of our county’s residents can experience a meaningful cultural life. We are on the road to understanding access and barriers to participation, understanding what support artists and residents find meaningful, and understanding how residents in our community want to connect and benefit from our local artists and cultural institutions.

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Artists Joining with Communities

In the media arts field, there is a challenge for media artists around technology and innovation. Everything is changing so fast and these guys are storytellers, and making films is a completely different field than it was 20 years ago. All of a sudden you have to deal with making film, digital video, being on mobile, and seventeen platforms – and now augmented reality and virtual reality. The creative field is changing every day and for us the idea is you can’t chase technology and so we really try to foster within our organization this idea that when one organizational artist comes up with a new model, we’re really generous and open with sharing that model and helping other organizations riff on that idea. We try to give money to projects that are creating those models and looking for how they can be a benefit.

One of these was a project that was developed by a filmmaker who did a documentary in India about young kids who were really changing their community. They lived in one of the poorest slums in India, and had no running water but they were really incredibly resilient young people. They were collecting public health data and bring out health officials to inoculate the babies against polio. During that process, the filmmakers wanted to actually help them deepen the impact of the work they were doing. So, they got some additional grants and brought Google into the partnership. Instead of the kids going door to door and just writing down yellow legal pads which babies had not yet been vaccinated and making sure they were, they developed an open data platform where the kids could have these Google tablets to collect public health data that became part of the public record. They were doing things like lowering the rate of polio by like 70%.

It showed how artists could join with the communities that they were documenting and creating deeper impacts for all. And the story of that process became something that we invested in. That project is still going on years later and doing amazing things. And that was a small $5,000 grant that wasn’t paying for an entire project but was paying to amplify the stories on the ground and spread them across the network. In that way, we can embolden a generation of artists to think differently about how they work.

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An Artists’ Congress

There’s a group that is interested in organizing something called an artists’ congress. We’re going to be bringing together artists from New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts to explore how to respond in a time like this, a time when there are lots of things that seem uncertain politically. We want to understand how the creative sectors come together and how are they responding these times.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Advocacy

Advocating with Artists

We work wherever we can to serve as arts advocates for the whole creative community, including artists. We’ve had a direct link through our partnership that we have with our local arts, or state arts advocacy organization. So whenever there’s an issue that comes in through the state or the national endowment, we utilize emails and letters, and we have a database of artists and arts patrons here. And whenever there’s a call to action, we directly disseminate that and ask artists to do the same in order to drive that forward. A recent example: the editorial board of our local newspaper produced a fairly uninformed and misguided response or commentary on defunding the National Endowment for the Arts. We wrote an essay in response. Our normal reach on something like that, through social media would be, on a good day for our organization, would be about five hundred. The creative community, artists, and organizations picked up the messaging, and it reached over twelve thousand people. By articulating how artists are benefiting from these types of investments, artists advocate as well.

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Artists Know the Best Use of Funds

When artists apply for our financial assistance, we don’t dictate for them what the funds have to be spent on. If it’s somebody who has flooded their studio, they can spend the money on their studio – or they can spend it on getting their car retuned, or paying for care if they are taking care of a loved one. So, we empower them to know that what they think is the best use of those funds is their decision.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Funding Individual Artists

Flexible Award to Create New Work

We have a choreographer’s program, which is a $10,000 award that is given to the four selected choreographers with very few stipulations. The stipulation is to create a new piece. And there aren’t any requirements on what line items that money needs to be used on. You can quit your day job so that you can create this work. You can pay your rent with this so that you can focus time and energy. You can use this for your dancers to pay their salaries or your venue rental to create the piece. However, you spend that $10,000 is all right with us as long as in the end a new choreographed piece is developed. And the jury for that is three individuals from around the country who are as diverse ethnically and sub-disciplinarily – so ethnic dance, modern dance, ballet, hip hop, whatever – as possible. Nobody can say “These three people only knew about ballet or these three people only knew about…” They select four choreographers to award this to. And it’s been extremely successful. My only wish is that I could take it a step further and actually after having the piece created, assist in producing it.

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Funding Artists to Experiment & Collaborate

In addition to having artists from our studios do smaller projects, we have four big projects that have many, many artists involved. They each have $15,000 to spend to build, curate, and hire for this large exhibition at the festival. It’s very exciting, but it’s also important because it gives these artists an opportunity to try experiment and collaborate with new people, or to strengthen collaborations they have. They also get to showcase all different kinds of local and regional talent.

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Streamlined Micro-grants for Experimentation

I was presenting at a conference where they were doing a lighting round of grant proposals and awards. The figures involved were modest: $400-$800. But they had artists who had applied get up to give a two-minute pitch, and then at the end of it based on how the audience felt, they awarded these small grants to the artists with the idea of no strings attached. There was no follow-up reporting that they had to do. All they asked was that whatever they did, they credited the organization. I found that following up on a number of the artists that received those, it let them do projects that weren’t necessarily of huge career importance, but were something that they were just able to experiment with.

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Sharing the Power of Community

So, sharing of power – or economic advantages – of two artists opening brick and mortar businesses in the same building and allowing each of them to build off of the other’s capital to make sure that they are financially secure is an example that could be held up. I think sharing in the power of voice. For example: when a burgeoning food truck movement was happening and policy came forward that was deemed restrictive and in favor of the brick and mortar restaurant culture in the community. A lot of the visual and performing artists came out to share their power to advocate on behalf of the start-up food truck business in the community. I think sharing in power, being willing to testify for how folks have directly benefitted from arts activity and how that’s led to business development in front of government, business, and other elected officials is a demonstration. We’re now looking at the youth that have at one point come through any one of those programs as a pipeline for leadership and individuals. A couple of those individuals are in the middle of a pilot program that have come from a couple of the center city neighborhoods. We’re actually sharing power with them by making them the programmatic lead in their community. So, it’s a leadership development program for these folks, but it’s sharing the power of community. There is an identity by and with the people that live in this highly localized community.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Power (open, equitable, and culturally relevant)

Artist Advisory Committees Develop Policy

We have advisory committees that incorporate many individual artists. In their advisory committees, it’s really an act of shared power, especially when you consider their contributions to helping our state agency develop our policy, our programs, and our strategic plan. The individual artists are pretty critical to us as far as being a guiding force in how we’re building our programs and being responsive to how we’re being in the field. Additionally, we have a number of individual artists on our council and on that level – on a state and national level – and their influence is welcomed and encouraged and regarded. We’ve developed a Native Leadership Cohort as well as an expanding Native arts advisory team. It consists of many individual artists, and they play a role in shaping the Native arts program so that they are culturally relevant in addressing issues around de-colonization. How a state arts agency can go about doing that is really, really significant.

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Increased Revenue from Increased Capacity

We went in the past year from having a full time executive director and a part time clay studio manager at ten hours a week, and then a part time operations manager at about fifteen hours a week to doubling the clay studio manager’s hours. Part of that was funded by a state arts organization operating support grant, but part of it was funded on the hunch that it would lead to increased revenue and be able to sustain itself. What it did was lead to increased revenue, but in a way we didn’t expect. We expected it to mean that she would teach more classes and that would bring in more revenue. In fact, her schedule all of a sudden didn’t allow her to teach classes, so that twenty hours a week had to be more general planning and administrative work, which is great because then I had a colleague as the director. And the way it increased revenue was her presence in our clay studio made it this this magnetic place that people wanted to be. So we are now at capacity with the number of people renting space in our clay studio. That’s leading to increased revenue in a couple different ways, and it’s directly due to increasing her position. So now we’re looking at other ways to grow some divisions that have momentum and promise to be self-sustaining.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Organizational Capacity

Very Entrepreneurial in Our Approach

We have been able to build our capacity by first building our program offerings to the community, and then by capitalizing on that success. That has enabled us over the years to get the funding for the awards program and other programs. Over those five years our staff went from a single full-time position and two part-time positions to now four full time and three part time positions. Our core budget has doubled in size over that same time, even during the recession. So, our organization has been able to do a lot more, but it is because we have been very entrepreneurial in our approach. We have made sure that when we look at our programming scope that we’re adding things that will fill a need and that people will respond to.

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Success from Connecting Programs to the Broader Community’s Goals

We’re unique as a local arts agency. We were created by the city, but we were never a city department. All funding besides the 1% for art funding model that we manage for our city, we independently fundraise. In the last seven years, we’ve been able to significantly grow our programming and the number of our staff, where we are currently at eight FTE’s and an annual budget around about $1.2 million dollars. A lot of that work has been achieved by having direct conversations with our local creative community. We hear what they need and what they want, and then we build programming around that and connect it to the broader community’s goals. In addition, planning plays a critical role in our ability to move that forward. We were hearing from many larger funders that investment wasn’t made in a community that didn’t have a cultural plan that was adopted by the city. So, we went out, raised funds for that, and then executed that. Had it formally adopted by the city, and we went beyond the traditional cultural community into the east central city neighborhoods. We invited their residents to talk about what their needs were – again in direct dialogue – and how they saw their opportunities and weaknesses playing out. We integrated those reports into the overall plan to help build the capacity of the smaller neighborhood groups to demonstrate that they were affiliated with this effort. We’ve also, at the same time, facilitated a region-wide economic impact of the arts plan. It was community action – engaging people and getting them out and participating in the arts – backed up with the hard data. That was what was needed to demonstrate the value of the arts during a recession, and those two components combined has really helped build our capacity and organization.

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