The art of community

March 16th, 2017

Quality of place relies on cultural activities, amenities for economic impact

By Linda Lipp | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Even as the new Republican president and Congress discuss the possible elimination of federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, many northeast Indiana communities are increasingly incorporating arts programs and projects into their economic development efforts.

“Quality of place” is one of the buzz-word terms often used in connection with efforts to make the area a more enticing place to live and work. The arts are a part of that package.

“We are taking on a variety of roles in that conversation, particularly in the last handful of years,” said Dan Ross, vice president of community development for Arts United. “This community has really seen an alignment of visions for the community. I think our government leaders, our economic development leaders, our corporate leaders, have all recognized the importance of quality of place in terms of attracting talent, in terms of attracting business.”

Putting arts to work

The design of Fort Wayne’s new downtown riverfront park will be a work of art in itself, said Alec Johnson, a landscape architect with the Department of Parks and Recreation. Like Lakeside and Foster parks, it is being designed by talented landscape architects.

“I think its important to talk about the level of the quality of design and artistic expression,” he said. “It’s been important to us throughout the process that the design of the park be really of Fort Wayne - not something designed elsewhere and just dropped in … but uniquely Fort Wayne.”

The entrance to the park will be graced by a significant, iconic piece of art that people will really associate with the park. Other art will be placed within the park, which will include a stage for musical and other performances.

“My feeling about incorporating the arts and culture with economic development is that it is one more way to make yourself stand out as a city,” Johnson said.

Elkhart County’s Heritage Trail guides visitors to the Quilt Gardens, with hand-painted murals and gardens planted in vivid quilt patterns; arts and cultural attractions from theaters and concert halls to art galleries and studios; as well as shops and restaurants.

The city of Decatur has made arts and culture a centerpiece of its downtown development plans, using “artistically inspired innovation” as a theme.

Its annual sculpture tour, in its sixth year in 2017, brings visitors to the downtown who, in turn, spend money with local restaurants and retailers. And a local builder, Biggs TC Development, recently was awarded tax credits to redevelop a historic downtown building as lofts for artists and creative entrepreneurs.

“The goal is … to provide programming for them to take advantage of that takes their art, their business, what ever they want to do, to the next level,” said Melissa Norby, director of community development for the city of Decatur.

“It kind of coaches them and helps them so they get their products to market, and maybe even open a business. And we’re hoping they choose to open their business in Decatur.”

Arts United helps connect the dots between arts organizations and the community and government so that the arts “are resourced in a way that will allow them to serve in the role of building the quality of place that we want to have,” Ross said.

“Young people today choose where to live before they choose who they want to work for. Having our community be the kind of place where they want to be is really important,” Ross noted.

From the top down

The annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts is about $146 million, and has decreased since its peak 20 or more years ago. That’s $1.20 per taxpayer, and or 0.001 percent of total federal funding. The National Endowment for the Humanities gets a little less.

Organizations can apply directly to the NEA for funds. Thanks in part to a $10,000 “Challenge America” grant from the NEA, for example, the Jesters program at the University of Saint Francis will bring in guest artists/teachers from Chicago’s famous Second City troupe to train individuals with physical and developmental disabilities in improvisational techniques that can help them hone skills for self-expression and build self-esteem.

More often, funds are disbursed by the NEA to multistate or individual state organizations, such as the Indiana Arts Commission. The IAC gets most of its funding from the Indiana General Assembly, but about 20 percent comes down through the National Endowment for the Arts.

The IAC, in turn, helps fund arts efforts through regional partners such as Arts United, which regranted $193,000 in IAC funds for the 2016-17 fiscal year to help 29 arts organizations in the 12-county area it serves.

“That provides an opportunity for local decision-making in how those dollars are spent,” said Susan Mendenhall, Arts United’s president.

It also makes sure that big cities don’t get all the money; rural communities get their share.

NEA funding, through Arts Midwest, helped the Fort Wayne Dance Collective create a “healing arts” partnership with Parkview Health that integrated literary, movement, music and visual arts with patient care, Mendenhall noted.

Putting pieces together

Most arts programs have multiple funders - local donors, ticket buyers, fees for classes, etc.

“NEA funding is usually just a percentage of the revenue that the program needs,” Mendenhall said.

“NEA grants always require at least a one-to-one match. They aren’t the sole source of funding for a project,” noted Lynne McKenna Frazier,” director of corporate and foundation relations at USF.

Matches can be in cash or in kind, but some of the restrictions on in-kind donations have been tightened up.

USF used an NEA grant a few years ago to help fund a summer arts academy for high school students, and the new grant for the Jesters is the second one USF has won for that program.

“From what I have seen, this is the kind of grant NEA does a lot. It’s very community level, in that it’s directed toward populations that haven’t been served or have minimal service.”

The first Jester grant focused primarily on professional development and services. The newer one moves the effort forward, something the NEA considers important.

“There’s the realization that you always have to be looking at something new, not just doing the same thing over and over every year. You’re always exploring new ways to reach that population,” she said.

An NEA grant also is a mark of excellence for a program or organization. “If you’re getting NEA funding, you’re getting truly national recognition,” Frazier said.

Although most NEA grants are relatively small - $10,000 to $15,000 - there are programs offered specifically for community development that require a governmental partner and can reach as high as $200,000.

Categories Quality of Life