From the Print

Arts Council reflects on Lessons learned as arts town

The Yellow Springs Arts Council has had quite a year. After receiving $20,000 in start-up funding from the Morgan Family Foundation in early 2010, the revived local nonprofit hired a part-time coordinator and put on three major events — the 10-day Yellow Springs Experience last summer, the Artoberfest musical celebration in the fall and a Wellness Weekend in March. While the events didn’t generate a profit for the Arts Council, they did help to forge partnerships among local groups, promote local artists and wellness practitioners and create a brand in the Chautauqua-like Yellow Springs Experience, board members said.

“It’s a struggle to find what exactly will bring people to do overnight stays and really inject some dollars into the community,” said Arts Council board member Joanne Caputo of the activities, which were organized to draw tourists to paid events. “I think we’re to be credited to be flexible and open-minded in trying to figure this out,” she said.

Lessons learned, the Arts Council will organize a second and much shorter Yellow Springs Experience on Saturday, July 15, and will reprise the Artoberfest and Wellness Weekend.

According to board president-elect Jerome Borchers, the Arts Council’s three events were a success though attendance and revenues were lower than hoped.

“Arts Council has always been seen as a facilitator to artists in the community,” said Borchers of the group, originally founded in 1972 and revitalized in 2009 with support from the Center for the Arts Steering Committee, which he heads. “Now we’ve taken another step in capacity-building.”

The recent Wellness Weekend typified the Arts Council’s yearlong experience of mixed results. Though an estimated 200 people came to the free opening night reception at the Art’s Council Oten Gallery home, four of the five tracks were canceled prior to the weekend because of low registration. Only the yoga immersion track went ahead as scheduled, with some attendance at a meditation class and a soul collage workshop. About 60 people participated in the eight workshops during the weekend and about that number attended a keynote dinner, which was beyond expectations, Caputo said. Additionally, the event was successful in marketing area wellness practitioners, who were grateful for the exposure, whether or not their events went on as scheduled.

“There was a lot of anxiety about it — with these first-time events you don’t know how they will go over and be received,” said Caputo, who pointed to reduced expendable income from a distressed economy as a potential reason for low turnout.

About half of the events’ attendees came from outside of Yellow Springs, mostly from the Dayton area, while just a handful traveled from Cincinnati and Columbus, Caputo said.

At the well-attended opening reception for the Wellness Weekend, an exhibit called “The Art of Healing” featured artwork largely about personal and family health crises. The Arts Council will continue to integrate gallery openings with programming, Caputo said.

“I think people were very touched — it was a more emotional exhibit,” Caputo said.

Co-organizer Monica Hasek, who also taught one of the weekend’s yoga classes, appreciated the collaboration offered by the weekend, though most of the estimated 25 yoga participants found out about the event through her studio’s marketing.

“I really love the idea of collaborating with other wellness practitioners in town and promoting and marketing Yellow Springs as a wellness destination,” Hasek said. “From a financial standpoint there wasn’t an incentive to it, but we’re happy to support the Arts Council in this new venture — I would do it again.”

Larissa McHugh said the three people who attended her “Yoga, Mandalas and Music” workshop were grateful for the individual attention and the opportunity to try out a unique combination of wellness activities.

“The people that participated seemed to get a lot out of it,” McHugh said, adding that for the participants “to really go in-depth and be able to spend an entire weekend focused on yourself was great.”

The Arts Council took 40 percent of the proceeds from the Wellness Weekend classes and workshops, which it reduced from an even 50–50 split with participating artists during last year’s Yellow Springs Experience. In the future, the group may cut their share further to put more money in the hands of the artists and wellness practitioners, Borchers said.

“We aren’t seeing that as a revenue source but for artists who want to do [events], we will do the marketing and coordination and provide leadership,” Borchers said.

In part due to the Arts Council’s low return on the events, which require a lot of labor and overhead, its board decided to scale down this summer’s Yellow Springs Experience from 10 days to one. The group received a grant for a part-time coordinator for the event and looks forward to connecting with the same partners they worked with last year.

About 20 local organizations collaborated for last year’s Yellow Springs Experience. A total of 242 advance tickets were sold, and the largest crowds flocked to a local farm tour, a Bruce Cromer theater performance and the event’s launch party, where an estimated 400 people streamed through the Arts Council’s gallery space.

Looking ahead, the Arts Council will continue to host gallery exhibits and openings, expand its membership, made up of local artists and art patrons, employ the services of an Antioch Morgan Fellow come fall to survey and profile local artists, and raise money to hire a staff member, since funding for former part-time coordinator Carole Braun ran out in March.

Caputo said that it’s still a challenge to figure out exactly what mix of events and topics will attract people to town to strengthen the arts economy. But of art’s value she is certain.

“Art definitely enriches our community,” Caputo said.

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