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Arts event seeks feedback

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While arts in the village can seem vital and ever-present, from features in the News to galleries and shows around town, according to Yellow Springs Arts Council members, there is significant work to be done.

To begin that work, Arts Council is sponsoring a series of “arts forums,” to engage area artists and arts organizations in identifying priorities for the group. The first art forum will be held over a wine tasting on Thursday, July 30, at 7 p.m., in the Emporium.

Participants will work together to analyze the local arts scene with the SWOT model, a strategic planning tool often used in research and project management, that lists the “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats” (or SWOT) facing the local arts industry.

“This is about getting beyond the obvious,” said Lisa Hunt, Arts Council board member and YSKP administrator.

Area artists are considered to be anyone practicing in the 13 broadly conceived areas identified by the group as falling within their range of advocacy, from traditional visual artists to those engaged in literary arts, culinary arts, landscape arts, and the thinking arts — or innovation. Other community members, those who are patrons of the arts or who represent venues for the arts, are also encouraged to attend.

Many of the strengths and weaknesses of the Yellow Springs community are apparent to all, according to members surveyed for the article. These strengths include the idea of Yellow Springs as a destination for arts and arts-based experience, as well as a recently rejuvenated focus on strengthening the infrastructure for art organizations, as carried out by the Center for the Arts Steering Committee, with funding from the Morgan Family Foundation. This rejuvenation paves the way for further collaboration, members said.

Weaknesses listed by members include the lack of establishments open past 7 p.m. and the lack of an information infrastructure that connects patrons with communities of interest.

“Where are the artist studios? Where can I find their work? People want to come here to experience the arts,” Hunt said, and Arts Council would like to facilitate this connection. “You could take a walking tour of the arts, starting in Kieth’s Alley, but how would you know that?”

Threats cited by members included the loss of a portion of the village’s employment base and the current economic situation — a recession members cited as having a negative and unpredictable effect on the arts community.

Opportunities listed by members included the abundant availability of local artists already present in the community, but who need to be presented to the larger community in a way that is more accessible, members said.

Through the forum events, Arts Council is looking to uncover the challenges and opportunities that affect individual artists and arts groups, including those factors that members think are not readily apparent to the whole community and shouldn’t be assumed.

“The musicians are going to have different challenges than the writers, the writers are going to have different problems than the visual artists, who are going to have a different set of challenges than those involved with theater,” according to Sandra Love, an Arts Council advisory board member.

Hoping this process will generate “concrete things that Arts Council can work on in terms of advocating, education, and goal setting,” Hunt said it is really just the beginning of research that members hope to undertake as they strive to build a stronger arts community.

Historically, Arts Council focused on presenting arts-oriented programs and workshops. As part of the reinvigoration process that the organization undertook with the Arts Center Steering Committee, the group has been moving toward a model that is more advocacy-based, members said, and this effort is currently being supported with funding from two grants. One is a capacity building grant from the Ohio Arts Council, which is nearing its end, and another is a two-part grant from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation.

Last year, the OAC grant was designed to allow the organization to extend its reach to more community members, resulting in funds for the design and printing of a membership brochure. The grant also allowed the organization to begin preparations for a new Web site.

The community foundation grant was written with stipulations for engaging with the community through public forums, an effort that can help ensure that Arts Council is focusing on the topics that its membership — and the community at large — find the most pressing.

Arts Council’s new focus on advocacy includes building a larger, more inclusive membership base, collecting and analyzing data on the role of arts in the local economy, and being ready to mobilize when factors that threaten the arts present themselves, like the recent cuts in funding in the school district.

“When things get tight, schools cut funding for the arts,” Hunt said. “If declining funding is a reality, how do we work together to find outside resources or a different model?”

The current economic situation might present challenges, but it also presents opportunities, members said, encouraging organizations to collaborate and refocus on economic factors that can be affected locally.

“Even though we are known throughout the region as a place where art happens, we need to understand that the arts are also business, they are also an economic force,” Love said.

Arts Council is looking to align with other organizations that are undertaking economic development efforts, including the economic development survey being drafted by at least one other local organization, and the Village advisory committee that will work with the Village economic development staff person.

It is important for the arts to be included in these conversations, members said, and it is important that metrics are gathered from which to make decisions about the role of the arts in the local economy, according to Hunt.

“How many dollars do the arts generate? How many indirect dollars are the arts generating?” Hunt asked. “How many people make their living, or part of their living, as artists in this town?”

While the arts forums are seen as a kickoff of the kind of research that will underpin Arts Council efforts, the events also present the opportunity for those working in different creative fields to make connections, something members feel might spin off into further activities.

“It’s really about building an arts community, and figuring out who is in that arts community, and how we can engage with them, and what kinds of things they need from us as a representative group,” Hunt said. “The forums are a way to pin down priorities of how we can be of service.”

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