In recent years, nonprofit consultants and leaders have emphasized the importance of effective advocacy skills for advancing their missions—developing working relationships with local government officials and involving those leaders in conversations about fundraising and value. The Jamestown Arts Center in North Dakota offers a clear example of how this collaboration can strengthen programs, build infrastructure, and influence a community’s sense of place.
After a successful capital campaign that funded a beautiful renovation of the Art Center’s space in the historic city center, Arts Center staff are now focusing on making valuable contributions to the city’s plans for development. These conversations were born from an understanding that the city was experiencing tremendous growth. From the anticipated population boom from the oil industry in the western part of the states to a growing tech industry in the east, Jamestown has already seen unprecedented growth and expects that growth continue for the next 15-20 years. Arts Center Executive Director Taylor Barnes said that in 2007, around the time they were first planning for the renovation project, the Arts Center’s board began to discuss the role the arts should play in the city’s growth.
One of the core projects that the Arts Center is working on is the development of an Art Park. They see this project as an opportunity to help revitalize the city’s downtown district. As part of their $20,000 Strategic Advancement Award from ArtsLab, they are holding public meetings to solicit design ideas and hear what kinds of programs residents would like to see in the park. In all, this project is opening communications channels and strengthening partnerships with key city leaders and managers including the Jamestown Stutsman Development Corporation, the City of Jamestown, and the Downtown Business Association. The Arts Center staff and board believe that through this and other programs, the Arts Center can be a community leader through arts-based engagement that will benefit everyone.
Barnes is retiring in summer 2014 after nearly 30 years of leadership in the community. As she prepares to step away from her post, she shares some sage advice for those considering their advocacy strategy: “Make friends. Include city officials in all your invitations and keep them informed of your progress and impact. Certainly find out who ‘calls the shots’ so that you are making the right connections.”