It’s a time of cooler weather, sharpened pencils, and fresh notebooks. Fall is a season of learning.
You may have returned to—or started—school this fall, or, like me, your education may not be confined to the classroom. At Arts Midwest, we are committed to providing you the opportunities, tools, and resources you need to continue your own professional development and learning.
Opportunities like the professional development sessions at the annual Arts Midwest Conference, through which participants can explore such topics as venue accessibility; community engagement strategies; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in the creative sector. Tools like those available—free of charge—through our Creating Connection initiative, which helps arts organizations and artists engage new audiences and deepen relevance within their communities. Resources like our NEA Big Read Survival Guide, which helps both applicants and grantees craft successful community reading projects.
We are all of us in a constant state of acquiring new knowledge and deepening the knowledge we already hold. It is through learning and implementing those lessons that the Midwest remains a thriving, vibrant region. And so this fall, I hope you can embrace the season and, with me, learn something new.
President & CEO
Arts Midwest Conference Keynote Speakers Offer Up Provocative Thoughts from Indianapolis
2018 Arts Midwest Keynote speakers Ashley C. Ford, Jenni Taylor Swain, Joanna Taft, Heena Patel, and Ceci Dadisman. Photo by Joshua Feist.
By Brian Halaas
Director of Conference Programming
How can arts professionals embrace courage as a response to the current cultural and political moment? That’s the question the staff, committee members, and over 1,000 attendees working in the performing arts pondered together in Indianapolis, Indiana, last month during the 32nd Annual Arts Midwest Conference.
We would like to offer our colleagues in the arts the following provocations to inspire you to shake off the anxiety and defeatism that can creep from the outside world into our work and decision making, to seek out innovative ways to find connections with people, and to light the sparks of curiosity and healing in your own communities.
Here are three high-level takeaways from the Arts Midwest Conference’s keynote addresses.
Heena Patel: Program for Impact
We heard from attendees who identified a nervous energy throughout the performing arts community, including when it comes to presenting work by artists from traditionally-underrepresented communities. When faced with tough choices, featured speaker Heena Patel encouraged colleagues to fully embrace the value of their organization’s artistic missions, rather than relying on the bottom line to be the driving force behind their work. “Programming for impact is about centering the transformative power of what we do,” Patel said, emphasizing that we all have a shared responsibility to cultural diversity and equity.
Joanna Taft: Take it to the Streets
As national political divisions deepen, and marginalized communities are at risk of becoming more isolated, there’s an opportunity for arts professionals to reinvigorate the idea of public art, including performances that happen out in the open for everyone. For Joanna Taft, this includes bold and innovative art projects with an immediate impact on the neighborhood where they take place. Describing several public art initiatives, from porch parties to pop-ups, and pre-enactments to hip-hop-erettas, Taft said, “Art started leaking out of the building and into the neighborhood.”
Ashley C. Ford: Be Your Most Courageous and Vulnerable Self
Whether it’s the sweeping changes in public discourse around #MeToo or the effects of immigration and visa policies, shifting dynamics are raising the stakes for artists and arts professionals. Keynote speaker Ashley C. Ford modeled courageous behavior herself by speaking honestly about her own traumatic family history and how it informs her work as an artist today. “Artists tell the truth, in one way or another, about the world and about themselves,” she said. “Artists fill in the gaps of our understanding of our own histories and stories. You can’t do that work without courage or without filling in some of your own history or story.”
The Arts Midwest Conference is a critical convening that supports the business-driven infrastructure of the performing arts industry, but it’s also an opportunity for colleagues to grapple with the big questions and challenges facing our field and society. The conversations never stop, and we’re already listening, exploring, and probing the issues that we’ll wrestle with in September 2019 at next year’s Arts Midwest Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Want to join in the discussion? Email: [email protected]
NEA Big Read’s Tips for Building Local Programs
By Julie Zhou
Program Associate, NEA Big Read
Each year, the NEA Big Read supports approximately 75 dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read book. But, planning a community-wide arts engagement program can be challenging. To help ease the struggle, the Arts Midwest NEA Big Read team has put together this series of digital survival guides:
Programming & Events
One of the most important decisions of any NEA Big Read program is the book itself. This guide asks questions to help you identify a title and supporting special events that will resonate with your community, offers tips for forming a programming committee, and share best practices from successful NEA Big Reads on creating engaging book discussions.
Reach, media exposure, funding, expertise, innovation, and time—learn about the key ingredients for a successful strategic partnership, find out where to find new llies, and how to develop relationships from the ground up.
Marketing & Promotion
Learn how successful NEA Big Read programs define their audience, share their message, and plan their community outreach using print and broadcast media, newsletters, and hitting up their local watering holes.
The NEA Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. The NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.
Creating Connection Shares Best Practices for Creating Programming Around Audience Values
By Anne Romens
Program Director, Creating Connection
For five years, Arts Midwest has been working with partners across Michigan, Minnesota, and the broader United States to understand the values that inspire people to participate in arts, culture, and creativity, and to test new ways to connect audiences, make meaningful and inclusive work, and reduce barriers to participation. Here are some of the strategies used by these partners to deepen their relevance.
Let Audience Members Connect with One Another
One Creating Connection partner organization, the Eugene Symphony, recently experienced their highest ticket sales to date, which they attribute to re-centering the audience in the on-site experience. This engagement takes many forms, including a letter in their program magazine that encourages audience members to connect with one another in order to create a more inclusive environment for all patrons. Our research shows that audiences desire interactive experiences that provide opportunities for engaging in peer-to-peer connection.
Include the Community in Making the Work
Providing meaningful opportunities for the community to engage as creative collaborators in their work is critical to San Jose-based Teatro Visión. As part of this focus on inclusion, Teatro Visión hosted a community-driven poetry event —a process they recently discussed in our online webinar series. They had expected to engage around 50 people, but were delighted when 418 people participated in the creation of nine original poems. Teatro Visión’s success with this event echoes what we found in our research—that people are more inclined to participate in creative events when they see themselves and their values reflected in the work.
“We surveyed people and we asked them about the experience of this collective process. Those who witnessed [it] were amazed of the authenticity of this work. The results of the survey really showed how important it is to involve the community in every single part of our artistic process.”
-Rodrigo Garcia, Teatro Visión
Take the Work to the People
The barriers that keep people from engaging in creativity are complex. When it comes to seeing live performances, one of those barriers is place—be it an uncertainty about how to enter a building, where to park, or the distance to a venue. Opera San Jose is working to reduce that barrier by moving outside the confines of the opera house and provide pathways to new audiences. Their project, Arias in the Office, sends opera singers to area tech firms at lunchtime for pop-up performances. They’ve engaged more than 2,000 tech workers in these performances, and garnered the attention of National Public Radio.
Is your organization rethinking the audience experience? Are you offering activities that inspire growth, provide a platform for voice, and contribute to your audiences’ wellbeing and happiness? We’d love to hear from you! Send an email to [email protected].