Photos by J. Alan Paul and courtesy of Dayna Del Val
Each month, The Arts Partnership President and CEO Dayna Del Val contributes a monthly column that explores the ways the local arts and business communities can work together to create opportunities and add value to the FMWF metro.
RELATED: Building an Engaged Team Through the Arts
Last summer, The Arts Partnership was awarded a grant from the Consensus Council in Bismarck to take a number of trips around the country to meet with arts, chamber, economic, business, and government leaders to talk about how the arts are serving the needs of those and other sectors.
As you will see from the timeline of these trips, many of them were unexpected opportunities that we turned into highly successful learning tours, and because we had this travel grant, we were able to say yes over and over again. We learned a massive amount about how other communities are utilizing the arts sector to benefit their needs, all of which are very much like our own needs here in the Fargo metro: attracting and retaining businesses and employees, adding to the overall economic pool and defining culture.
St. Paul, MN
Our team traveled to meet with Springboard for the Arts. We talked about their Irrigate program, which utilized artists to activate the businesses affected by the construction of a light rail. Using artists to problem-solve that interruption meant that a number of independent restaurants and other businesses didn’t go out of business while under intense construction.
Des Moines, IA
Where in June of last year, TAP awarded $10,000 to the FM Symphony Orchestra — the largest grant we’ve ever given — Bravo, an organization similar to TAP, annually awards their symphony $250,000. That is game-changing support, the kind that allows for hiring enough staff, paying staff and musicians a competitive wage, and creating inventive programming, among so many other things.
We also met with the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the umbrella organization for the multiple chamber organizations in the region, and discussed with its leaders the immense value of the arts to their economic success and growth as a region over the past 20 years.
I attended the CEOs for Cities conference, which was outstanding. I was the only attendee from North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota and the only arts advocate in a room full of mostly elected officials and economic leaders.
Because there are a number of similarities between our communities, the mayor of Topeka, Kansas, and his team took me out for dinner one night. They don’t have a strong working relationship with their arts council, so it was interesting for us to learn from one another about how our sectors can better work together to advance both our needs.
I also toured Phoenix’s arts district with a fellow arts leader and was reminded that if we want to see change in our communities, we are the leaders to enact that change.
In Kalamazoo, I relied on Jack Hopkins, a consultant whom the FM Area Foundation brought in a few years ago to look into developing downtown Moorhead. Jack and I had hit it off when we met in Fargo, and he happily agreed to help gather a number of interesting people together.
We attended a Kiwanis lunch, met a number of community leaders and had a gathering with the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo in a restored downtown building that had previously been a multi-story department store and now serves as a multi-purpose arts office and performing space.
We toured Park Trades Center, a 140,000-square-foot former factory that is now one of the largest creative communities of artists, artisans, designers, entrepreneurs and small businesses in the Midwest. The highlight of that trip was meeting the Park Trades Center developer. We met in the pub of a mixed-used building that he restored and talked about how the “cool factor” and value of the high-end condos, offices and stores effectively subsidize the Center.
Wisconsin (Milwaukee and Sheboygan)
In addition to an afternoon trip to the astonishing piece of architecture that is the Milwaukee Art Museum, we toured the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, meeting with leaders from the Kohler Foundation who talked about their relationship to the museum and other arts organizations in the area.
Norway (Halden, Moss and Lillehammer)
Joining a team of area leaders invested in alternative energy, electric vehicles and drone technology, I was invited to Norway by former Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams. It might seem like a weird mix, but the trip, as Mike explained it, was really about creating a better community.
I spent a lot of time with other leaders and learned about many new things but also arranged my own meetings with Arts Council Norway, the equivalent to our National Endowment for the Arts. I met with various artists, toured a number of museums and cultural organizations, and spent time with leaders from the American College of Norway.
My biggest takeaway from Norway was that they are astonishingly community-centered in their development. Where we have an individualistic approach to getting ahead, they think about what will make the life of the community better. It’s a wonderful system and one I hope we can lean more toward. I was also inspired by the way that the arts are interwoven into everything: new technology, development, cultural design and more.
After meeting with a number of economic and tourism leaders to talk about their particular model of arts support, I learned that they have incredible financial backing from many of the Fortune 500 companies and foundations in the city. Visit Omaha invests heavily in the arts because the arts fill their hotels, and their chamber president is board chair of the city’s opera, Opera Omaha. In short, Omaha businesses understand that when they invest in the arts with their time, dollars and presence, they’re better off as businesses.
I was recently invited by Americans for the Arts to be the state captain for Arts Advocacy Day. Breakout sessions included “The Arts and Mental and Physical Healthcare,” an area in which we are definitely interested in being more active. I also connected with arts leaders from all over the country and had great conversations with staffers in both North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s and North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer’s offices.
You might be thinking, “There’s no way they did all that travel on one grant, but as a prominent businessman said to me recently, “TAP does more to stretch a dollar than almost any organization I have ever seen.” I stayed with friends in many of these places — in Norway, many of my meals were paid for by the companies I was traveling with — and I ate heartily at the free breakfasts when I did stay in hotels. And you know what? The money’s still not gone!
We’re planning either one more road trip or to bring in one of the people I met along the way to be an outside expert to meet with our local leaders on how they are looking at the arts as a positive asset to their work in their hometown. Either way, this has been a transformational series of trips, and I can already see how much of what I have learned and observed is informing the conversations I am having locally and bringing about positive change for the arts sector and the larger community, too.