tips for arts and culture

We’ve all seen paintings along the walls of your downtown buildings that add hometown flare. Or murals that proudly display your town’s history. But how did they get there?

Most arts and culture programs are coordinated by some form of a community council.

We connected with Kathy Dodge, a commissioner who helped cultivate the Grand Rapids Arts and Culture Commission. For her most useful tips on forming a commission, here is what she had to say:

How did The Grand Rapids Arts and Culture Commission Form?

Kathy Dodge: Let’s start at the beginning. About 6 years ago, one of our city councilmen was convinced that the quality of life in the Grand Rapids area is key to attracting and retaining a solid workforce. For cities and towns around the Iron Range, there has always been a solid base of jobs and labor, but hardly any platforms for arts and culture to thrive.

This interest was the driving force behind the Grand Rapids Arts and Culture Commission that operates today.

What has the Journey been since then?

At first it was just an idea and conversation. Then we had to advocate to create the commission. First and foremost, we did our research and explained that arts and culture are an industry that bring in revenue for communities.

Arts in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota brought in $83,278,000 in economic impact in 2016(2). For a community, there is always a focus to move forward, and adding industries that have a positive impact is a must. Once we established that the arts and culture community was, in fact, a beneficial industry for almost any community, we had found our traction.

After the decision was made to form a commission, there was a public application process to be selected as a commissioner.
Once the core commission members had been selected, we got to work on brainstorming an arts and culture plan to implement in Grand Rapids.

We soon learned we were not qualified for such an undertaking, so we sent out requests for proposals and contracted with a team of Metris Arts Consulting, Go Collaborative and Markusen Economic Research. When they were done, the plan was 89 pages long consisting of 5 goals each with many objectives and a community survey.

What Struggles were Overcome to Create this Commission?

Before we developed a plan, we received many suggestions and ideas from the public. At first, this was great! We were so excited that the Grand Rapids community was supportive of our mission and wanted to participate. However, there is no way to accommodate every suggestion that was brought to the table. You need a way to evaluate people’s enthusiastic ideas.

That is one of the reasons we decided to get an outside source to help us create our overall plan of action. The consultants really helped us narrow down our goal: to assist Grand Rapids to become a community in which arts and cultural activities: are recognized as vital components of community life, are valued and promoted for their economic benefits, and represent an integral part of Grand Rapids’ educational mission for young people.

After we had our goal narrowed down, it was much easier to judge which ideas and plans aligned with our mission and move forward.

What is the most Recent Success for the Grand Rapids Arts and Culture Commission?

Getting funding & completing plan. We put so much work into creating an organized plan that could be efficiently carried out, that seeing it roll out in steps has been so satisfying. And seeing how far we have come from a singular idea into a functioning commission has been an exciting and educational experience. Some of the things we implemented are the Mayor’s Arts Award, picking areas for murals/paintings, and helping to advocate for community art events like the Central School Artist Residency Program.

What’s up Next for Grand Rapids Arts and Culture Commission?

We are working through details to develop an art adoption and acquisition plan for the city. There are options for people to donate art to the city. We would like to figure out a process of receiving and incorporating this donated art into the community. The plan is also a starting point for a public art plan.

 What Advice would You Give to Those Looking to Develop a Commission in their Community?

You need to find the right People. People that are passionate about the goal you are trying to achieve. You also need people that show up. There are plenty of people that support an idea, but do not have the capacity in their busy lives to actually devote time to it.

It also helps to find yourself a friend in the government.

You need to plan. Do as much research as possible. There are more resources that can benefit you than meets the eye. Are there others groups already in existence that could help you? Ask other councils that have already formed for tips or struggles they had.

Art Unlimited offers a huge thanks to Kathy Dodge for making this information to our readers possible! For more information about The Grand Rapids Arts and Culture Commission visit their website:  

For more information on developing a website for your nonprofit, connect with Art Unlimited.

Read: Lilah Crowe’s Grant Writing Tips for Nonprofits