Main Street Square

Report date
July 2016

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

An early, heavy investment in community outreach was crucial to Arts Rapid City’s progress. Before we launched our primary project, an arts and culture and events calendar called, we met with hundreds of stakeholders in workshops, small-group meetings, and informal one-on-ones. We gathered input about artists’ and arts organizations’ marketing needs, familiarized them with the coming website and built trust in the team behind it. These meetings helped us develop good relationships with the people who would be populating the site, the “content providers”, so they had a sense of investment and connection even before it launched.

Equally important, the outreach meetings built on the Vucurevich Foundation’s Future of the Arts Collaborative’s work to create a new culture of cooperation and collaboration in the local creative community. In a creative community accustomed to a culture of scarcity and competition, we worked to build an understanding that the site could be a “more is more” tool: The more information people upload to the site about themselves, their events, businesses and organizations, the more value the site brings to everyone in the community.
In year two, after launching, our outreach focus shifted to capacity building for local artists and arts organizations. While maintaining the website as our priority, we found additional ways to deepen relationships with the local creative community to heighten investment in the website and our collaboration goals.

With help from Americans for the Arts, we surveyed local arts audiences and developed an analytical report, Arts Pulse. In “Creative Power” workshops we partnered with First Peoples Fund, BH Knowledge Network and Teen-Up to host arts marketing capacity-building. With Intermedia Arts of Minneapolis, we launched Creative Community Leadership Institute, training for 20 local leaders focused on arts-based community development. We also initiated monthly lunches for Rapid City’s arts leaders.
These projects augmented a significant investment in marketing and work with local tourism and media, as did our community arts programming: a downtown art walk, Native art market, and young artists festival.
All of these efforts translated into growth for
We built our work on the foundational belief that art shapes community and community shapes art. As we created the website and our marketing and communications strategies and tools, we used survey tools to take a wide-open approach to defining art and culture by continually asking our community as a whole to tell us how they define art and culture. We used the website and other communications to champion symphony performances and exhibit openings, of course, but we also celebrated Art Alley, wine-tastings and even hockey games, because these are the things our community told us they considered to be part of Rapid City’s art and culture landscape. Letting our community define art was part of a fresh approach for that set us apart from more traditional engagement efforts. We believe this inclusive, equitable approach helped position the website, and Rapid City’s arts and culture sector as a whole, for a meaningful community role and in turn, sustainability going forward.

Key lessons learned

The most important lesson we learned over and over again is that artists have to be at the core of arts organizations’ work. Artists are the people doing the creative work that organizations support, they make things happen. They are the people who bring meaning to organizations’ work and who truly understand the value, purpose and potential of creativity. We began our work focused on partnerships with other organizations, administrators and decision-makers. While we found those working relationships to be valuable, it was supporting artists, incorporating their perspectives, and helping them feel welcomed and appreciated that were the keys to Arts Rapid City’s success.
We set out to create systemic change in Rapid City’s rich, diverse and historically fractured arts and culture community, striving to move leadership organizations from a closed culture of siloed thinking to one of collaboration and cooperation that would put local art at the service of the local community. We piloted a website that demonstrated that collaboration and cooperation are possible and that mutual, community-wide benefits arise from mutual investment. We helped demonstrate that a rising tide lifts all ships and moved the dial toward collaborative thinking and action.
Don’t underestimate peoples’ ability to take a leap of faith. Trust-building and mutual agendas and visions are important, but so are compelling ideas. As a new organization with new, unprecedented projects, we were able to rapidly build relationships and work with thousands of people. We were continually struck by the human capacity to believe in each other and in a better future for the community.

Reflections on the community innovation process

We repeatedly returned to the logic model’s concept that community innovation is not linear but instead occurs in a spiral movement encompassing tension and back and forth motion. Thinking about the process of innovation as the product, not a means to a product, has been instrumental to our understanding of community innovation.
This concept helped shape our approach to community outreach. We assumed that building trust and ownership in a shared, comprehensive marketing tool were ongoing efforts that required doubling back on outreach and didn’t end with the launch of the site.
As the website entered its second year, we reaped the benefits of this nonlinear approach. Artists and organizations who had been initially disengaged or uncertain of the value of a comprehensive, joint marketing tool jumped at the chance to list their events and be part of the website.
The concept of nonlinear community innovation has helped us see our work to develop the website not simply as a final product but as progress toward a new culture of collaboration and cooperation in the creative community in Rapid City.

Progress toward an innovation

Arts Rapid City was swinging for a community innovation homerun and with the successful launch, year of growth and transfer of ownership of the website to the Rapid City Arts Council, we believe we rounded the bases and achieved a community breakthrough.
We built on the Silicon Valley-based Artsopolis platform so that it’s part of a nationwide network of similar sites with continual free updates and technical support. Through marketing and outreach programming, we were able to populate and bring traffic to the site well beyond original projections. The site and integrated branding, marketing and outreach programming were designed with the values of inclusivity, collaboration and equity built into their DNA. As the site, marketing and programming settle into new ownership, they intrinsically carry those qualities into their new homes.

What's next?

In the final quarter of our Bush Community Innovation grant period, the Arts Rapid City staff worked with the John T. Vucurevich Foundation and the Arts Collaborative leadership committee to complete an RFP process and transition and much of its related programming to a new home. As the Rapid City Arts Council takes over operation of the site and other programming, its leadership role in the community will continue to expand to be more inclusive, collaborative and equitable.

If you could do it all over again...

Conversations among our small staff of three have yielded different responses to this question but an overall positive, regret-free sense about how we shepherded our time and grant funds and the results we achieved. Collaboration and innovation are messy in part because you don’t know as much as you think you do and in part because partnerships are inherently unpredictable, requiring management and flexibility. At the risk of sounding chirpy, our advice to ourselves would be: Make plans based on what you know, but be flexible, prepared to learn and grow and celebrate all the successes along the way.