The Matthews Opera House and Arts Center
What has been most instrumental to your progress?
Working together on joint projects and activities was critical to building our cohorts’ collective understanding of the issues that we seek to address through this grant. The first year of grant activities was initially planned to increase our learning and collective understanding of community issues with a series of activities to test and implement solutions being done in the second year. While we started our work by trying to build understanding and generate learning needs, the collective understanding and new ideas are coming out of a process of working together on implementing projects. The action of working together on projects is turning out to be a key to building capacity and understanding of how the arts can positively impact various groups in our community. The collaborative relationships, particularly between Black Hills State University, the City of Spearfish, the Balloch Library, and The Matthews Opera House and Arts Center, are growing because of the joint efforts on generating ideas and testing pilot projects through ArtCentral.
We engaged in two projects in the 2017 summer that exceeded expectations; each started as pilot projects to impact the way in which our cohort worked together and both resulted in successful projects with community impact and learning. Both projects involved engaging the City, University, and individuals through the process of developing semi-permanent art in our community. These projects increased community members’ awareness of the arts in our community and engaged the community in the process of making art. As a result of the positive engagement, larger scale projects are in process for Year Two. Through partnering with the City to place art on public utilitarian surfaces (paint on crosswalks; art on chain-link fences), we were able to further engage the City in the process of making art, as well as engage with the community on discussions about the value of the arts in our community.
Key lessons learned
The implementation cohort should have been smaller and more focused. To be inclusive, our committee initially included 18 people; we extended an invitation to the community to apply and included many of our social service agencies. The size of the group has continued to be a challenge, not only for gathering our cohort for meetings and facilitating conversations, but also, with a large group, fewer people seem to want to take ownership and responsibility. A smaller committee would have been better to facilitate activities and to innovate on specific issues; we could then extend involvement to a broader group on specific projects.We thought the members of our cohort, as community leaders, would all know each other from the start; they did not. Several key advocates for the original grant application moved away from our community, including our intended grant manager and the psychology professor who was to evaluate test program impact, leaving several holes in our grant team skill set unfilled. As a result,we started further back in the process than we intended. However,working together on projects has made leaders think more creatively about the impact the arts can have in our area.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving
Collaboration has been the most valuable element in making the impact of our work sustainable beyond the life of the Community Innovation grant. Building the ArtCentral cohort was a first big step in working collaboratively, even if the cohort may not be working as efficiently as imagined. Cohort members are assisting with reaching collaboratively across organizations or creating introductions for artists and groups to become involved with each other. Our projects and work so far have also been successful because of deliberate efforts at building collaborative work processes. Each project or effort has focused on causing new pairs to work together; essentially we are discovering that ArtCentral makes an introduction, thus encouraging different organizations to work together - using art as a tool - to meet goals that are in alignment with each organization. This process is just starting, but we are hoping to see the impact of ArtCentral efforts to build collaborative efforts across our community as more projects are underway.
Other key elements of Community Innovation
Yes! The willingness of our city administrators, schools, university, and community to say “YES” and try something new. Even for those ideas that may not have really understood, many people have said yes to participating either as artists, volunteers, or advocates. We have received an extremely high level of support from local and regional media outlets, including TV, newspaper, and radio. This coverage has highlighted the work that is being completed, but also has encouraged more residents to get engaged with our projects. All articles with links are posted on our Matthews Opera House website. The energy of the community when we come together with a willingness to try new projects is both motivating and promising. Some small towns can be hesitant to engage in new ideas, but not ours. We are seeing that the collective snowballing force of a series of smaller but inclusive projects is powerful in building interest and support. We have found that city administrators and department heads are willing to support projects; college faculty will incorporate an ArtCentral project into their curriculum; a daycare will include their children in a project. The cumulative effect is positive.
Understanding the problem
We identified our need as creating a more cohesive and inclusive model for community arts planning and outreach. Our committee can now definitely see that we are fragmented in our community approach to the arts. We have several examples of this fragmentation and lack of long-range arts economic planning in some community development projects that have been recently completed or are underway. We have discussed with the city the need to “fill the pipeline” with inclusive community art projects that can be used to access grants; waiting until the grant is announced and then quickly trying to pull a project together is unlikely to result in success. This has lead to new discussions about the role of a city arts committee to work, in conjunction with our arts center, on these types of projects. The projects we have completed so far are also redefining what our constituents and city council view as community art, showing that the process of creation can be as important in building community as the final product. That the final product does not need to be permanent has also been a key learning.