One of the themes of the blog posts this week has been about “telling our stories” in ways that resonate with corporate partners for the 21st century. I want to tell the story of a small town Wisconsin arts organization that to me, defines the story that we should be telling about the arts to our corporate partners and everyone else. The Northern Lakes Center for the Arts in Amery, population 2,777, located in beautiful northwestern Wisconsin about 65 miles from St. Paul, MN, is one of the most vibrant arts centers in Wisconsin, or anywhere. The Center is a nationally recognized hub for the arts that truly involves its community in arts experiences on so many levels.
The Northern Lakes Center receives funding from plenty of public and private sources, but it earns income in ways that should serve as a model and inspiration for the future. The Northern Lakes Center is the publisher for the weekly community paper in Clayton, WI (a smaller town about ten miles from Amery), a service which satisfies Clayton’s need for a community-based newspaper and, which brings in a good chunk of change for the Center each month from advertising and subscriptions.
Who ever heard of a nonprofit arts organization producing a community newspaper? But why not? The community needs a newspaper, and the Northern Lakes Center has the expertise, energy and interest to make it happen. And, it turns a profit in the bargain.
The paper features the usual community news – graduations, births, deaths, weddings, festivals, public meetings, business dealings, and, a healthy dose of news and information about the arts. You can imagine that the Northern Lakes Center is pre-disposed to feature the arts, of course, but what jumps out at me every time I read the paper is how natural it seems for a community-based newspaper to feature arts involvement by the residents of the community. What’s even more interesting and fabulous is that the arts news is not just information or listings related to performances, exhibits and programs. The paper often features stories that show that the arts are fundamental to the lives of community members.
This week, for example, the paper’s front page spotlights Arts Wisconsin’s annual Arts Day on March 3, which took place in Madison, 250 miles south. The attendees from the Amery/Clayton area are pictured smiling with public officials and arts colleagues, and the story is all about advocacy and the public value of the arts locally and statewide. With this story, the small town newspaper puts the arts front and center as it highlights its residents’ connections with issues, colleagues and decision-makers from around the state.
You may be wondering how this is relevant to our week’s discussion about private sector giving. The Center is making the case for the intrinsic connections between the arts and community-a case that must be made for private sector investment, and, for that matter, for investment on all levels. And, at the same time, the people in this corner of Wisconsin are demonstrating true creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. That’s a story we can all learn from.