Probably the best part of producing BizSmART for Arlington (Virginia)’s supported arts organizations was the pleasant surprise of unintended outcomes. Nothing salacious (sorry!), no misbehaving, but something that was an indirect benefit of having thought provoking speakers, interactive sessions, and opportunities to step outside daily challenges all in the same space at the same time.
As simple as it sounds, there was little way to plan, direct, or script a day that helped build our arts community.
On November 13, 2012, Arlington’s first BizSmART conference at Artisphere surpassed ‘symposium’ in both content and connectivity and drew on smart growth strategies for the arts. With the Arlington Commission for the Arts sponsorship of BizSmART, which began as a suggestion to create a symposium for arts organizations and Arlington Cultural Affairs’ recent move to Arlington Economic Development, a new direction in meeting the challenges facing arts organizations took root. The arts in our area may be extensive, but as public and private funding dwindle, organizations still struggle.
Arlington is no stranger to breaking new ground on many fronts and the arts are no exception. In 1996, Arlington Cultural Affairs was the winner of the Ford Foundation and Harvard University’s Innovations In American Government Award, the first time the award was given to an arts program in a local government. Leveraging resources, materials and facilities of the county government and applying them to the arts made way for an incubator program that was soon to be replicated throughout the country.
But today’s economy and competition for entertainment sources can sometimes leave little room for sustainability, let alone growth. The foundation of the Incubator Program which included access to facilities, costume and scene building services, and modest grant funding still left many arts organizations vulnerable.
We heard from our grant recipients that a conference addressing broad issues that are pervasive in the arts community would be no different than listening in on popular webinars or attending workshops. What would make this conference unique, they told us, would be to make it Arlington-centric. They wanted to meet all the arts commissioners, government officials, business leaders, creatives, and experts who could help them see new directions and make new connections.
And most of all, they wanted to meet each other.
In the opening panel, Artisphere’s Executive Director Jose Ortiz introduced Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, Bowen McCauley Dance Director Lucy Bowen McCauley, and Cultural Affairs Director Karen Vasquez who talked about the advantages of being in Arlington—from a government perspective to the importance of professional collaborations.
Throughout the day, representatives from Arlington’s arts organizations met with arts commissioners, national arts leaders, members of the academic and business community, a design thinking team, staff from GO Online demonstrating Arlington’s new online grant application, and Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes.
Topics ranging from resources, audience development, communications, and a problem-solving discussion were led by high-level professionals from across the country—and hit home with their relevance and connection to Arlington.
Arlington relies on partnerships and collaboration to support all its services so keeping a focus on how arts organizations can leverage resources and relationships was key to BizSmART. Emily Peck from Americans for the Arts’ The pARTnership Movement, Elizabeth Schwan-Rosenwal and Max Skolnik of Taproot Foundation, and Georgetown University’s Foundation Relations Director Carma Fauntleroy all provided a wide array of critical thinking to generate important steps for reaching out to business and government.
Kicking off a cocktail reception with Arlington’s arts supporters from the business community, Natsu Onoda Power, playwright, author, and Assistant Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Georgetown University, provided a closing keynote with insights and inspiration on the creative process.
Because at the end of the day, we can provide our arts organizations with all the foundational, structural support possible, but only inspiration will make them better artists!
(This post is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!)