I work in Newton, a moderately affluent suburb outside of Boston. Newton is blessed with a community of smart, talented, hard-working, and well-rounded individuals and families. Essentially, it’s the target audience for the arts—except these folks are busy!
When the Newton Cultural Alliance (NCA), an umbrella organization for participating arts and culture nonprofits, incorporated in 2009, Newton had 2 orchestras, 2 large music schools, 4 choruses, 3 visual arts organizations, 2 community theaters, 2 high school theaters, 1 nationally recognized ballet school, a museum, 3 colleges, and more.
On the business side, while Newton is one city, it is divided into 13 villages so there is no distinct city center, but rather many village centers. In theory, this is a very endearing idea but in practice, it is somewhat divisive and, until some recent efforts, no merchant association has succeeded in uniting the businesses or the community.
That being said, our local businesses are extremely supportive of area nonprofits and are always willing to donate to auctions, hang flyers, and participate in special events. In and of itself, this is a very helpful stance but it doesn’t build long-lasting or thriving relationships that will truly make a change in the community. That’s where NCA has picked up the ball.
We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we are doing our very best to engage in mutually beneficial programs. One major goal is to create and host high-quality, fun events that increase the awareness of local dining, shopping and arts. To do this, we’re working with business owners on an individual level, the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Newton on specialized projects. Some of our current arts and business programs include:
1. Culture ‘n Cuisine: a discounted dining program for NCA members’ audiences. Local restaurants offer diners a 10% discount and receive free, expanded marketing in return. Our audiences feel well taken care of and discover new dining destinations!
2. Arts Stroll & Shop: This annual holiday event encourages Newton residents to “Shop Local. Eat Local. Art Local.” The 2013 Stroll included participation by 40 local businesses and 150+ artists and musicians! Attendees are able to stroll through the village center and take advantage of the diverse shopping and dining while being entertained by performing and visual arts. Empty storefronts are turned into temporary art galleries, young musicians play in their favorite shops, and it all culminates with a collaborative holiday performance.
3. Chamber of Commerce Events: With the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce, NCA hosted its first arts and business gathering in Fall 2012. What began as a networking opportunity has turned into a developed relationship, where NCA is invited to attend Chamber committees and the Young Professionals Group is even hosting an event to benefit NCA.
When our focus changed from “how will blank project affect the arts?” to “how will blank project develop our local economy and community?” the opportunities for partnerships were many. It is extremely satisfying to be viewed as a business partner amongst our for-profit friends and rewarding to take on a leadership role in the nonprofit community.
There is still a long way to go before we achieve our goals but at this point the hardest part is slowing down to refine our current projects while turning down others. We want to do it all!
Starting these partnerships is all about who you know—it’s all about building relationships! Become friends with your local merchants! If you walk by the same set of shops every day, pop in when you’re not asking to hang a flyer or for an auction item. Learn who is new in town and get in there and introduce yourself.
Remember, we’re in the arts partly because it is so much fun and, undoubtedly, everyone has a story they’d love to share about playing the recorder in elementary school or how they’d really love to sink their hands into some clay. Find the dramatist beneath the suit and connections will bloom!
(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!)