The birth of a great idea

written by guest blogger Elizabeth Hellstern

It was 2009. Flagstaff had not yet started to feel the effects of the economic crisis, but the check was definitely in the mail. People with influence, foresight and concern—smart people all over the city—started thinking and talking about the future of artists in our town.

What if starving artists were a thing of the past? I heard that question over drinks at the Rendezvous, during a holiday party at the CVB. I heard about it in city commission meetings, university meetings; it was the question on everyone’s mind.

There really was a zeitgeist of thought going round in Flagstaff. Art and artists are invaluable to our culture and community, but they often don’t know how to build a sustainable infrastructure that supports their business needs. Instead of letting our artists struggle to learn business and entrepreneurial skills by trial and error, maybe we can help them.

This innovative thinking bred an innovative collective that consisted of business, education, and government representatives from around the city.  We identified and applied for a planning grant called “Our Town” from the National Endowment for the Arts. We were OVERWHELMED by the response and support from the county, the university, the Artist’s Coalition, the city, ECoNA, NACET, the Chamber of Commerce, and Coconino Community College, who all saw the potential of the project.

The energy was so high it seemed almost inevitable that we would get the grant. We ultimately did, the Beautification and Public Art Commission put up the matching funds, we hired our Project Director, Laura Kelly, and now here we are.

But where, exactly, are we? We are at the planning stage, in my opinion the best stage, where the potential of ideas has the ability to transform our beloved city. We are envisioning our best future, and finding the right partners, locations, models and leaders to bring it to life. This is your chance to help us decide how we can best support our local artists. This is a community project, and we need the community’s ideas and brainstorming to help bring it to fruition.

Should we pursue our own version of The Torpedo Factory? Should we provide business training and workshops such as pricing your art, marketing your business and finding exhibit space that will sell your work? Perhaps we should provide a holistic artist-in-residence space that brings together many mediums, creating a fantastic alchemy of creativity, support, and entrepreneurialism, something (I imagine) like Paris in the 20s. Another thought is to provide the structure for a more free-trade version of an Old World guild space, where Master Craftsmen could train apprentices, providing them with artistic and business training, as well as access to tools, kilns or other resources. There could be individual studios, where visitors can watch artists at work, with a retail space. Members would be part of a volunteer collective, providing their knowledge as a resource for younger artists.

However this idea is manifested, we ultimately want something that would be economically sustainable, positive and encouraging for artists of all levels. We want a creative culture that encourages them to reach new artistic heights with the support of the Flagstaff community, knowing that we are all beneficiaries of their talent.

So we encourage all thoughts, from members of the artistic, business, educational, and patron community to share what they think can be possible. If you also believe that our local artists are a valuable resource, if you can’t imagine your life in Flagstaff without beauty, if you believe that these things are worth the investment of energy, time and money, then we need your input.  Please help us formulate an “Art Box,” a structure that can provide the building blocks, the foundation for sustainable art in our community.


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