Our first Arts Incubator forum was held on Tuesday, Dec. 11. About 40 people attended. The meeting lasted an hour. JT Tannous, executive director of Flagstaff Cultural Partners, introduced Laura Kelly, the project director for the planning phase of the arts incubator, a facility she is calling Art Box. What follows is a roundup of what was said by Kelly and audience members.
Kelly: We’re at the starting point. An incubator helps spark new things. I’ll be spending the next twelve months gathering information, doing research, listening to people—artists, business people, educators, government employees.
Kelly gave an overview of what her research has show thus far:
Arts incubators began in the late 1980’s. The idea of incubation was to help arts organizations build their business models and become full-fledged businesses. Nationally the figures vary as to the number of incubators. According to the National Business Incubators Association (NBIA), there are about 50 incubators that have companies that serve the arts in some form. But according to those in the arts and Linda Essig, ASU professor whose research centers of arts incubators, there are about 20-22 incubators that are specific to the arts field. Most fall into one of three categories:
- Structure, facility: artists create work, people watch, artists sell.
- Physical space where artists and arts organizations learn their craft, business models and how to build their businesses and find success.
- Hybrid of #1 and #2.
Most incubators earn revenue in these forms:
- Rent from studio or office space
- Retail sales
- Classrooms/teaching fees
- Memberships and donations
- Facility rental for events
Kelly: Given this overview, consider these foundational questions:
- What is the arts incubator’s purpose?
- Who shall it serve?
- What will happen there?
What should the arts incubator do? What should it look like? Audience comments and questions:
- All of what Kansas City does. Plus sell art supplies.
- It makes the arts accessible to everyone.
- People who have never experienced the arts to get hands-on.
- Art Box could be a place that makes the arts accessible to children.
- A place that welcomes and represents people of all ethnic background, so everyone feels like they are welcome and their people are there.
Kelly: Mentoring is a big component of all arts incubators. Formal mentoring programs, but also organic mentoring that happen through proximity where artists learn from each other because they work next to each other. Participants come in, stay for a period of time, get some formal training, and then go out into the world.
Questions and comments from the audience:
- Why do artists deserve special treatment?
- Who are we serving while not serving others and why?
- Is this just for visual artists? That seems to be the direction.
- The mentoring is already happening. Visual artists in Flagstaff already share freely with others and support one another. This idea came out of the recession and the death of art sales during that time… an idea to give artists another opportunity to sell their work.
- There are lots of mentoring ways this could happen: Artist-to-artist mentoring. Business profession-to-artist mentoring. Accountant-to-artist mentoring. Marketer-to-artist mentoring. Lawyer-to-artist mentoring.
- Are we doing this to attract tourists and collectors to buy art? To change the dynamic of Flagstaff like an Aspen, CO, or Santa Fe, NM? People come here for the arts.
- The location needs to be “on the circuit” where visitors are already going in town, the downtown area.
- Let’s have a bigger goal. Let people do art and enjoy it, not just a financial piece. A place where everyone can come… those who want to buy but also those who want to experience and have fun. It’s about sharing together and connecting communities in ways nothing else can do.
- Art Box should support all types of artists.
- It should be a place for people to have a dialogue about the arts. Why do artists do what they do, why do they create the things they create? The arts can foster a discussion to understand the subjects of the arts world. So it could be a meeting place, a living room, a discussion place, to better understand the arts, to better understand expression. People who come through see the world in a different way.
- Art Box should be a physical space for participating.
- Arts in education should be a focus as well.
- How do other arts organizations collaborate with Art Box? What about “Art Box talks” in other venues that support and bring people to existing arts organizations?
- What’s lacking is professional development. As an artist, a need is studio space. Marketing support. How to approach galleries. How to build a website. This is a huge void in the community.
- Do we want to do all arts? Do we bring them all together? That doesn’t seem to be the right way to go. We should pick one thing and do it well.
- Artist residencies? Bring in big name artists.
- Store and coffee house and farm and library. Cross-pollinate beyond the arts.
- The arts informs our thinking far beyond the finished product. The arts lead to “big, fat leaps” in thinking. The development of the whole community, the whole individual.