It is a pleasure to highlight an organization that came to my attention via a post on ARTSblog, Expanding Community Participation. The Ink People is a longstanding (since 1979) part of the community in Eureka, CA. They serve artists and the community by:
- Encouraging excellence in the showing, teaching, and making of art
- Exploring the boundaries of art and culture
- Helping develop community-generated arts and cultural programs
- Co-marketing for businesses and institutions that support the arts
Clearly, they have a community engagement agenda. Unlike some programs I have highlighted, it is the arts that are central here. The Ink People’s agenda focuses on furthering the arts via enhancing the sector’s relationships with the region. (Some of you may be able to picture me cheerleading at this point. Admittedly, though, that is not a pretty picture to be holding in your mind. Forget I said that.)
The particular topic of the ARTSblog post was a program they manage called DreamMaker. In a nutshell, The Ink People encourages individuals and organizations to propose projects that fit with the IP mission. They invite “community members who have a vision for an arts and culture project or see a need in their community that can be addressed through such a project, to partner with us.” Selected projects become sponsored projects supported by The Ink People, with funding secured by the project initiators and administered by the Ink People. This is one category-the simplest-of fiscal sponsorship. (One day I am planning to do a post on that topic as it has much to offer community engagement work.) The Ink People also provides management training and support for the projects. Libby Maynard, the blog poster (and Executive Director of The Ink People), says that projects fall into four categories. They can be short or long term “one-offs,” they can morph into standing programs of The Ink People, or they can spin off as separate 501c3 entities.
The DreamMaker program, which began in the mid-1980’s has “fostered over 200 projects, of which less than 3% have not achieved their goals.” Now that’s an amazing track record. And,
At present, we have over 60 active projects. There is constant turnover, with an average of 12 new projects a year. Not bad, considering the population of Humboldt County is about 130,000 spread over an area one-third bigger than Delaware. . . .
Most DreamMaker projects are about engaging community members actively in participating in the arts. The projects are initiated by community members for the community, to address community challenges.
Over the years, we have seen a lasting and dramatic impact on the quality of life in our neighborhoods and public spaces, as well as an increased sense of well-being amongst our citizens. One survey found that over 98% of Humboldt County residents participate in an art form weekly! [Emphasis added.]
Here is an arts-focused organization that has adopted a highly creative approach to fostering community engagement. There are so many things to like about this. The fiscal sponsor model, when entered into strategically and pursued with clear intent, provides great flexibility. When coupled not just with openness but even eagerness to help community-based, arts-focused visions become reality, such programs serve as excellent ambassadors for the arts, breaking down walls that sometimes exist. As a result of viewing itself as a community partner, the work of the Ink People is yielding great benefits for the arts community. (They see themselves as serving artists as well as the community.)
Local arts agencies have great potential as catalysts for arts-community partnerships. There are many means to do so. This catalyst-centered approach is certainly an intriguing one. Next time, I’m going to share Roberto Bedoya’s thoughts on LAA’s responsibility to their communities. As I do, remember this example.
Logo from The Ink People’s website.