On October 19, 2016, The Center for Arts Excellence (CAE) at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, hosted a Creative Conversation as a way to celebrate National Arts and Humanities Month. The CAE gathered women leaders together from the Grace Museum, Abilene Cultural Affairs Council, United Way, Paramount, Hunt Direct Marketing and McMurry University to discuss the arts in Abilene. More specifically, this group focused their discussion on three distinct areas: arts and community, access to the arts, and possible community arts partnerships.
The Arts, Community, and Access
The arts are a form of “self-expression that touches the heart.” According to meeting attendees, the arts give Abilene a rich, vibrant identity, provide a vehicle for expressive opportunities for the community, connect and include various community groups, and serve as a destination for visitors. The arts contribute to these women’s idea of an ideal Abilene community by giving a necessary voice to community members and supporting diverse perspectives, as well as providing aesthetic appeal to the city. However, the Abilene area is a “rural place.” During the conversation, some of the barriers to community arts participating included transportation; funding; lack of opportunities to attend or participate in arts activities; comfort level with the arts, arts activities or attending arts events; and individual expectations for Abilene arts events.
Since these women believe that the arts contribute to building a strong community, Abilene should develop more opportunities to strengthen the community through collaboration, education, appropriate resource allocation, and more intentional arts programming that stimulates discussion and includes diverse perspectives.
Although great arts partnerships exist in the Abilene community, adequate promotion and marketing for arts events was a relevant concern for this group of nonprofit directors, CEOs, and employees. Most of these women cited a lack of resources, time, and expertise as contributing to their inability to reach larger community groups through promotion and marketing activities for their respective organizations. One proposed solution for this concern was to develop a shared administrative employee pool, where administrative and marketing experts could serve multiple local arts organizations.
Benefits to this type of arrangement would be shared administrative costs and increased community participation in local arts activities and events. This group also suggested that creating more synergy between local nonprofits would be beneficial to their organizations and the community. Other possible partnership opportunities suggested were regular meetings to discuss and collaborate on arts and community events, developing a system for transportation to arts events, and access to available tickets to arts events. This kind of collaboration could strengthen the arts impact on the Abilene community.
According to meeting participants, community building through the arts should celebrate and encourage diversity, as well as provide opportunities where creativity can take place without judgement. This Creative Conversation was part of a series of meetings held this fall by the CAE to develop arts programming and foster rich conversations about the arts, community, and self-expression.
This spring, the CAE will build on these conversations to create excellent arts programing that cultivates a deeper understanding of the value and power of the arts and artistic expression.