Passions – Art as Business – May/Jun 19

Above: Stephen King of the Des Moines Arts Festival and Bravo’s Sally Dix ponder the work of sculptors Linda Lewis, Judy Goodwin and Diane Hayes, who share creative space at Mainframe Studios. King and Dix are spearheading an effort to bolster the economic role of artists in Central Iowa.

Writer: Laurel Lund
Photographer: Duane Tinkey

Many a tome touts the phrase “the art of business.” But seldom do we read about the business of art.

Bravo Greater Des Moines and the Des Moines Arts Festival are changing all that. Together they have entered the brave new world of art as business. The partnership has launched the Creative Economy Initiative (CEI), a program designed to empower regional artists.

The two organizations seek to underscore the important role of the arts within the community, driving the local economy just as do industries such as banking, real estate and retail commerce. 

Whether the arts are visual, performing or literary, “we want them all to be firmly woven into the tapestry of our communities,” says Stephen King, executive director of the Arts Festival. 

Sally Dix agrees. “The arts enrich our lives in spirit and in fact,” says the executive director of Bravo, which manages public funding for the arts on behalf of communities throughout Greater Des Moines. “The purpose of the CEI is to strengthen the creative community as a driver of economic development.”

The collaboration began last year when Bravo and the Arts Festival were coincidentally working on their separate business plans. As their goals were similar, the duo decided to team up. 

Bravo commissioned a Regional Cultural Assessment in 2016 for 17 communities. According to Dix, the study was poised to identify how arts, culture and heritage could power economic development to foster growth, progress and change in Central Iowa. 

The assessment identified four cultural priorities, including to “strengthen the creative economy in order to develop the talent and skill sets of creative entrepreneurs and artists.”

“Local economies are impacted by more than jobs, dollars and heads-in-beds,” King says. “It’s about quality of life, the ability to attract and retain valuable employees and mobilize the way those employees relate to local culture.”

Thus, the Creative Economy Initiative was born. The first step was to call on award-winning artist and business strategist Chris Dahlquist, who lives in Kansas City, to create an action plan that would help her creative peers find their voices and build their businesses. This involves evaluating current programs, leading workshops, conducting roundtables, and working with area businesses to help them understand how the arts affect their bottom line.

Dahlquist “wants to grow a creative eco-system,” King says. 

Part of that creative ecosystem are painter Leslie Guinan and her sculptor husband, Rob Matthews, who are new to the Des Moines arts scene. Guinan, a California native, has participated in Des Moines Arts Festivals and says she is excited about the CEI program.

“Des Moines is already doing a lot for artists and other creatives,” she says. “The next step is to acknowledge that creatives are as important as business professionals in creating quality of life. It’s the engine that drives positive change—a large part of what makes a city a great place to live.” 

Art is not just for art’s sake. “When the arts thrive, a community thrives,” Guinan says. “I think the CEI program is going to be a great multiplier in making Des Moines an arts mecca.”

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