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Artists’ Centers: Evolution and Impact on Career, Neighborhoods and Economies

August 21, 200621 August 2006

Impacts of the Arts / Facilities / State of the artist

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This American report examines various aspects of artists’ centres, including their formation, funding and transformation, their impacts on artists, communities, neighbourhoods and economies, and their organizational challenges.

The authors, Ann Markusen and Amanda Johnson of the University of Minnesota, outline how artists’ centres have formed, how some have transformed to professional management, the role of funders, and centres’ collaborations and synergy. The authors indicate that there are “multiple pathways to success” for artists’ centres.

Based on qualitative interviews with artists and artist centre staff, financial information and other documentation from artist centres, as well as data on artists, the authors “found rich and compelling evidence that artists’ centers further the quality of artists’ work and enable more of them to make a living at it”. By providing access to tools, equipment, space, networking, financial support and learning opportunities, artists’ centres act as “powerful generators of artistic work and careers”. The Minnesota artists’ centres are found to be “an important wellspring of the regional arts economy” and to “make a significant difference in the ability of regions to home-grow, attract and retain artists”.

The authors argue that the centres, in addition to serving artists, contribute to community and economic development. Regarding community development, artists’ centres are found to provide important educational and youth programs as well as initiatives for other specific groups and communities. The authors find that “most centers contribute to the vitality and safety of their immediate neighborhoods” by enlivening street life, bringing more trade to local businesses and contributing to community stabilization and development.

In smaller communities, artists’ centres can help revitalize downtowns and may even be tourist attractions. In larger cities, artists’ centres can have spinoff effects by “stimulating the creation of other artistic, commercial and community venues”. In addition, centres can play a role in reversing community decline and neighbourhood drug use.

The report defines artists’ centres using two main criteria: the existence of dedicated space and the availability of “general membership at an affordable rate without screening requirements”. The report provides profiles of Minnesota-based centres for composers, writers, playwrights, visual and media artists as well as broader community centres.

The organizational challenges highlighted by interviewees include: “identifying and serving a constituency; finding, paying for and optimally using dedicated space; understanding and dealing with diversity; and right-sizing and funding a balanced program”.

The authors argue that artists’ centres “have made remarkable contributions at a very modest price”. The authors therefore recommend that “policymakers responsible for economic development, urban planning and cultural policy … acknowledge and support artists’ service centres as good investments, paying cultural and economic dividends”. Governments should “help create appropriate spaces for artists and embed such centers in their neighbourhoods”, while larger arts organizations should support the incubating role that centres play for regional artists. Private sector businesses should consider artists’ centres “as suppliers of creative ideas, design and skills that will help make them more productive” and profitable. Finally, the authors recommend that artists “testify to the significance of centers for their careers and artistic development” and also “play active roles in center governance, fundraising and recruitment”.

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